How to Be a Badass Lawyer

The word “badass” may not be the first one that comes to mind when most people think of lawyers. Some people may not like the word. Though the term has been thoroughly adopted into contemporary slang, I’m aware some people may be mildly offended by it. Still, it’s hard for me to deny that being a lawyer is pretty badass.

Yes, we are supposed to be rule followers. In many cases, we are hired because we are experts of the rules. But anyone who has practiced law knows that there are times when the rules don’t tell us everything. Sometimes the rules shift suddenly. And there are instances when we have to blend creativity and ingenuity to chart a course around, through, or alongside the rules for clients.

This is why lawyers, steeped in rules as we are, are not mere rule followers. Instead, our jobs position us to be badasses. Our role is to help our clients shape the future for their lives, their businesses, or their families.

Much the same way, “badass” may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think about mindfulness and compassion. The popular image of mindfulness these days is a blissed out yogi sitting on a cushion. We are more likely to think of our grandmas than a superhero when it comes to the word “compassion.”

But when you understand either of them, you realize how badass they really are (and maybe how badass your grandma was too). At it’s heart, mindfulness is accepting reality as it is without judging, resisting, or fighting it. Compassion, warm and cuddly as it sounds, is nothing less than courage. It means staying present for suffering and remaining willing to help.

In recent decades, some amazing pioneers have begun teaching lawyers about mindfulness. Much of the discussion, however, has focused on the calming aspects of mindfulness practice. To be sure, meditation can offer that and it’s not a small thing. But, my experience as a practicing lawyer has shown me that meditation has helped me so much because it helped me be okay with not being calm.

This may be hard for some lawyers to hear. I know we can feel like we need to look composed. I know it can feel awkward and vulnerable when you can’t control your emotions. Breathing strategies can help in these situations but at a certain point something else is needed too.

That magic ingredient is compassion. It’s a word that I have seen mostly absent from discussions of stress management for lawyers. I think some people have believed lawyers wouldn’t listen. Some may have believed talking about mindfulness by itself would cover the bases.

Over the years, though, I have used compassion for myself and taught other lawyers about it. They do listen and I don’t believe merely talking about mindfulness by itself is enough. Mindfulness and compassion work together. In combination, they don’t just make us calm and soothed. They allow us to soothe ourselves and others and find clarity and stability in even the most troubling times.

What could be more badass than that? And it’s clear why lawyers – who readily take on challenges for clients in the midst of risk and conflict – could use this. This is why I started teaching mindfulness and compassion to lawyers and professionals years ago. This is why I founded this blog. And, today, this is why I wrote and published my first book: How to Be a Badass Lawyer: The Unexpected and Simple Guide to Less Stress and Greater Personal Development Through Mindfulness and Compassion.

I wrote it as a short and simple guide to help lawyers (or anyone else) understand the concepts of mindfulness and compassion and build a meditation practice of their own. Having meditated now for nearly a decade, I understand that meditation can be a challenge so the book creates a four-week program for you to build skills and stamina for meditation. As you do the practices, you’ll cultivate mindfulness, compassion, body awareness, and emotional intelligence.

The book includes no metaphysical discussions, little complicated terminology, and is actively and ardently anti-perfectionist. Admittedly, it’s a self-help book but only in the sense that it may offer some new skills, strategies, and ways of thinking that may allow you to help yourself. Explicitly, the goal of the book isn’t to change you in any way. It’s to help you see how awesome you are because your clients, your family, your community, and the world needs it.

Check out the book to learn more, reach out to me to discuss, or leave me a comment below. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have written it. Achieving a goal like this has caused me to look at myself in the mirror and think “yeah, I am kind of a badass.” I want all of you to feel the same way.

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Compliance with Care? How Intentional Lawyering Can Save the World

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by experienced employment attorney and friend of the blog, Bob Coursey. You’ll learn about Bob’s character and values just by reading this piece but for more detail check out his bio below.

I was talking with a fellow management-side employment lawyer (who is also a friend) recently and I made an offhand comment encouraging her to go out and continue doing the good work of protecting our nation’s employers.

She corrected me: “Actually, I feel like most of what I do when it comes to counseling employers is protecting employees . . .” 

She was 100% right.

