By Mark D. Killian
To be an effective law student or lawyer, it is important to be able to focus on the task at hand. Obsessing about the past or worrying about the future can diminish that focus and dilute effectiveness.
That’s one reason the University of Miami has decided to introduce law students to contemplative practices that provide tools for enhancing students’ effectiveness at school, their well-being, and — hopefully — their success and fulfillment in the practice of law, according to Scott Rogers, a University of Florida trained lawyer who also holds a master’s degree in social psychology.
Rogers is the director of the Institute for Mindfulness Studies and teaches the new Contemplative Practices program at UM, which strives to show students how to experience their lives moment by moment. By doing so, Rogers says students can reap the benefits of increased focus, concentration, stress-reduction, and overall happiness.
“Mindfulness is the practice of becoming more fully aware of the present moment — nonjudgmentally and completely — rather than dwelling in the past or projecting into the future,” said Rogers, who has taught mindfulness to hundreds of lawyers and law students, including seminars at The Florida Bar’s Annual Convention and a recent Business Law Section retreat.
Rogers said UM is not alone in integrating contemplative practices into their curriculums. Charles Halpern at Boalt Hall at Berkeley and Professor Leonard Riskin at UF are also part of the growing, national trend of teaching mindfulness at law schools. Major corporations like Google have also instituted mindfulness programs for their employees.
“The heart of it is concentrating attention on a particular object and, in a related sense, expanding awareness of everything that is going on without necessarily attending to one thing or getting caught up in one thing, which is very important for lawyers,” Rogers said. “It’s not getting hung up on the past. It is not getting caught up in the future. It’s not having regret. . .It is not getting anxious and overly worried about what may never take place. It’s being right here, right now, in this moment.”
To teach the concept of mindfulness to lawyers and law students, Rogers has developed a program called Jurisight, which uses legal terms and concepts like pain and suffering, attractive nuisance, due diligence, and hearsay to teach and reinforce the mindfulness practices.
Here is how Rogers described the program in a recent column that appeared in the UM law publication Res Ipsa Loquitur:
“You’re eating lunch while watching TV and a report on unemployment scrolls across the screen. Your heart skips, your stomach drops, and you look at the sandwich in your hand, all of a sudden not so hungry. The thought crosses your mind: ‘This economy is only going to get worse and I’ll never get a decent job.’ What is the next sound you should be uttering? That’s right, ‘Objection, hearsay!’ Just because thoughts arise, doesn’t make them true. This is a first step in cultivating mindfulness. After bringing the thought into awareness, it’s time to conduct a due diligence inquiry.
“In the law, ‘due diligence’ refers to the process of confirming that the representations made during negotiations are true. In Jurisight, you conduct a due diligence inquiry into your own representations by asking yourself, ‘Is this true?’
“So let’s check: Is it true that the economy is only going to get worse? Is it true that you’ll never get a decent job? Much of the time, these representations are not very reliable. Often, they are worst case scenarios that arise in moments of doubt and fear. By conducting the due diligence inquiry, you see more clearly the nature of your own mind.
“This second step complete, you have more insight, but it may not ease the discomfort flowing through your body. This is a classic example of what Jurisight calls a ‘split in the circuits.’ Your emotional circuitry in the brain, found in the limbic system, is shouting ‘warning’ and you may become emotionally flooded with anxiety. Meanwhile, your frontal cortex recognizes that the warning is hearsay and tries to reassure you that everything will be OK. But this cognitive circuit is not communicating so well with the emotional circuit.”
Rogers goes on to discuss stress reduction techniques students can practice when they become agitated.
“It will tone down the flooding and help resolve the split in the circuits,” he said.
In a testimonial on Rogers’ Web site — www.themindfullawyer.com — UM said the It offers new, enlivening ways of thinking about the law by turning familiar legal terms into vehicles for fresh insight,” Blatt said.
If students at UM are any indication, the concept is attractive. Rogers said after discussing Jurisight with 500 students at Miami’s law school orientation, 125 wanted to participate in the voluntary Jurisight program, and 80 ultimately did.
Rogers said many of the students want to learn how to focus and keep their minds from wandering, while others just want to be able to reduce stress and worry less.
He said the program does not require participants to learn anything new.
“It’s more about remembering the deeper truths you already know but lose sight of from time to time,” Rogers said.
It’s also about unlearning the ways you can get trapped in unhelpful thinking — concerns, doubts, judgments, criticisms, worries — that get in the way of achievement potential.