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Practicing Mindfulness Makes Lawyers Richer, So Why Dont They?

Practicing Mindfulness Makes Lawyers Richer, So Why Dont They?

Why Lawyers Should Practice Mindfulness and Why They Don’t.

Before discussing the whys and wherefores of mindfulness for lawyers, I should start by introducing myself for those who don’t know me.  Hopefully this will also provide some context as to why I feel qualified to speak to such a profession of prestigue about mindfulness and indeed its wellbeing practices.

I Ieft a successful legal career back in 2017 after spending some 15 years in the industry as a commercial real estate solicitor.  I had wanted to leave for some time as, for me, it wasn’t my life’s work and I personally wanted to pursue a career that gave me more meaning.  During my stint as a lawyer I saw first hand many struggles people had due to a lack of proper communication structures and safe spaces to be heard, high levels of stress, excessive drinking and drugs and very little support.

Since leaving the profession I have become a Blue Health & Mindfulness Coach and IEMT Practitioner, tools which enable me to help and empower others to take care of their wellbeing and live happier, healthier lives.  

mindfulness by the sea

As a Blue Health Coach, a lot of my work involves the encouragement of connection with wild water spaces because doing so helps us evoke ‘blue mind’, a meditative state that helps us to find clarity and creativity.  Blue Health Coaching is:

Blue: Positive thinking – linked to blue as the element of water and our relationship with it.

Health: In every aspect of what it means to be well – including individual, social, environmental and spiritual.

Coach: creating space for insight via silence and questions
(Blue Health Coaching, Lizzi Larbalestier)

There is an emerging field of study, documented initially by Wallace J Nicholls in his book ‘Blue Mind’, evidencing the link between water and our physical and mental wellbeing.  ‘Blue Mind’ is evoked by spending time in, on or near water, and in a physiological sense it is the stimulation of the vegus nerve  (the nerve that connects our heart, head and gut) and which makes us feel calmer and happier.  Another way to access ‘blue mind’ qualities is to practice mindfulness. Combine the two, water and mindful practice, and the effects are even more profound.

In my view, ‘red mind’ is the normal state of affairs for many lawyers, indeed it is the ‘new normal’ for many at the moment.  ‘Red mind’ is defined by neuroscientist Catherine Franssenan as an “edgy high characterised by stress, anxiety, fear and maybe a bit of anger and despair.” Although this level of hyper vigilance can be useful, dwell there too long and you hit burnout – ‘grey mind’.

Water connection and mindful practice have helped me to navigate turbulent times and recover from trauma.  As I move on in my coaching career, I wanted to explore how mindfulness could help the profession I left.

mindfulness coach

Traits Needed for Good Lawyering

Let’s start by exploring what makes a good lawyer.  What traits are needed to successfully navigate the profession?  Here’s my take on it:

  • Creative Thinking:

    No two client issues are the same let’s face it.  Lawyers need to be flexible and creative to make tough decisions under pressure and are often required to find more than one solution to problems brought to them.

  • Communication / Interpersonal skills:

    It is vital to be present with your client, to build rapport and trust.  It is important to ‘clean listen’ (non-judgmentally), be curious and to ask the right questions.  A great lawyer checks their ego at the door and treats their client as an equal, a partner in solving their problem and thus empowers them.  Listening with clean filters and keeping an emotional distance from the issues at hand enables objective perspective and analytical thinking.

  • Self Management:

    The industry is intensely competitive and so as a business you are also dealing with firm issues, getting and keeping clients, billing etc.  It requires juggling, it requires teamwork and it requires an ability to listen to, understand and truly hear your co-workers.  To empathise with their challenges and to control your own reactions.

  • Emotional Steadiness:

    Most people who need a lawyer are in the midst of something stressful! Lawyers need to have emotional resilience in order to protect themselves from their client’s demands and to service their client with full attention and focus.  Dealing with stressed clients requires you to be strong, assertive and present = balanced!

  • Focus:

    Productivity demands are high – without focus mistakes can be made.  If you are distracted, stressed or leaping to conclusions then you are in the fast lane for a claim against you.