I told her I was glad she “corrected” my comment about our job being all about protecting employers. I further told her I felt a little silly that we were even having this exchange, because this is one of my pet issues: I believe there is a common misconception among many (including some of my close friends and family) that, as an employment lawyer who counsels and represents management, my job is somehow anti-employee. 

That is so far from the truth. But convincing anyone of that is not the point of this article.  Instead, my point is that by lawyering with intentionality we can make the world a better place. My life experience is as a management-side employment lawyer, so the specifics I discuss here relate to employment law.

I’ve been a lawyer for a long time now, and it’s clear to me that management-side employment lawyers are in a position to be a great force for good for employees. But being in that position and acting on it are two different things. I can look to my own 24-year career as a management-side employment lawyer and see that. 

Early in my career (before many humbling life experiences, and before discovering meditation, mindfulness, and intentionality), I didn’t consider, at least not with any intentionality, the bigger picture of my counsel to and representation of my clients. Being a zealous advocate meant the client’s interest was my singular focus. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that philosophy. I was very effective and abided by all of my professional ethical duties.

Fast forward a couple decades. I’m a work in progress, like all of us, but I feel confident saying the years have made me wiser when it comes to how I advise my clients.

If you’re not interested in making the world a better place, this article isn’t for you, and that’s fine. But for those of you lawyers who want to be a force for good but aren’t sure how, let me remind you that our jobs likely provide us many opportunities to be a force for good–if we’re intentional about how we lawyer. By lawyering with intentionality, we can help our clients do well by helping them do good.

There’s a lot of suck in the world. To counter the suck, we need good people to act. For most people, the ability to do good is often limited to their own direct actions. But if you’re a lawyer, doing your job often means advising other people on how to act. There’s power there. 

We wield that power whether we are intentional about it or not. 

Let me be clear: Nothing I’m saying here should be interpreted as suggesting we lawyers violate, or even flirt with violating, our ethical duties to our clients. Our counsel to our clients should never put our clients’ interests or legal compliance subservient to the interests of others. What I am suggesting is that for lawyers to ignore the bigger picture, the broader community of interests, is often to do a disservice not only to those other interests, but to our clients too.

It’s easy for lawyers to fall into the trap of thinking of the much of the world as an us-versus-them environment. We rarely hear from our clients when things are rosy. The world can sound like a pretty troublesome place when every call you take, every email you read, is about disagreements, arguments, accusations, and various troubles between humans. For those lawyers who spend a significant part of their time defending their clients in litigation (like I did for the first 10 years of my career), it may be even harder to avoid falling into this us-versus-them trap.

Now 24 years and lots of life experiences into my career, my heart is softer, my perspective is broader, and at the same time I feel like I’ve never been a better legal adviser. I guess practice makes perfect, because I’ve spent thousands of hours counseling companies to:

  • -protect employees from harassers/bullies/jerks
  • -accommodate employees with health, family, religious, or other needs
  • -support or coach employees instead of imposing discipline
  • -communicate better with employees
  • -promote deserving employees
  • -allow employees to work from home for health or other personal reasons

These are some examples of the type of employee-friendly counsel that I offer when I believe it’s in my client’s best interests, which is almost 100% of the time.

It’s exceedingly rare that good legal counsel in a workplace situation calls for taking an aggressively antagonistic, anti-employee approach. When those unfortunate situations present themselves, we management-side employment lawyers should counsel our clients accordingly. But treating employees with humanity, dignity, and fairness should always be the default.

In my field of employment law, this philosophy yields good client results. How do I know? Clients tell me. I see the lawsuits that don’t get filed. I see the careers that aren’t ended prematurely. I see workplace relationships salvaged. I hear about workplaces where trust exists between employees and management. I could tell you about countless situations that had lawsuit written all over them, but because I worked with my client to take an intentionally employee-focused approach to handling the situation, litigation was avoided.

I believe the same philosophy can yield similar positive results in other areas of law. Regardless of the area of law, there’s almost always a broader perspective to consider than our clients’ specific interest. There’s almost always going to be others affected by our clients’ decisions and actions, for better or worse. For me, it’s my clients’ employees and those employees’ families and communities that I choose to consider with intentionality when I advise my clients. Who is it for your clients?

The world can look like a very dark place to a lot of people in 2022. Our clients and their communities are dealing with everything ranging from mental health struggles to hate and violence. As lawyers, the nature of our job means that we are sought out by clients when they are facing some of the hardest times in their lives, and they look to us for counsel through these dark times.

