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Ommm... Teaching mindfulness to budding lawyers

29 September 2016 - By Kate Geenty

image of mindfulness  

Take a deep breath, clear your mind and gain some credits towards your law degree. That's the kind of teaching an American professor would like to see on offer to stressed-out law students.

Teresa Kissane Brostoff, Professor of Legal Writing at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, thinks if law schools want to turn out well-rounded lawyers they should include some form of mindfulness studies in their curriculum to help students cope with the rigours of studying law.

In a research paper entitled Meditation for Law Students: Mindfulness Practice as Experiential Learning (available for download through the Social Science Research Network), Professor Brostoff says law students are expected to cope with the stresses of study without necessarily being given any tools to help. "Until recently, stress has been considered part of the law learning and practice experience without regard to the damage that such stress can inflict." 

She says law students seem to grow less happy as they proceed through law school, as stresses build around passing the course, competing for good grades, and rising student debt.

"Law schools must seek a remedy that allows students to become fine lawyers while also finding personal satisfaction."

Mindfulness means many different things to many different people, but is usually achieved through meditation. 

Professor Brostoff says mindfulness can improve attention and learning in the law school classroom. "Offering mindfulness and meditation is a way to communicate to students that they can lead happy and balanced lives." 

  

She suggests law schools could offer mindfulness in many ways – as part of a substantive class, a separate class in the curriculum or an extracurricular offering.

Her suggestions include offering a moment of mindfulness at the beginning of each class, either through a moment of silence, taking a few deep breaths, or even having students volunteer to read a poem of their choice to help students "wake up to their immediate surroundings". 

She says taking some time at the beginning of each class to allow students to express their feelings might also be helpful. 

"This is not a complaint session, but a recognition that as humans we all experience anxiety and frustration at times and a time to help students understand that health and happiness will make their professional lives more rewarding."

It's not just about helping students cope with their studies. Professor Brostoff says Mindful Lawyering courses could include deep listening exercises and simulations for client interactions, interactions with opposing counsel and with judges. 

"These classes can also include mediation or negotiation practice that will address natural reactivity and help students to be reflective before speaking, writing, or acting. "

The professor acknowledges some people might see mindfulness as a strange thing to teach budding lawyers but says "when placed in the context of the known problems facing law students, the documented suffering of lawyers in practice, and the lack of acknowledgement or resources to ameliorate this suffering, mindfulness courses make sense to help students to become ready for the practice of law and to be better prepared for life as an adult in the world outside law school".

Last updated on the 16th September 2019