Mindfulness provides proven strategies to assist with many of the underlying causes of claims and complaints that can arise in legal practice. If you would like to improve your risk management profile, maybe mindfulness can help.
Here are 4 ways that mindfulness can help:
There’s no shortage of research to show that lawyers experience much higher levels of stress than other professions. Working in an adversarial system, with tight deadlines, demanding clients and recording time all contribute. But regular, even short, sessions of mindfulness can help calm the thought processes, reducing cortisol levels and allow the Parasympathetic Nervous System to activate.
Distraction & Focus
Multi-tasking, being surrounded by electronic devices demanding attention, phone calls/emails/interruptions mean that we are often not focussed on the task at hand. Regular meditators report being better able to concentrate and notice when they have been distracted and so allowing their full attention to return to the task.
Responding to triggers
When we respond in the moment to a triggering event, we are more likely to do so with an automatic response, based on previous conceptions, incorrect judgements and according to patterns. Or if an “amygdala hijack” has taken place because of a perceived threat, our rational brain takes a back seat as we go into “fight or flight” response.
Learning techniques that can help up to stop and breathe is the first step. And mindfulness would encourage us to notice the emotions and sensations in the body. By pausing we reflect either in the moment or for some longer period. And then respond in the most appropriate way.
Lawyers are trained to ask questions, take instructions and provide advice or offer a solution. With time at a premium, interactions with clients, staff and others can often be rushed and the opportunity to really understand what is being said (or felt) is missed. Mindful listening is taking the time to listen in a way that is non-judgemental, without the need to rush or provide an instant solution.
To give the gift of full attention. People trying this out at one of my courses, even in a 3-minute activity, marvel at what it feels like to be truly listened to and how hard it can be to listen attentively without interrupting or thinking about what you are going to say next.
I’ll leave it to you to think about how high levels of stress, being distracted and losing focus, responding to triggers or not listening fully can give rise to circumstances that might lead to a complaint or claim. It’s not hard and will be different for different areas of practice and types of clients.
And no doubt, you have existing risk management strategies in place already. But I invite you to try a little Mindfulness to supplement these. Knowing that Mindfulness also provides a sense of calm and has many other health benefits as well.
Cathryn Urquhart is a lawyer who now facilitates training in Practice Management, Ethics, Professional Skills and Risk Management. She is the Facilitator of the Legal Practice Management Course at the College of Law, WA. And is a Certified Teacher of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Course: born at Google, blending mindfulness + EQ + Neuroscience.