Are lawyers going to solve all of these problems? Of course not. But in my small part of the world, I have no doubt that my clients have a huge role to play in their employees’ lives, which means that as their employment lawyer, I’m in a position to do some good, not only for my clients, but often in the broader sense. And the world needs every single bit of good it can get. I bet you can say the same about your clients, and your role in advising them.

Our jobs give us the privilege of having a part to play in the lives of many people, which has ripple effects on the world. It’s up to us what we do with that privilege, whether those ripples are positive or negative. Today, I’m going to look for opportunities to do some good in the world. I hope you’ll join me.

Author Bio: Bob Coursey has been an employment lawyer for over 20 years. He spent his first 10 years of practice at Fisher Phillips, one of the most respected employment law firms in the country, where he defended companies in employment related litigation. He then spent 11 years at Employers Council, where he focused his practice on keeping employers out of trouble. In 2021, Bob started his own company—Modern Age Employment Law—where he counsels, represents, and trains employers who are looking for a modern approach to their employment law and HR challenges. Bob is licensed to practice law in Utah and Georgia. He’s also a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP).Despite all that very dry sounding info, Bob is actually a real person too. He’s a music lover, an OK drummer who still dreams of being a rock star, a daily meditator and certified meditation teacher, a Peloton enthusiast, a t-shirt re-designer, a lover of Utah’s outdoors, and a husband and father of four kids who bring him immense joy.

5 Healthy Ways to Handle Emotions as a Lawyer

The first question I ever asked a meditation teacher showed how uncomfortable I used to be with my emotions. In the Zen tradition, you get an opportunity for an interview with the teacher when you go on retreat. I was totally unprepared for this on my first one so I asked the question at the top of my mind: is it okay if I cry when I meditate?

In not so many words, the teacher kindly explained that, yes it was okay when emotions came up during meditation. She wisely didn’t push me too hard to examine why I had asked the question at all and let me figure out that more fundamental issue for myself. In retrospect, I now know that the question isn’t whether it is okay to cry during meditation. The better question is why did I ever think it was a problem in the first place?

As I eventually discovered, I had been making some assumptions about my meditation practice and myself. I had assumed that meditation was about being calm, so through that lens crying was a problem. To dive a bit deeper, I had generally assumed in my life that I should be in control of my emotions, so when I reacted in ways that I didn’t expect it seemed to signal a problem.

In years of practice, I have come to learn that meditation is not about being calm, but instead is about being as you are in any given moment. In addition, our lack of control over our emotions isn’t the problem either. Usually, the problems arise when we fight against that lack of control. Even so, us lawyers are in the position where we often must modulate and monitor our emotions to do our jobs. How can we do this in a healthy way? Here are the five strategies rooted in mindfulness and compassion that I use.

1. Give them time.

Emotions sometimes have deeper meanings and sometimes they don’t. One of the best ways to tell the difference is to give yourself a moment to watch them and see what happens. The first thing you will notice if you can let emotions be is that they don’t last very long. In themselves, the bodily sensations often last about 90 seconds before resolving or changing to something else. So, if you can pause for a few breaths, let your body settle, and give your brain a chance to catch up, you may understand better what your emotions are trying to tell you. If nothing else, you’ll be present for yourself in an authentic way and remember for a moment that you are a human being who is affected by the world and that’s not entirely a bad thing.

2. Give them space.

As you give your emotions time, it also helps to give them space. What I mean by this is a few things. First, don’t force a conclusion right away. Don’t immediately put your emotions under the microscope. Don’t demand an explanation. Remember that emotions are feelings and they are not necessarily logical, so don’t judge or add on extra baggage that doesn’t need to be there. Second, it also means to let yourself expand around the emotions. Sometimes big emotions can feel overwhelming. In those times, I find the breath helpful as a tool to help me feel a sense of expansion as I make space for emotions. Strong emotions can also push us to contract around them, so the practice of allowing them to float (not pushing them away or reacting to them) is a way to honor our emotions while avoiding rash and potentially harmful actions.

