Offering practical mindfulness instruction, tips, and resources to help take your legal mind from burdened to brilliant.
Author Archives: Claire E. Parsons
Claire E. Parsons is a Member at Wood + Lamping LLP in Cincinnati, Ohio. She has practiced for the last twelve years in the areas of litigation, employment, school law, special education, and municipal law. Claire lives in Union, Kentucky with her husband, Brian, their two daughters, and two dogs.
Claire is an active leader in her community and in the legal profession. She has led innovative charitable programs in her community, statewide legal organizations, committees relating to the promotion of women professionals. Claire is also a frequent writer and speaker for these and other organizations. She has published and spoken about numerous topics, ranging from complex legal issues, to law practice, networking and marketing, as well as mindfulness and wellness for lawyers and other professionals. She writes regularly on LinkedIn and even co-authored a book this year with 19 other women lawyers about how they used the platform to network and pursue career goals during the pandemic.
In 2013, Claire began a mindfulness practice early in her law career and as she was learning to be a new mom to her eldest daughter, Sophie. When Claire began the practice, she saw it gradually transform her life for the better by helping her to reduce overthinking, manage stress, and infuse compassion practices into her daily life. Over the next few years, she continued to study mindfulness practices and attend retreats.
In 2018, Claire began speaking and writing on these topics and she quickly became regarded as a resource for professionals as someone who can explain meditation practices in an approachable and practical way. In 2020, she completed the online meditation teacher certification program with The Mindfulness Center founded by Deborah Norris, Ph.D., to refine her understanding of the science of mindfulness and its practical applications. In 2021, Claire also completed the 500-hour yoga teacher training from My Vinyasa Practice as well as numerous courses relating to compassion practices, including Mindful Self-Compassion and Compassion Cultivation Training. Claire enjoys sharing her experience with mindfulness in her practical, and often humorous voice, to help humanize the legal profession and to make life a little easier for her community.
The theme for this month was love and emotions, but February is also Black History Month. Our recommendation for this month is someone who brings both of those things together with mindfulness in such a beautiful way: Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts. Dr. Roberts, or Chelsea as she is known on her social media platforms, is a world-renowned yoga and meditation teacher, social media influencer, advocate for diversity, and an altogether brilliant person. She is a graduate of Spelman College and later obtained her Ph.D. in Educational Studies from Emory University. During that time, Chelsea also completed extensive yoga training and she now marries her passions for education, yoga, and promoting diversity on her platform Chelsea Loves Yoga.
I became familiar with Chelsea when she joined the roster of teachers for Peloton last year. Though a regular meditator, I am an irregular yogi. Even so, I found it hard not to make Chelsea’s classes a regular part of my fitness and wellness routine. She has a smile and a spirit that can light up a room (even when it comes to you through a screen). In addition, Chelsea brings her voice and her experience to every class and meditation she offers. When you take her classes, you get a chance to stretch your muscles and your mind as she offers lessons on black history and music while you flow. And, while Chelsea encourages kindness in all things, she also advocates for action and strength in her “Breathe In, Speak Up” yoga and meditation series.
Chelsea, however, does not only bring yoga and meditation to Peloton members, she offers it to thousands more on her platform Chelsea Loves Yoga. That platform offers free resources and yoga videos and Chelsea also regularly shares out videos about yoga and meditation to her thousands of followers on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Chelsea has also worked to bring yoga to communities who need it. She founded Red Clay Yoga, which offers yoga programs and training to youth and adults. Yoga classes and instruction are offered at Red Clay, as well as workshops on social justice action and diversity. Among the offerings at Red Clay was a Yoga, Literature and Art camp for teens at Spelman College.
In short, Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts is not just a teacher of mindfulness, but someone who loves it and lives it. She’s an inspirational social media follow and someone you should certainly check out if you are on the Peloton platform.
