Attorneys have extremely stressful jobs. It’s easy to become overwhelmed while juggling life in the office, the courtroom, and at home. Have you ever thought about meditation before mediation? Meditation doesn’t always mean incense and yoga mats and it might actually help your legal practice. We had a chance to talk to Laura Mahr, a North Carolina lawyer/consultant who teaches and writes about mindfulness and meditation. We learned more about Laura’s Mindfulness Meditation for Building Resilience to Stress CLE and how she’s helping lawyers manage stress.
LM: You were inspired to create the Mindfulness Meditation for Building Resilience to Stress curriculum based on your personal experience. What was it that led you to create a program to share with other attorneys?
LAURA: Mindfulness, yoga, and meditation have played a central role in my wellbeing for most of my adult life. I was a yoga and meditation teacher before I went to law school and continued to practice yoga and meditate during law school and for the decade I worked in civil sexual assault law. I used to think of mindfulness and meditation as something that was separate from lawyering, because it seemed out of place in the legal world. However, after bringing myself back from the brink of professional burnout using mindfulness, meditation, and neuroscience-based modalities, I realized how very relevant--if not imperative--mindfulness is for successful lawyering. It’s a joy to now share with other attorneys the techniques I’ve honed; I believe that all attorneys should have access to these easy, practical, and effective tools to help them handle stress as it arises during their work day. If you’d like to know more about my experience with professional burnout, my daily meditation practice, and my philosophy on resilience, listen to this recent episode of The Resilient Lawyer Podcast http://jeenacho.com/2018/04/02/rl-83-laura-mahr-neuroscience-and-mindfulness-becoming-more-resilient/.
LM: What topics are covered in the six week course?
LAURA: The heart of this course is helping lawyers understand, through a neuroscience lens, how practicing law impacts our brains and reinforces our “negativity bias” (http://www.nclap.org/sidebar/2017_3/mindful_moment.html). The course also offers attorneys the chance to learn cutting edge strategies to better handle stress. In each class, participating lawyers practice different kinds of meditation, mindfulness, and neuroscience-based practices that build resilience to stress. At the end of the course, each attorney has a personalized toolkit that they can use at work or at home to create greater wellbeing in their lives.
LM: How did studying neuroscience help you in developing this course?
LAURA: Studying neuroscience and understanding how humans can consciously change the way our brains are wired--thereby improving our feelings of wellbeing at work and home--was like finding the missing piece to a puzzle. It wasn’t until I immersed myself in neuroscience research that I understood what had been missing in my own self care paradigm. In my experience, adding neuroscience theory to mindfulness and meditation creates a perfect trifecta to equip lawyers with the tools they need to effectively manage stress.
LM: Lawyers from around the state have taken your courses. Do you find that many lawyers have the same concerns when it comes to managing stress?
LAURA: Absolutely. One of my favorite things about teaching this CLE across the state is creating a space where North Carolina lawyers can talk to each other in a relaxed environment about “lawyer stress.” Most of us have no idea that many of our colleagues and peers have similarly challenging experiences managing stress. Numerous lawyers I talk to, coach, or train tell me that it is a huge relief to know that there is nothing “wrong” with them; it’s reassuring to know that they are not the only one finding it difficult to cope with stress. To keep the conversation about lawyer wellness going on a state-wide level, I author a new column in the NC State Bar Journal called Pathways to Wellbeing: https://www.ncbar.gov/media/490655/journal-23-1.pdf.
LM: Your business, Conscious Legal Minds, offers this CLE to lawyers across the state, often in partnership with the NC Lawyer Assistance Program. Why is this training so important to the legal community?
LAURA: The more resources that lawyers have to learn about and engage in ways to build resilience, the better. In 2016, the Journal of Addiction Medicine published a landmark study (https://journals.lww.com/journaladdictionmedicine/Fulltext/2016/02000/The_Prevalence_of_Substance_Use_and_Other_Mental.8.aspx) conducted by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Betty Hazelden Ford Foundation. The study found that lawyers have significantly elevated levels of mental health distress including anxiety, depression, and chronic stress, as well as comparatively higher rates of alcohol use disorders than other professions, including physicians. The report does an excellent job of laying out the problem; this training, as well as the many programs offered by the Lawyer Assistance Program, offer much-needed solutions.
LM: You launched your own company, Conscious Legal Minds LLC. Can you tell us a little bit about the services provided?
LAURA: Conscious Legal Minds provides mindfulness-based coaching, consulting, and training to lawyers, judges, law school students, and other professionals nationwide. Through Conscious Legal Minds, I work in person and virtually with individual lawyers, law firms, and judicial districts to address burnout, vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and professional transitions while helping build resilience in the practice of law. I am also on the provider panel of the North Carolina Bar Association’s BarCARES program, through which I provide up to three no-cost executive coaching sessions for qualifying lawyers, law school students, and paralegals. It is a true joy and an honor to help all of my clients to implement mindfulness and neuroscience-based practices into their legal practices resulting in more productive and resilient workplaces.
LM: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
LAURA: It brings meaning to my life to meet lawyers, judges, law office administrators, human resources professionals, and law school students around the country and to work together to build resilience in the legal field. My favorite moments are when lawyers share with me their ”ah-ha” moments--when something that I teach and they then practice turns on a light bulb and transforms their life for the better.
LM: What advice do you have for law school students as they prepare to enter practice?
LAURA: Practicing law is more than just learning the “hard skills” necessary to handle a case. Taking care of yourself by sleeping, eating, exercising, and doing something that helps you to reset and rest your brain during the day is as important to your success as understanding how to write a brief. Check out mindfulness: it may help you to lawyer better. If we are present, we pay attention to what we are doing. If we pay attention to what we are doing, we make fewer unnecessary mistakes. If we make fewer unnecessary mistakes, we are more efficient and more effective lawyers. Mindfulness practices not only help us to feel better, they also help us to do better.
LM: Where can lawyers find out more information about the course?
LAURA: Check out Conscious Legal Minds’ webpage (www.consciouslegalminds.com). There, you can find additional course details, as well as links to a number of interesting articles about mindfulness and neuroscience (http://consciouslegalminds.com/mindfulness/). I customize every CLE for the specific audience for whom I present. The length and duration of the CLE is tailored to the needs and goals of the sponsoring entity; some firms and judicial districts prefer a one or two hour CLE; others prefer a multi-part CLE that meets weekly for a number of weeks. I conduct both in-person and virtual CLEs, as well as a combination of both. Law firms, judicial districts, and other organizations that are interested in bringing a mindfulness and neuroscience CLE to their area can contact me through my webpage or at firstname.lastname@example.org.