3. Move.

Meditation is excellent for some emotions, but I find movement more helpful for dealing with the energetic ones like anger, frustration, or nervousness. After years of practice, I can sense when I am too keyed up to meditate. In those situations, I take a walk, do a strenuous workout, or put my energy to good use by doing yard or housework. The movement helps me to avoid ruminating about the situation and, even if I don’t get full clarity by the end of the activity, at least I did something good for myself or completed a chore. I also use this strategy when my calendar or case load give me reason to anticipate strong emotions. I make a point of working out before difficult depositions or important presentations. Even if short, I take walks or do some stretching or yoga the weeks I am in trial. At their heart, emotions are sensations which is energy. Movement can make you feel physically better and discharge some of that extra energy, so it is a great response to emotional surges.

4. Share them.

Lawyers sometimes must remind ourselves that we don’t have to handle everything on our own. As an introvert, this is true for me. When things are awkward, I tend hide them or try to fix them before anyone notices. Eventually I learned, though, that all the self-care strategies in the world are no match for the loved ones in my life. The reason is that our emotions can easily get mixed up with shame. Sharing our experience with those we trust is the most effective way to counteract shame. In many cases, our loved ones or trained professionals can’t change the situation or even offer wise advice. They can, however, remind us that we aren’t alone and our feelings matter and that is valuable.

5. Care for them.

The first few strategies emphasized some distance from one’s emotions to build stability in the midst of turbulence. Ultimately, though, practice with your emotions may reveal the truth that you can’t and shouldn’t try to become aloof from them. One amazing thing I have seen repeatedly is that compassion emerges when we feel suffering, whether it is our own or someone else’s. This isn’t to say you should always take on suffering or never use strategies to help yourself get distance when needed. It is to say that feeling our emotions and treating them like they matter is essential. This means being present for and accepting of ourselves even when our emotions are inconvenient, irrational, or uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean we always act based on our emotions, but it does require dropping the pretense that we can somehow rise above them.  

Law practice is a rational, logical, and competitive. If we are honest, though, it’s also highly emotional, intuitive, and relationship based. Emotional intelligence is not merely about recognizing emotions in ourselves and others. Because of the toll that law practice can take on legal professionals, it is also essential to learn strategies to honor and care for our own emotions. This is not just true because it can help you maintain or improve solid performance at work, but also because you are a human being and your lived experience matters.

In short, the healthy way to deal with emotions as a lawyer isn’t treating your emotions as a problem, but instead embracing them as a part of the human experience. Coming from someone who used to struggle mightily with this, I know that this takes patience, trust, and effort but these strategies derived from mindfulness and compassion can help.    

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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What Does It Mean to Be a Human Lawyer?

This month, I decided to write on the theme of “humanity in the legal profession.” When I settled on this theme, it seemed at first like an easy concept to impart. But, as I sometimes realize when I sit down to write a brief, the writing process quickly reveals the gaps in my understanding. There are lots of things I love about writing but this aspect, humbling as it can be sometimes, is one of my favorites. It forces you to drill down on small things you might have otherwise overlooked.

In this case, the small thing I had overlooked was what does “humanity in the legal profession” really mean? Sure, I’d used the term “human lawyer” many times. I had considered to myself, if not said aloud, that I strived to show what it means to be a human lawyer. Still, I’d never thought about defining the term. When you write about a subject (especially as a lawyer) that’s usually a good starting point.

In this case, though, a dictionary definition was not helpful because I wasn’t trying to understand what the word “humanity” meant. Instead, I was trying to understand what it meant to demonstrate one’s humanity as a lawyer. To be sure, I had witnessed this in several ways in my own life. My family is filled with lawyers and so I was blessed to see regular examples of heartfelt care and concern expressed through legal guidance growing up. As a practicing attorney myself, I’ve benefitted from humanity from my colleagues and opposing counsel. And, on my better days at least, I have employed it too.

But still, the idea of humanity in law implies that it can’t be limited to just one lawyer’s lived experience. Fortunately for me, I happen to have a pretty robust LinkedIn network. So, I asked my lawyer friends there to tell me what being a human lawyer meant to them. Here are some of their answers.

Several respondents told me that humanity as lawyers had to do with how we show up in the world:

I think we are all human lawyers at heart. But we learn to muzzle our humanity to show up as who we think our clients want to see. Ironically, I think this is the exact opposite of what most clients crave. They want real, raw, empathy, humor, relationship. More transparency is the answer.