  • Attention:

    Quite simply, if you don’t have the ability to pay attention you can’t embody the traits set out above. 

Many careers require one or two of these qualities but the legal profession is pretty unique in its need for all of the above.  Not only that, it also stands out as one of the rare professions that requires you to generate new business as well as servicing existing clients under an already heavy (often unrealistic) burden of work.

mindfulness by the sea

What is Mindfulness?

“The energy of being aware and awake in the present moment” Tich Nach Hanh, Buddhist Monk & Philosopher. 

Mindfulness practice includes breathing techniques and focus which enable you to return to the present with awareness and to manage your emotions and reactions.  It helps to clear away mental ‘rubbish’ so you can approach situations with a focussed mind and provides a foundation for developing a depth of self-knowledge that leads to self-mastery.  When you understand the stories you attach to situations, you start to clearly and objectively see when and how you are triggered and can therefore effectively manage your responses.

mindfulness for lawyers

The Benefits of Mindfulness

The benefits of mindfulness for lawyers or indeed anyone are well documented, here are some:

  • Increased creativity 
  • Better decision making
  • Enhanced interpersonal skills
  • Greater emotional resilience and self regulation
  • Improved focus, memory and cognition
  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Empathy

Did you notice how these map across to the traits needed for good lawyering?!  So seeing as mindfulness improves all the qualities that lawyers need, it must be rolled out as a regular feature in all law firms right?? Well… no, and here’s why:

mindful lawyer

Why lawyers don’t practice Mindfulness

So you know I am not just pointing the finger at others here, I recognise ALL of these traits in my former lawyer self.  I was dragged around Buddhist temples in Thailand in my 20s desperately resisting my friend’s urges to try meditation or join her on a yoga retreat – preferring to head to the beaches for full moon parties and bucket cocktails (avoidance / dissociation).  I classified it as hippy woo woo nonsense that wasn’t for me. It took teetering on the edge of burnout and a major life trauma for me to embrace any notion of mindfulness into my life.  And so I can completely understand and empathise with the resistance it gets from the profession at large.

1. Scepticism

It goes with the territory of course but Lawyers are intrinsically sceptical about mindfulness.  Questioning whether it really works, why they should try it and of course – where is the proof that it will help?!  The great thing is that there are plenty of studies that now evidence its benefits and more and more scientific studies to back this up as time goes on.

2. Autonomy

“I’m alright jack, I’ve go this on my own.  I don’t need help.”  Said the lawyer just before they were signed off for a year with burnout! 

3. Abstract Reasoning

“Let me research that and I’ll get back to you”.  Sound familiar? Its 75% more likely from a lawyer than “ok sure, I’ll try it” due to their tendency to lean toward abstract reasoning. In my experience, the looking into it never enters the schedule and thus doesn’t even get a look in.

4. It isn’t Billable

Time is money!  The whole notion of the billable hour is in conflict with the practice of sitting still and doing nothing.  Albeit, as I will show below, doing nothing often gets you more productivity in the long run.

5. Self Confidence

Let’s face it, it is hard to convince the ‘over confident’ that something isn’t working.  

6. Sociability

I have never really understood why lawyers are such a solitary bunch, but studies show that lawyers rate really low on sociability.  An added challenge to bringing them together to participate in mindfulness practice.

mindfulness for lawyers

Why Lawyers Should Practice Mindfulness

It is pretty well known that lawyers are over worked, over stressed and prone to burn out.  They are twice as likely to experience drug and alcohol problems and experience high levels of mental health problems.  In fact, lawyers are in the top ten careers for highest levels of depression, anxiety and suicide.  I can vouch for all the above from my stint in the profession that all of the above are rife.

