Lander & Rogers Practice Group Leader - Consulting, Anthony Kearns, shares tips for identifying a mindful lawyer.
There has been so much hype around mindfulness recently that you could be forgiven for thinking that it is the panacea for all your woes. It seems you can’t watch a talk show, open a celebrity website or even attend a conference without someone espousing its benefits. Google, The Huffington Post, Oprah and even the US military are all over it. With this rate of uptake in other industries, it could be as little as a decade before you stumble across a mindful lawyer, so I thought it would be useful to outline some of the clues you should keep an eye out for.
- She really pays attention. The first thing you will notice about your mindful lawyer is she seems to hang on every word you say. She is patient. She gives you the impression that you are the most important thing at that moment. In reality there may be any number of things she could be attending to at that time, but she chooses to attend to just you. How many times in the last day have you given your phone a sneaky check in a meeting and told yourself you were still paying attention? You probably got away with it, but don’t take this to mean that anyone thought you were really paying attention. To be honest, paying full attention is so rare in western society now that it can actually be disconcerting. Don’t be scared; soak in the attention. As their client, you deserve it.
- He really listens. I know, this sounds like the first one but it’s different. An entire industry has developed around teaching people how to listen, but your mindful lawyer seems to not only listen attentively; he listens completely. It is hard to describe but he seems to listen to what you are not saying, to how you feel, to the whole you. The ability to listen in this way requires you to create space in an ongoing dialogue with yourself. Have you ever sat in a meeting and thought of something really clever to say but had to wait for your turn to speak? Were you really listening at that moment or were you doing what psychologists refer to as "reloading"? Again, this is not what we are used to, so when your mindful lawyer really listens to you, keep talking.
- She seems happier. Most lawyers have convinced themselves that clients would prefer them to be serious most of the time. We call this a “professional demeanour” and we feel it reflects the seriousness of our work. To be honest we just seem sad most of the time. In fact, research suggests that compared to most other people we are more likely to be clinically depressed. Your mindful lawyer isn’t like this. She seems happier, more content and at peace with herself. Don’t be alarmed, she still thinks your problems are serious and she will be serious when it is called for. She is also a lot more fun to have dinner with.
- He connects better with his team. The next thing you will notice about your mindful lawyer is that the space and attention he creates for you seems to apply to everyone he works with. Even the associates and legal secretaries in his team. Yes, even "non-fee-earners". He seems to really listen, to everyone. When you have meetings with your mindful lawyer and members of his team he chooses to be present with everyone in the room. Don’t be afraid, the animals have not taken over the farm. Who knows, they may even learn more quickly, work more efficiently and stay around long enough for you to get to know them.
- She makes better decisions. Surely this is just a matter of how much your lawyer knows about the law and how smart they are. Actually, not so much. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky won a Nobel Prize for showing us that even the smartest among us are prone to predictable errors of judgment. In fact, intelligence, experience and pressure can increase our exposure to these blind spots. It turns out that mindfulness can help. Researchers at INSEAD and the Wharton School have recently shown that mindfulness reduces our exposure to at least one of these errors and the US military is working with Amishi Jha and Elizabeth Stanley to use mindfulness training to not only reduce stress in redeploying soldiers but also enhance the quality of their decisions once they are there.
Surely if we are at the point where soldiers are meditating before they go into battle we can get lawyers to do it before a meeting with their clients. Maybe you could invite them to join you in your practice at the start of the next meeting.
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