Still, it’s hard to swim upstream against the prevailing norms. I often encounter attorneys who are very reticent to share anything personal in their bio or express their personality in their content. This is a missed opportunity to stand out from the crowd. For the most part, clients choose you because of who you are and what you stand for. Not who you clerked for, your class rank, or the last case you won.

Marie Sotelo, B2B Content Marketing Consultant in Law/Compliance/Risk Management

I actually say this just about every day! Human-first lawyering is a huge part of in-house practice. Lawyers (just like other humans) like jokes, and play fantasy football, and have interests outside of work and listen to punk rock. We’re just humans who went to law school and we learned some things there that can help you.

Stephanie Solera, Deputy GC at Numerator

Still other lawyers told me that humanity in our profession means honoring our own emotions and the emotions of our clients:

Empathy. Empathy for your clients, coworkers, and opposing counsel.

Emmy Klint, General Counsel and Risk Mitigation Manager

I am a human lawyer because I can speak of practical solutions not just legal ones and advise people to take pathways that are less disruptive to their mental health if they can still meet their basic goals.

Lynda Hinkle, Esq., Attorney, Law Firm Owner (Family, Estates, Guardianships), Family and Estate Mediator, and Real Estate Agent

Some lawyers even suggested that our humanity is essential for counseling clients, even when that means admitting to the limitations of the law:

As lawyers, our role involves “counseling” sometimes more than providing legal advice. Talking your client down from the ledge or from pursuing a vendetta or burning bridges or to encouraging the client to cut all ties and have a “divorce” from the opposing party. I handle probate, trust, and fiduciary litigation, which involves blended family situations or sibling discord. I remind people that sometimes, to be there for yourself, you have to “divorce” or disengage from that toxic or opposing party family member and maybe someday you might be able to see each other at Christmas but not this year. I believe in acknowledging our feelings and then, asking what can you do to feel that again or not feel that again. Acknowledge the client is stressed but also encourage them to concentrate on the next step, not the end result.

Andrea Barr, Managing Attorney, Fiduciary Litigation

I think what can set you apart as “human” with clients is to be humble and admit when “the” answer isn’t clear or straightforward. I work in a science heavy area of law, with cases that are often full of unanswered questions of law. It’s hard sometimes for clients to understand that, but I have had many tell me they appreciate my honest and forthright answers… often after having talked to or worked with other attorneys prior. Sometimes a humble attitude is surprising to clients but it’s also earned loyalty and referrals.

Melissa A. H. , Environmental & Construction Attorney

Now, if like me, you have struggled with your humanity at times, don’t worry. A few of the respondents shared that you can remember or relearn your humanity even if, litigation for example, causes you to lose track of it for a while:

I bring humanity compassion and kindness to all my matters. I used to be a litigator and was becoming a jerk I switched to transactional work 17 years ago doing estate planning and business law. I now enjoy helping people set things up for the present and the future. I also perform about 240 hours of pro bono work every year. If there is anything that can be said for wisdom instilled by the elderly, it is treat people how you want to be treated and create memories because they are all you take with you and no one gets out alive.

Rev. Dr. Marc Paquette, Senior Corporate Counsel/General Counsel

I learned to be a human lawyer after experiencing the personal tragedy of one of my clients. I finally saw the true terrible price of a legal malpractice claim and realized that to help my clients (and myself) I needed a more holistic approach. I took a step back from just defending legal mal lawsuits and now attempt to address lawyers’ problems before disaster strikes.

Jeff Cunningham, Esq. Outside General Counsel for Law Firms Partner at Goldberg Segalla

So, there we have it. Humanity in the legal profession is about showing up as ourselves. It’s about honoring our emotions and those of others. It shines through brightest, perhaps, when we counsel with practical as well as legal advice. And it can even serve as our north star to get ourselves back to goodness if we lose our way in the difficulties of law practice.

Maybe there’s no unifying definition of what it means to demonstrate humanity in the legal profession, but it’s good that there are many examples of it. If you want more, check out The Human Lawyer Podcast. I was a guest on this podcast a few years ago and it curates the stories of some fantastic human lawyers across the country.

How do you show your humanity in your life and work?

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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Is Compassion for Others Different from Self-Compassion?