I personally experienced high levels of stress, lack of support and understanding and many of the other traits outlined below.  I was signed off from work both during my training and much later in my career.  In both cases I came back to comments like ‘enjoy your holiday?’ and offered very little support and understanding. At the time, this led me to feel even more anxious, and stressed but now see that this was not an isolated incident, in fact this is an endemic issue in the profession which has a culture of stigma toward mental health issues. Mental health problems are often deemed a ‘weakness’ that can not be expressed for fear of losing your ‘position of prestige’. Crying in the toilet cubical at work is a common theme among female lawyers battling to keep up appearances.

In recent years the rising problem of mental health at work has been placed on the agenda and in 2017 the Stevenson Farmer Review concluded that employees are ‘surviving not thriving’.  A Resilience and Wellbeing survey by the Junior Lawyers Division in 2019  also found rising levels of mental health problems amid young lawyers, with almost half experiencing mental health issues on some level and high instances of negative stress reported.  The knock on effect will be immense if Partners and senior managers don’t take the wellbeing of their staff more seriously.  

mindfulness for lawyers

Why is it so?

So why are lawyers so prone to high levels of mental ill health?  Reports have listed many, some set out below:

  • It requires a constant hyper vigilance to problems
  • Culture of stigma against those with mental health problems
  • Intensive competition from like minded perfectionists
  • Poor work / life balance
  • Lack of support
  • Lack of good training / management when mental health issues arise.
  • Many ‘insecure overachievers’
  • Bullying, competitiveness, and harassment are common.
  • Client demands – most people who need a lawyer are stressed! 

Deloitte conducted its own research into wellbeing in the workplace reported in January 2020 and found that poor mental health costs employers around £45 billion per annum!  Some of the key players have slowly started to do something about it but my understanding is that this is still focussed on the larger of the Top 500. My career spanned several medium sized regional firms and I know from friends still in the profession that wellbeing rarely hits the agenda.  Amidst current times where pressure on partners is high, redundancies likely and anxiety on the rise… wellbeing for employees is even more important to ensure the survival of your brand.

mindfulness at work

Some Facts for Partners : It pays to support your employees!

The Deloitte study also found that for every £1 invested sees a £5 return in reduced absenteeism, presenteesim (working longer hours than required due to job insecurity) and staff turnover.  That’s a five fold return and a no brainer in my humble opinion!

Some of the leading global brands that have implemented mindfulness programmes include: Google, Apple, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Ebay, GlaxoSmithKline, Goldman Sachs, KPMG, Procter & Gamble and Unilever. Although these guys have big budgets, mindfulness programmes for your staff do not need to be expensive and as shown in the Deloitte report will save you money in the long run.  

Putting a wellbeing policy in place that includes mindfulness practice projects an image of a firm that cares about its staff.  An improved reputation can only be a good thing!  Eric Garner of Best, Best & Krieger, California’s largest law firm has implemented mindfulness as a culture within his firm.  They now have clients asking to join their programme – what a great way to build rapport and trust in those vital relationships.

An authentic culture of wellbeing and mindfulness for lawyers is needed, including proper policies that are flexible, accessible and adhered to. Allocation of safe spaces for employees and partners to be heard, longer term support and recognising that empowering your staff to stop and take a break often gets more results than crashing on regardless.

mindfulness

How to Introduce Mindfulness into Your Firm

Waiting for your employees to take it upon themselves to take care of their wellbeing is an option of course, however this could be a slow burner with no measurable or uniform change. Taking decisive action to create a culture of mindfulness and support within the firm will have a far greater impact.

Mindful teaching takes many forms and can be delivered online as well as in person, in groups and 1:1 although group settings allows space for shared reflections.  

Usually people start with a course to learn about the principles of mindfulness practice and to help develop personal daily practice.  These are generally run over 6-8 weeks with opportunities to practice alone and together between sessions.  I then recommend that the firm integrates regular mindfulness sessions for staff to ‘drop in’ and create a safe space for staff to practice in as and when needed.  As a mindfulness leader and blue health coach I can help you to curate and deliver this on a bespoke basis. Please get in touch to discuss your requirements.