Chelsea’s presence on the internet, including Peloton, also makes her the perfect recommendation to lead into our theme for next month: a year of social distancing. March will be the one-year anniversary of the emergency declarations for the COVID-19 pandemic in many American jurisdictions, including my own state here in Kentucky, and the beginning of social distancing restrictions for many of us. Stay tuned for more instruction and content on that theme and please continue to stay safe, stay healthy, and take care of yourself and others.
Attorney wellness is a top concern for many attorneys, bar associations, and firms. Meditation practices are being recommended to attorneys as a simple, cheap, effective and research-based way to ease and manage stress. Yet, one of the concerns I commonly hear lawyers, especially litigators, express is that they are worried that meditation will cause them to “lose their edge.” As a litigator, I know clients praise attorneys for being “aggressive” and that even we lawyers often talk about litigation as if we are discussing war. Thus, there is some truth to the idea that to be an effective litigator you can’t have too thin of a skin.
Still, when you really break it down, the idea that meditation will make a litigator’s skin any thinner is kind of silly. You may wonder why someone trying to persuade you to meditate would use such a judgmental word to mock the concerns of fellow attorneys. Well, that that’s not actually what I mean. I don’t mean lawyers are silly for being concerned about the importance of mental or emotional toughness in litigation. Rather, I’m saying that the thought: a meditation practice will make me less tough, assertive, or action-oriented as a lawyer—is funny. When you examine this thought in very practical terms it actually might make you laugh. Please allow me to demonstrate.
First, the concern that meditation will cause lawyers to be less aggressive is somewhat arrogant or at least based on arrogant assumption. Seriously guys, if anyone was going to think of this argument it would be lawyers, right? It posits that, obviously, if any of us high-achieving lawyers set out to meditate we’d attain enlightenment in no time, with minimal effort, no resistance, no struggle, and our lives would be forever changed. We’d immediately uproot all difficult emotions the first time we focused on the breath and it would supplant any tendency toward anger, reactivity, ambition, or competition. In a word, this worry about “being soft” sort of assumes that you will be good at meditation and attain instant chill.
Those of us who have actually tried to meditate know that this isn’t likely to be true (unless perhaps you are Eckhart Tolle). For the vast majority of us, this process is much more gradual. The changes are more subtle. The practice of meditation can help you make substantial and significant changes in your life, but it doesn’t change your personality or life goals instantaneously. In short, the idea that a meditation practice could derail your litigation practice on its own is tinged with a bit of magical thinking.
If you don’t believe me on this one, consider how you’d react if a friend told you that they were considering getting back into regular exercise but they were concerned that doing so would result in superhuman strength, speed, and agility that might disrupt their life. Such a concern may not be illogical so much as it is impractical. After all, it would indeed be inconvenient if your friend inadvertently ripped off the driver’s side door while trying to get in their vehicle due to the superhuman strength they developed after only one weight training session. Yet, it would also be unlikely to happen. The same is true for meditation. You, yes even my beloved Type A lawyer friends, are very unlikely to become instantly enlightened after a few minutes of meditation. So just calm down and give it a try.
Moreover, the practice of meditation has been shown to help you focus and to pay attention to your direct experience rather than constantly being lost in a sea of thoughts. Therefore, if you start meditating for, let’s say, 5 minutes per day, you are more likely to notice if changes start to happen in your life or law practice. Thus, it follows that if meditation is making you too happy or peaceful or filled with loving-kindness to be a good lawyer, you will probably see it. In that case, you can just stop meditating, adjust your practice, or do things like look at Twitter or TV news to raise your levels of aggression when needed for strategic purposes. In other words, you can cross that bridge when you come to it, but a regular meditation practice is likely to help light the path on the way to that proverbial bridge.
Another thing I always think when I hear a lawyer worry out loud about the impact that meditation could have on their litigation skills is: “Whoa, how much are you planning to meditate?” Sure, if you are thinking of starting out for 8 hours a day, maybe the meditation practice might stand a chance of drastically and suddenly changing your personality. Most notably, it could make you hate your life. Fortunately, for most of us mere mortals, a practice of a few minutes a day is all we can stand at the start. Do you really think a practice of 5 minutes a day is going to mean you can’t still be aggressive? You don’t think that. Nobody really thinks that.
