Inhale the future, exhale the past: New group looks to help Florida lawyers de-stress
'There have been a lot of Bar members who have expressed interest in forming a community to help cope with the present time period'
Stress in the legal community is well documented. Lawyers and judges work in an adversarial system with demanding schedules and heavy workloads that often contributes to increased stress.
A survey conducted by the ABA last summer showed that more than 40% of lawyers reported their overall work-related stress had increased. In the same survey, when lawyers were asked to describe their typical work week, the numbers show that many in the profession are burning the candle at both ends:
- 38% said they often work long hours.
- 9% said they “never stop working.”
- 25% said they failed to take adequate breaks during the workday.
Those numbers aren’t lost on Alexandra “Cookie” Echsner-Rasmussen of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis, and Overholtz in Pensacola.
“Attorneys are uniquely situated with endless stress and obligations,” Echsner-Rasmussen said. “The time constraints on this profession can be overwhelming.”
Echsner-Rasmussen is chair of the newly created Florida Chapter of Mindfulness in Law Society. The organization was formed in August with the mission of enhancing the well-being of the legal profession by educating legal professionals about the benefits of mindfulness meditation, yoga, and other contemplative practices.
“I felt compelled to start the chapter to create a community that would foster attorney well-being,” said Echsner-Rasmussen, who also sits on the Bar’s Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers Committee. “There have been a lot of Bar members who have expressed interest in forming a community to help cope with the present time period.”
Aside from her legal practice, Echsner-Rasmussen holds a master’s degree in counseling and psychology with a certification in addiction counseling. Two weeks ago, she opened AER Counseling, LLC, in Pensacola, a mental-health counseling practice that serves lawyers, law students, and other professionals with the goal of teaching them adaptive coping skills.
Echsner-Rasmussen says that her main motivation for going back to school to get her mental-health counseling degree was to help the legal profession in her area, specifically young lawyers and law students, to gain better coping skills.
“Law students have always held a special place in my heart,” she said. “These young professionals haven’t learned how to compartmentalize stress yet and need to learn coping skills. My practice teaches them how to exhale and regroup.”
The Florida Chapter marks the 11th Mindfulness in Law Society chapter worldwide, which focuses on offering a better path to lawyer well-being. Founded internationally in 2014, the society is now encouraged by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, the ABA, the Conference of Chief Justices, and other leading professional organizations.
The Florida Chapter’s inaugural meeting is set for November 8 at noon eastern and will be held on the second Tuesday of each month moving forward. Echsner-Rasmussen will lead the group each week.
“Initially the group will practice yoga and mindfulness while incorporating an affirmation or mantra. We want to create a community of lawyers who are focused on their own well-being.”
The national society will also host two weekly meditational events titled “Mindful Mondays” and “Wakeful Wednesdays,” which provides participants about 20 minutes of guided meditation designed to “breathe and create inner stillness” despite the chaotic nature of the profession. The offerings on Monday and Wednesday are led by different chapters from across the country.
Echsner-Rasmussen says putting these steps into practice will help people become better professionals.
“When we’re able to take a break or a breath, it allows us to have a bit of space to respond rather than react. When we react, it’s generally quick and without thought. When we take a minute to breathe and meditate, we become more thoughtful and better advocates for our clients.”