Some simple steps toward an environment of wellbeing would be to have plants around the office, encouraging a decluttering exercise, and providing information to staff about mindful practice; including directing them towards apps such as calm and headspace.  This will also help to calm and lower stress levels, however are no substitute for true regular practice.

blue mind

From a blue mind perspective: encouraging staff to take regular walks near your closest water environments (and even wild swimming where possible) will promote even more wellbeing in your teams.  There are further ways to evoke blue mind even if your office doesn’t overlook the ocean, a river or lake or you aren’t near an urban fountain (yes, even a fountain in a city can evoke blue mind) – images of water environments have also been found to calm our neurology.

I sometimes coach my clients on the beach to give them a fresh perspective.  When able to, I also help small teams run through creative strategies in this setting.  Being at the beach, it is impossible to retain a ‘business as usual’ attitude. Playful curiosity and a more fluid outlook are possible in this setting which can help you to see how you are showing up in the world.  The kind of clarity blue mind gives you can enable you to see solutions you may not have previously noticed.

I run ‘Mindfulness and Blue Health’ workshops and courses and can run these for your firm as well as help you to curate an ongoing programme that works for you and your team.  If you want to learn more about how blue mind and mindfulness for lawyers (or indeed any profession) can help you to be happier and healthier; or if you are interested in incorporating a culture of mindfulness into your firm, then please get in touch to discuss.

Alternatively you can join my regular virtual  ‘Mindfulness by the Sea’ sessions… details here.

mindfulness by the sea
3 Strategies to be a Conscious Leader in a Pandemic

3 Strategies to be a Conscious Leader in a Pandemic

Being a conscious leader is vital amid challenging times.  What I mean by that is someone who is leading from a place of self awareness and is therefore able to manage their response in a way that is not only authentic but is also not taking advantage of the crisis nor damage our wider natural ecosystem.

I have found strategies from my NLP toolkit super helpful amid the crisis to continue my mission to create a community of conscious leaders.  If you want to know a bit more about what NLP is you can read my blog ‘What is NLP Coaching?’.

How can these tools help you become a conscious leader?

I am a firm believer that in order to succeed in business you have to first work on your own mindset.  To lead in a conscious way not only enables you to set the example of leadership coming from within but also to model ways of being and doing business that work in harmony with our ecosystem at large.  When you are in the right ‘frame of mind’ you think clearly and creatively no matter the circumstances and are able to move in flow. 

NLP strategies are based on a set of ethics and guiding principles.  Here are three of those guiding principles that I know will be useful for you right now to thrive as a conscious leader.  You can implement these simple tools into your daily life right now to get you into the resilient mindset needed to survive these turbulent times.

Business survive recession

#1 Mind / Body Connection

How you hold your body has a direct effect on your mental health and wellbeing and in my opinion it is impossible to be a conscious leder without being both physically and mentally aware.  Leadership from this place will in turn have a huge impact on you and your business and it’s ability to survive.  Just as stress, anxiety etc manifests itself in physical illness if left untreated, your posture and how you show up in a physical way will also have a huge impact.  Mind / body connection if not aligned will impact your output at work, your wellbeing, your health and in turn your relationships (at home and in business).  

Don’t believe me?  There is a really simple exercise that demonstrates this, try it now…. 

Slump in your chair (or stand) with your head drooped, shoulders rounded in and repeat out loud in a downbeat tone “I feel awful”.  

What do you experience?

Now stand up and take a power pose.  Try saying “I feel awful” in the same down beat tone.  

What was that like for you?

Finally, keep the power pose but confidently repeat “I am a super hero, I feel awesome”

What do you experience?

For most of you you will have felt the difference in your mind and body as you adopt the different poses and tonality.  You can bring this into your daily life…. Our brains don’t know the difference between real and fake so it is super easy to fake yourself into whatever state would serve you best at that time.  

Fake it until you become it

Indeed many use the power pose technique as a tool before going into a meeting or an interview to get them into a confident state. It can be used in so many ways though.  If you are noticing that you are slumping, feeling anxious or overwhelmed then get yourself into a power pose and give yourself the super powers you need to get through your day.  Let go of feeling silly and give it a try… do it in front of a mirror for maximum effect!   Then take those super powers into your leadership and consciously create a path to get you through the crisis.