Finally, I think litigators who worry that meditation may “change” their hard-nosed style forget that, with or without meditation, they are unlikely to be tough and competitive in all areas of their life. I mean, are the lawyers worried that meditation will infect their soul with kindness and compassion saying that they are always tough, hard, difficult, and willing to fight? Are they saying that they don’t appreciate a softer touch, humor, kindness, or joy in any other parts of their day? My experience tells me that this isn’t what they mean.
In addition to being a good, aggressive, calculating, tough lawyer, I am also a mom, a friend, a wife, a sister, a dog owner. On some occasions, these roles overlap. A few years ago, I called my husband from the courthouse steps while waiting on a jury to return a verdict to sing my toddler her night-in night songs. Yes, my co-counsel laughed at me while I did so, but I was more worried about my toddler’s wrath when I returned home than I was about heckling from other lawyers. I hope you get where I’m going here: we lawyers can be both aggressive and compassionate. We can be incredibly forgiving and kind to our children and family and tough when we need to be for our clients. Sometimes we can, and I think we should, be both for our clients.
Compassion and care don’t detract from our ability to be strong when necessary. To the contrary, it is a normal and healthy way to live life. Balancing these emotions and different roles, of course, can be challenging and that is exactly why meditation practice can help lawyers to be not just “aggressive” but aggressive in a way that is effective for our clients.
So, if like me, you are a “mean” litigator and you are considering meditation to help you manage stress, increase personal happiness, and stop overthinking all of the time, you can start by not worrying that meditation will make you too soft. Meditation has drastically improved my litigation practice and I think it could do the same for you.
Despite this, loving-kindness practice is one of the more difficult kinds for meditators in the West and especially lawyers to practice. Culturally, many Americans aren’t used to wishing themselves well. They may feel like they are being selfish or worry that the practice is sappy. Us skeptical lawyers who are trained in law school that we need to analyze problems without reference to our feelings may see the practice as a waste of time.
But it occurred to me that many of us are used to sending out nice cards for no real purpose every year. That’s what Valentine’s Day is all about. As kids in school, we didn’t just send those to sweethearts but to friends and classmates and usually even our teachers. I tried to avoid giving them to kids I didn’t like in my class but my mom wisely and firmly encouraged me not to be stingy.
So, I thought it might help to briefly explain loving-kindness practice to you in those terms. As the slideshow below indicates, loving-kindness practice is sort of like sending out Valentines from your mind and heart. The practice starts with you, then moves on to others, including a loved one, mentor (teacher, benefactor or supporter), a neutral person, and then difficult person. As you bring these people to mind, you offer them warm phrases, such as “may you be at peace, may you be happy, may you be safe, may you be at healthy.” If these phrases don’t work for you, you can select anything that does, such as “I hope you are healthy and safe.” If you are really struggling, you can even try “I hope you have a nice day.”
At the end of the practice, you move from individuals to groups, expanding from your family and friends, your community, and even the world. While this sounds very silly and highly ineffectual, it is amazing what happens when you experience it. During the practice, one is generally instructed to focus attention in the area of the heart and notice the feelings that arise there. I have done this practice many times and literally felt my heart expand and open. While it is true that wishing someone well doesn’t change anything on its own, warm sentiments towards someone can affect your behavior and research shows that they do when it comes to loving-kindness practice.
This practice can be uncomfortable at first, so don’t push or judge yourself if you feel resistance or don’t feel anything at all. The point is to cultivate warm feelings and let your heart grow, so give yourself time to let that happen. In addition, don’t stress about the individuals you select for practice. At first, pick easy ones. Select a loved one who is easy to love, a benefactor to whom you feel genuine gratitude, and don’t start with your sworn enemy (read: opposing counsel you can’t stand) as your first difficult person. Eventually, though, you may find that you can expand out to new people and broader classes of people.