I spent a lot of time this summer thinking and writing about compassion. For much of the summer, I was writing my forthcoming book on mindfulness and compassion for lawyers (more details on that to follow). I also completed the Compassion Educator Certification course with the Compassion Education Alliance. In the midst of all this writing and learning, I realized a gray area existed in my understanding of the subject.

Most of the time, teachers instruct self-compassion separately from compassion for others. But as I wrote about it and thought about it more I realized something unexpected: they weren’t separate at all. This was kind of surprising to me, so I asked my teacher and the founder of the Compassion Education Alliance, Aly Waibel (full bio below), to clarify. Her answer was so good that I asked her for an interview so I could share it with you here.

Q. Self-compassion is fortunately getting more attention lately, but is it any different from compassion for everyone else? If so, can you explain how? 

AW: Compassion is the awareness of another’s suffering coupled with a willingness to take action to relieve it. Compassion is relational and so always includes self and other, by definition. The suffering we’re aware of may be in ourselves or another, and the compassionate response or the desire to relieve the suffering is similar, regardless of who is suffering. 

Self-compassion is a new term, and was originated by Kristin Neff as an antidote to self-esteem, which is based on social comparison. The self component of compassion is important to develop as many of us are inclined or conditioned to offer compassion to others and we can forget about ourselves. We can forget that we are just as deserving of compassion as others, or forget to include ourselves in the circle of compassion.

Most of us have a negative critical voice in the head that is constantly narrating our experience with judgments, criticisms and preferences. This voice in the head can be like a bully or cruel tyrant. Self-compassion is a way to bring awareness to this negative self-talk in order to shift it toward more kindness. It helps connect us to our core values and strengths so we are more resourceful and available to others.

Q. So, why are we hearing about all these studies that say self-compassion is good for us? Why would we want to build self-compassion at all? Shouldn’t we just focus on building compassion overall?

AW: There are three RCT studies on the Mindful Self-Compassion training program and over 4000 published studies on self-compassion in other forms. This growing body of research suggests that self-compassion is a primary factor in predicting resilience, decreasing stress, and increasing wellbeing.

The benefits of recognizing our common humanity and offering ourselves the kindness we’d offer a friend are many. However, it’s one component of the bigger process we call compassion. Compassion is relational and our concepts of self and other arise simultaneously. Any time we practice compassion for another, we are the primary beneficiary, and when we practice compassion for ourselves, others in our lives benefit. 

Q. Are you saying that self-compassion and compassion for others aren’t in opposition to each other? Do they actually work together/help each other? 

AW: They must go together, like two wheels of a bike. We can’t have one without the other. If we go too far into compassion for others we run the risk of becoming codependent and if we go too far into self-focused compassion we run the risk of becoming narcissistic or indulging in unhealthy self regard at the expense of others. 

It’s all about balance. When I’m attending to my own needs, for example, I’m less of a burden on my loved ones. When I practice self-inquiry to question the thoughts I’m believing that cause my own stress, I feel more freedom and peace. And then I’m more aware and available to others who may need support or help. When I’m overly self-focused, I miss opportunities to help others. When I’m overly other-focused I run the risk of becoming burned out and then, again, less helpful to others. Most of us have experienced going through a really difficult time or life event and how offering compassion to someone else in the midst of that can feel really good. In other words, shifting focus away from me and my suffering to be there for you can support us both. 

So the caution around self-compassion, for me, is that it may sound like it’s separate from compassion for others, or compassion in itself. Compassion is one process – it flows through individuals and helps each one who is involved — the giver and the receiver. Eventually, the distinction between the giver and the receiver of compassion becomes much less relevant. So regardless of where the suffering originates (in me or in you) the response to it is the same — an awareness of it and a willingness to relieve it, to reduce overall suffering in the system or in the world. 

Q. Wait, if there is no dividing line between compassion for self and compassion for others, how do I protect myself and set appropriate boundaries?  

AW: My experience is that with compassion practice, boundaries naturally arise. I don’t need to calculate, plan or think about boundaries as much. The ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ are more natural and intuitive and flow more naturally. There’s less obligation to say ‘yes’ and less guilt when ‘no’ is the answer.

Q. If compassion is a natural response for most humans, why do we need to do practices to cultivate it? What’s the best way to get started?  