If you have suddenly found yourself working from home and not having that drive to get you up and out to work, having a routine to get up and do some ‘I am a super hero, I feel awesome’ power poses first thing in the morning can really get your day going.  Of course I dont need to remind you that daily exercise and / or yoga are vital in times of enforced lockdown.  Get your body moving and the mind will follow.

life coach

#2 Embody Flexibility and Think Outside the Box

Right now,  there is a very real risk of businesses ‘failing’ or ‘folding’ or things not working out how you planned. Reminding yourself that all failings are really an opportunity to learn can be useful, even though it probably won’t come naturally! Amid the uncertainty is an opportunity to think creatively, to reconnect with your authentic self and to connect with what your clients and customers need from you.  From this place of conscious connection you can lead the way and shine a light through the darkness.

Remembering that nothing in life or in nature is permanent and that all things eventually come to an end is useful.  To reconnect with the fluidity of our natural systems you can start to understand how you can also embody fluidity into your leadership.  If you can see your ‘failures’ as a success that has come to an end earlier or not in the way you anticipated, this can help to let go of the fear and anxiety these uncertain times may create and help to clear your mind so you can think clearly.  Clarity and level headed thinking are vital in these times of rapid change.

Mindfulness is also a hugely beneficial tool at times like this, and I know that all successful conscious leaders and gurus have some form of mindfulness practice. A blog about the benefits of mindfulness is coming up soon!

There isn’t crystal ball you can look into to see all possible outcomes at the start of a project and so no one could have predicted the global impacts of the pandemic.  You can make your best guesses and indeed that was a huge part of my role as a transactional lawyer, to anticipate potential risks and advise ways to mitigate them. On the flip side, wouldn’t it be dull as hell if you did know everything that was going to happen before it did?!  Life is designed to keep you awake and alive…. However our modern technology is for the most part designed to keep us locked into habitual patterns and unconscious, unquestioning routine.

Now is the time to look at what you have learned or gained and how you can move to go with the current climate and survive.  There is always a lesson to be had, something to improve and a way to create what you want in a different way.   

Einstein’s definition of insanity was ‘doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result’

 The systems you used before were serving you in a different world.  Whether that world was the right one or not is irrelevant right now.  What is vital is to adapt, to innovate and to think creatively – if what you are doing is no longer working ask yourself what could you do differently?  Be conscious about your decisions and lead from a place of compassion and authenticity.  

It’s also important to ask yourself if there is a really reason why you cant carry on if that is something you are considering?  I see some businesses closing only because they feel the fear of carrying on.  It may well be possible to keep going with minor changes. Are you allowing fear to take over?

Flexibility is the key to success and so if what you are doing isn’t working it’s time to do something else even if it is hard and means that you have to face your fears.  Right now, I have zero bookings for my Airbnb so I have put it up for rent on longer terms, my friends in the outdoors industry are delivering groceries and stocking shelves instead of guiding wilderness trips, Dyson are making ventilators, cafes are turning into shops….think outside the box!

Water flows down a river and hits rocks all the time.  The river doesn’t stop… it finds a way past.  We are faced with a tidal wave of change at the moment.  We can chose to battle against the tide if we like.  I’ve tried that in my kayak on the River Severn before… I can tell you now – it didn’t get me very far and drained me of all my energy and resources in the process.  As soon as I let go and allowed the tide to take me with its flow, I could think clearly again. I found a safe place to haul out and made a new plan.

Where are you in the river of your life and business at the moment?  Are you trying to paddle upstream or are you finding new ways to go with the flow?

 

nlp strategies

#3 Try a new perspective

We all experience the world in different ways. We wear different lenses that have been tinted and shaped according to our life experience, heritage, environment and our beliefs and values.  My experience of the current dynamics are different to yours, different even to the man that I live with.  My lenses are more rose tinted with bamboo frames and my partner’s are more grey / blue and wrap around.  To experience his world I not only need to take off my glasses…. I also need to put his on. 