Most meditation apps have loving-kindness practices, but they may call use words like “kindness”, “compassion” or even the traditional phrase “metta” to indicate them. Several of the meditations on our Resources page also feature loving-kindness type practices including the Body Breath Heart, Responding to Nasty Emails, Loving-Kindness for Business Networking, Calm Work Performance Anxiety meditations, and the meditations for Caregivers and Gratitude. In addition, my new book is structured to gradually teach the foundational skills including in loving-kindness practice.
Because the world right now could certainly use it, I hope you will give loving-kindness practice a try. And this Valentine’s Day, I wish that you all may be happy, healthy, safe, and at peace.
I have a love-hate relationship with the month of February. I love it because my birthday and Valentine’s Day fall right smack in the middle. Associating things with chocolate and pink cupcakes tends to help improve my view of them. But February is also right smack in the middle of winter. It’s almost always grey and super cold where I live and I am restless and ready for spring.
To try to make it a bit more fun, I am going to accentuate the positive and view February as a month of love. To that end, the basic tip for this month is this: emotions aren’t in your head; they are in your body.
“What?” You may be thinking. “I know when I am mad or sad or happy or whatever my mind if churning and churning and thinking away.” Of course it is. That’s because your mind and body work together and they do so almost instantly and usually without our knowledge.
But, if you slow down and actually watch, you will see that emotions play out in the body. If you can let them do just that, they don’t last nearly as long as they do when your mind gets involved to keep them churning. The most common places that you might see emotional reactions arise are in the area of your heart, belly, face, neck, shoulders, and hands, but with additional study you may see more subtle reactions elsewhere.
Since the blog is just getting started, I decided to start at the beginning for my first teacher recommendation post. I owe a lot to Tara Brach, who is not only a meditation teacher but also an experienced psychologist. I am very cheap and when I first started meditating, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a habit that I wasn’t sure would stick. Fortunately for me, I found a lot of free resources online, including Tara Brach’s.
Tara Brach’s website offers a treasure trove of resources, meditations, and more. I found her through her self-named podcast, though, which offers tons of talks and guided meditations, all easily accessible on an iPhone. More recently, Brach has started to offer Wednesday night meditations over Facebook live. She is also the co-creator of the Power of Awareness meditation course, which offers new meditators online access to two of the world’s best meditation teachers.
Brach is most famous for her work to refine the RAIN technique for dealing with difficult emotions. As we discussed in our review of The Craving Mind, this technique may also be useful for treating addictions because can help people handle cravings. With this process, she instructs students to recognize emotions, allow them, investigate them mindfully and then nurture them. You can read about this process in detail with the resources on her website and in many of her books, including the newly released Radical Compassion.
Brach’s style and tone of voice are very soft and calm, so lawyers or professionals first listening to her may wonder what she has to offer them. While I always loved her, Dan Harris described her voice as “cloying” in his book Ten Percent Happier. I remember being mad at Harris when I read that part of his book, even though he gave rave reviews to the RAIN technique. But I ended up loving them both when they discussed this on a later episode of the Ten Percent Happier podcast and agreed, rather elegantly, how that experience caused them each to grow. It was a rare instance of forgiveness and grace in this day and age and it made me respect Brach more and totally forgive Harris.
If you aren’t yet familiar with Brach’s work, do yourself a favor and check it out. And next month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, we’ll cover a topic that Brach would most likely approve of: love and compassion. Stay tuned.
Have you ever gotten all worked up about something and a friend or loved one says “hey, relax!” And then maybe you get mad about it because you think “I can’t relax!” or “I don’t know how!” I know I have.
One way of doing that, is by shifting your attention from your thoughts to the feelings in your body. With this brief meditation that I offered for the ABA Young Lawyers Division Meditation Challenge, we’ll shift attention from the swirling thoughts to the soothing and steady breath to rest–even if just for a few minutes. I bet you’ll find it helps. Check it out here.
