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Mindfulness – An Anecdote to Legal Stress


mindfulnessThere is much talk in the legal world of stress, alcoholism and depression among young attorneys. Recently, a landmark comprehensive study showed that up to one third of young lawyers may be struggling with alcohol abuse or mental health issues. There are multiple obvious explanations for their level of stress. In article after article, there are reminders for attorneys to see a doctor; meditate; seek mental health treatment; cut back on drinking; exercise; practice yoga or Tai Chi; get a massage; etc. And while all of these suggestions are beneficial for attorneys, many of these stress-producing situations are also present for family law clients. One possible cheap and easy remedy for both attorneys and clients may be Mindfulness.

Sources of Legal Stress

Attorneys: Huge student loans loom just as they are trying to get fledgling law practices off the ground or find work in a highly-competitive market.
Clients: Legal actions create financial stress on the family. Whether it’s defending a DUI charge, stepparent adoption, divorce or probate, there are attorneys’ fees, court costs, missed work for court appearances and countless other ways that law actions stress the pocketbook.
Attorneys: For attorneys, their clients’ family relationships, livelihoods and potential jail-time are in their hands. There are few other jobs that have so much riding on the practitioner’s ability to do the job well and with no errors.
Clients: When going through a divorce, for instance, my clients need to count on missing at least a couple of work days for consultations and court dates. They may be distracted by a fight or worried about child custody. This adds up to lost productivity that sometimes results in work-related stress.
Family pressure
Attorneys: It is well known that attorneys work long hours. For young lawyers with young children, being away from home 80 hours a week puts a strain on familial relationships.
Clients: Family Pressure is an obvious stress factor for clients. Whether it’s a probate battle between cousins for grandma’s fishing cabin or a change of domicile request, family law cases naturally strain family bonds.
Social Tempations
Attorneys: For young attorneys, there is a draw of camaraderie with colleagues. The temptation is to blow off steam by sharing “a couple” beers. As one young attorney put it, “You go to wind down after work for a bit and walk away hours later with a $150 bar tab. It’s easy to do.”
Clients: For some clients, the temptation to de-stress by drinking is common but can be damaging to family law cases. In the past, ex-spouses have documented each other “overdoing it” in an effort to win custody. Separated spouses, interested in making new social connections, seek friends at bars which can lead to a temptation to drink more than is responsible.
Attorneys: For young attorneys, who are used to a fairly regimented and structured school routine, suddenly being thrust into the real-world law practice is unsettling. Newly-minted lawyers find themselves at the mercy of a judge’s calendar or senior partner’s vacation schedule. Any given day, a young lawyer may file a motion in one county then drive 50 miles to serve papers on another case. Every case is different. Just when they think they’ve learned the job, another new wrinkle emerges that keeps them constantly on their toes.
Clients: In the midst of a legal battle, unfamiliarity and uncertainty are the names of the game for the client. In some respects, there is even more of an element of the unknown for the client than the attorney. The average client has potentially never set foot in a courtroom. They may have seen legal dramas on television but most likely have never had a reason to stand before a judge.

All of these stress-producing factors lead many attorneys and clients to have mental health breakdowns, alcohol misuse and exaggerate anger management issues.

Stress Remedies

Many traditional stress remedies like massage, yoga, mental health medications and therapy cost money and take time. This can exacerbate financial and work stress.

Of all the articles about stress-reduction published recently, one offers a relatively quick and free solution – practicing Mindfulness.

Resembling Meditation, Mindfulness is a method of re-centering one’s focus and actively clearing the mind of non-productive concerns. In the Florida Bar Journal article, “Mindfulness in Law and the Importance of Practice,” Guest Editor, Scott Rogers writes, “a key mindfulness concept [is] that nothing needs to change in order to find inner clarity and ease amid the chaos of life…”

Rogers advocates reading about the benefits of Mindfulness and trying a simple five-step exercise called, “Awareness of Breath” to get started.

  • Bring yourself into a posture that is upright and stable.
  • Lower or close your eyes.
  • Bring your attention to your breathing.
  • Rest your attention on the flow of the breath, noting the sensations of the body breathing.
  • When you notice your mind wandering, bring your attention back to the breath.

This exercise is just the beginning of Mindfulness. If practiced regularly, one may begin to notice a better ability to focus during stress and chaos.

For some, Mindfulness enables the ability to focus on one concern at a time but do so completely and totally. In another article, Attorney Paul Steven Singerman reports, “An often-cited Harvard University study from 2010 [that] confirms that most of us are “off task,” i.e., not focused on what we are doing or supposed to be doing in the present moment about 46.7 percent of the time. This data is very impactful to me.”

If Mindfulness allows the practitioner to reclaim the distracting, half-focused part of our thoughts, the reasoning goes that we should be able to accomplish more with less worry.

For more information, check out the resources page of the Florida Bar Journal.

“My years of experience in the courtroom allow me some freedom from the dread that many attorneys feel when faced with trying a case,” says Waterford Family Law Attorney Kathryn Wayne-Spindler. “That said, a good backrub and puppy kisses never hurt anyone either.”

Will she try Mindfulness?

Pause… (We may never know if she was practicing or dubious.)

The Milford, Michigan law office of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates pledges to make your family law or estate planning experience as stress-free as possible. We take on your legal worries so you can focus on your life. For a free legal consultation, contact the office at 248-676-1000. We help clients throughout Southeast Michigan including the five counties: Oakland, Washtenaw, Genesee, Wayne and Livingston. The attorneys of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates handle cases in Milford, Highland, Hartland, Wixom, White Lake, Commerce, Waterford, Walled Lake, Howell, South Lyon, New Hudson, Grand Blanc, Holly, Linden and many more local communities.