With that in mind, if you see someone doing something you wouldn’t do or saying something you wouldn’t say – bear in mind that their lenses are not the same as yours.  You cant see what they see nor what has gone on in their life and their day up to that point.  We are all under pressure and stress right now; let go of judgement and adopt compassion and understanding.  Know that everyone has their shit to deal with.  

So if you are at work and someone explodes at you for seemingly no reason, let it go.  If someone says something that hurts, try to see what their positive intention is in what they are saying by trying on their glasses for a moment.  Once you can understand what others see you can address reality rather than your interpretation of it. 

Another perspective can also help you to see some creative solutions that you might not previously notice.  Imagine looking at your current situation (life or business) from the position of a fly on the wall.  What would you see through the fly’s lenses?  How does that help you gain persective and see the bigger picture?

This is a useful tool in all life and business.  I find so often with my clients that often what they think is the issue – isn’t, and when they step into someone else shoes and look at a situation from a fresh perspective they get a whole new insight and understanding. 

Next time you notice that judgement bubble up, stop…. pause…. reflect and see the interaction through new lenses.  How does that change it?  Can you see and understand the positive intention behind their actions?  How does that change how you respond?

business survive recession

I have lots more tools and tricks to help you to become a conscious leader in these tough times.  Please reach out to me if you need guidance and support to help you and your thrive.  You can book a free clarity call with me below to talk through your biggest concerns right now.  I know that I can help you through this and that now is the best time to seek support and accountability BEFORE you allow the overwhelm to move you into inertia.

Much love xoxo

Turning Your Passion into a Sustainable Business: Rob Thompson

Turning Your Passion into a Sustainable Business: Rob Thompson

Season Two of the Clare Talks Rubbish Podcast Launches today. Episode 1 is with innovator an award winning Rob Thompson of Odyssey Innovation. Rob has created the world’s first ever marine recycled kayak and is moving on to make even more products with his new marine recovered material.

Scuba Diver turned Innovator

Rob was managing estates in Cornwall a few years ago and is a prime example of how following your passion can create endless opportunities. Rob is now the proud owner of a sustainable eco business and talks about his journey in this episode.

A great conversation for anyone out there who has any doubt that you can make a career from your passion. He is challenging the business status quo and setting an example for a circular economy future.  

Rob is a scuba diver who was fed up with finding idyllic coves in Cornwall full of plastic rubbish so decided to do something about it.

Fathoms Free

After rallying friends together, diving remote spots and debriefing on a cliff top around a camp fire, Fathoms Free was born.  Regular dives against debris ensued but Rob was still not satisfied as the rubbish they collected was still going into landfill.

World First Marine Recycled Kayak

Most people would have stopped at that point but after years of research, networking and hard graft, Rob has created the world’s first ever marine recycled kayaks from a new material he calls Gyre 2.

Rob had no background in materials, product development or indeed business and he shares his journey and advice on following your passion to create a sustainable business.

You can find more about the Marine Recycled Kayaks, Handplanes and other products on the Odyssey Innovation website.  There you will also find information about the Paddle For Plastic Campaign and the Ocean Recovery net collection campaign.

Other mentions:

Project Aware

Neptune’s Army of Rubbish Cleaners

Sea Shepherd Ghost Net Campaign

Global Ghost Gear Initiative

Paddle For Plastic Facebook Group

Paddle Cleanup Toolkit

This podcast was edited by Chloe Aust and marketing contributions by Megan Youngs. More about the team here.

Clare Talks Rubbish is a podcast brought to you by Clare Talks, a Coach and Ocean Advocate.  We are on a mission to inspire you to break outside the status quo, to create a wave of change.  We want to inspire and help change makers, leaders and every day heroes.  We love supporting and connecting people so do get in touch if you think we can be of assistance.

 

Helping you to clear out the rubbish and create space for boundless opportunities!

 

Podcast available on Stitcher, Spotify, Podbean and Apple Podcast.