This blog post was originally published for MothersEsquire in 2020. A year later it still resonates so I edited it slightly to update and have republished here.
I know you are ready to go. It’s a new year, and after a year like 2020, you are ready to make 2021 your year. Your resolutions are made. Your motivation is high. You’re going to achieve those goals come hell or high water.
Except, you’re a lawyer, right? You know that high water inevitably will come. The energy and momentum of January quickly fades into the gray doldrums of February. I don’t know if it’s Valentine’s day or what but that month just has a way of turning those resolutions made only weeks before into regrets. I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer here; I’m honestly not. I think it’s awesome that we humans want to improve and grow each year and I do not want to get in your way. I’m only suggesting, in the humblest of humble opinions, that perhaps it might be good to have a backup plan.
In my experience, you can as long as you use self-compassion. “Wait, what?” you might be thinking. “Are you seriously telling me I just need to be nice to myself?” Yes. Yes, I am. You—yes you!—need to be nice to yourself. I know you’re rolling your eyes at me right now and I’m fine with that. But hear me out. Did you know that self-compassion has been studied? There is this awesome researcher named Kristin Neff. She’s super smart and has studied self-compassion for over a decade.
So let’s make this simple. Here’s an easy test to help you determine if you are reacting with self-compassion. I call it the “best friend” test. All you do is think of your best friend. Imagine that your best friend comes to you with the exact same problem in which you find yourself. Now, think of how you would respond to your best friend.
Let’s say your best friend wants to exercise at least 3 times a week but has struggled because she’s been dealing with family issues and a busy time at work. How would you respond to her? I bet you’ll find it is easy to be compassionate with her. Now, all you have to do is recognize that it’s you who deserves that love too. If you really struggle with this, just call your best friend and listen to what they have to say. When you have this kind of support, you’ll be better equipped to handle whatever life wants to throw at you, even the gray doldrums of February.
In 2021, I hope you have some amazing goals for yourself and I hope you crush them. As you go about conquering the world, though, be nice to yourself. If you need any more help doing that, here are some resources that you might find useful:
2020 was a rough year for many of us. While we might like to rush as quickly into the future as we can, it is still unclear what the future will look like. As much as you might want to make progress and move forward after a year of what feels like sitting still, you have trouble figuring out how to do that after a year of such disruption.
I think meditation can help with this a lot because, when things feel like a mess, it can help you sit still for a moment to let things settle so you can examine what’s really there. But the special circumstances of 2020 call for extra help so I called for backup from my friend Laura Chipman. In addition to being a lawyer and mom like me, Laura is a life coach for lawyers.
Together, we offered this webinar to members of MothersEsquire where Laura led an exercise to help review 2020 and set intentions and goals for 2021. I then guided a meditation to help you acknowledge your reactions to the past and aspirations for the future and honor the emotions that arise in the process. As an added bonus, Laura created a great workbook from the event so you can work through this exercise at your own pace. Get your copy here.
I’ve honestly never been too into diamonds. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry. As a February baby, my birthstone is an amethyst. I didn’t pine for a big new diamond when I got married, and instead wanted my grandmother’s tiny chip which is conspicuously beefed up by a silver illusion top. So why does a diamond feature in this blog about mindfulness for lawyers?
When I wrote that, I was using the word “brilliant” to mean what we always mean when we say that phrase: super smart, genius, talented, strategic, shrewd, analytical, incisive, and all those other things lawyers are supposed to be. But “brilliant” has some other meanings too.
So I am pleased to launch the Brilliant Legal Mind blog. In this blog, I will offer practical tips for meditation practice, guided meditations, articles, stories, and ideas to help you incorporate mindfulness practices into your life and law practice. I hope it can help you bring light to your practice and clarity to you mind to help you be the brilliant lawyer you are.