AW: It’s sort of like working out. If we’re fortunate enough to have healthy bodies, we can work out and build our muscles to become stronger, or not. The body is innate and what we choose to do with it, or how we train it, is a choice. Compassion is like a muscle we’re born with that we can build with practices (meditation and visualization practices), so when we’re confronted with suffering in and around us, the compassionate response and capacity to relieve the suffering will be more likely to arise. Similar to how athletes will visualize their race or the game before going out to the field, remembering or imagining moments of compassion in a visualization or meditation can have a similar effect on our performance out on the field of daily life.

One of the best places to start practicing compassion is with mindfulness. Mindfulness is being with what is in the moment without judgment. You share great resources for getting started with mindfulness on your blog! 

Most of us are very caught up in thinking – thinking about the past, planning for the future, judging others or circumstances, comparing ourselves to others, etc. We can get so caught up in and distracted by our thinking that we miss the present moment. And compassion requires our presence. 


Aly Waibel has taught mindfulness and compassion courses and workshops since 2012 and she is a Senior Certified Teacher of the Compassion Cultivation Training course developed at Stanford University. Aly received her PhD in Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies at the University of Arizona College of Education in 2015 and has served in nonprofit leadership roles since 2015. She is currently the Associate Executive Director of Professional Training and Operations at the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. In 2021, Aly founded the nonprofit organization Compassion Education Alliance (CEA), a global collective that offers courses and support to compassion practitioners, educators and social change agents. She works closely with her fiancé, James Wood, author of Ten Paths to Freedom: Awakening Made Simple.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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Sending Loving-Kindness to Opposing Counsel Can Make You a Better Litigator

If I had to pick one style of meditation to recommend for lawyers, it would be loving-kindness practice. When I present seminars on mindfulness, I take any opportunity I get to talk about the practice or share it in a guided meditation. Loving-kindness meditation became my lifeline early in my law practice when I was struggling with the combative nature of litigation. I often turned to it after a lengthy deposition with a difficult witness or when I was freaked out by a case or project. It almost always calmed me down or reminded me that the world was not as dark and terrible as I may have felt before I sat to meditate.

If you aren’t familiar with it, loving-kindness practice doesn’t merely focus on the breath. Rather, it is a dynamic practice where the attention is usually focused on sensations in the heart as you bring individuals and groups to mind and send them kind wishes. Traditionally, these phrases wish that yourself and others are safe, happy, healthy, and at peace and the practice usually starts with oneself and moves outward from a loved one, mentor, neutral person, difficult person, one’s community, and then the whole world.

If you are litigator like me, the first “difficult person” to come to mind may be the opposing counsel who most recently drove you up the wall. Now, for those entirely new to the practice, I don’t usually recommend starting that way because you may find it, well, difficult to send loving thoughts to an adversary, especially if you don’t like them or respect their tactics. But, over time, if you can work your way up to sending loving-kindness to opposing counsel, it can really help.

Now, I know you may be thinking “why would I send kind wishes to someone who is literally trying to hurt me (in a professional sense)?” When you put it that way, it sounds crazy, I know. When it comes to the difficult person, however, I see the practice of loving-kindness sort of like forgiveness. You don’t really forgive others to help them; you do it to help you. Wishing loving-kindness to an opponent or anyone you dislike can soften the reactivity you have for that person and give you space and distance from the situation. Even if you struggle to really feel love for a difficult person initially, just attempting the practice can help you see how your reactivity is manifesting and that might put you in a better position to care for yourself and act more skillfully in the future.

I want to be clear, though, that loving-kindness for opposing counsel is not forgiveness. You don’t have to forgive anyone to do the practice and you certainly shouldn’t ignore or condone bad behavior. Instead, the practice is really about acknowledging that all humans want and need to be safe, happy, healthy, and at peace. It’s an acknowledgment that, even when things appear to separate us from others, we are deeply connected to all people just by virtue of being human. Thus, the paradox of loving-kindness practice is that it gives us distance from our judgments of others by helping us see how we are all connected.

This may sound good in theory, but you may be wondering what it has to do with litigation. In fact, it’s ideal for litigation. I’ve used this practice for an opposing counsel that I often litigated cases against and whose style was drastically different from my own. While I can’t boast that all my antagonistic and judgmental tendances abated, a few sessions helped me see my opponent as a person, rather than some blocking force who made me angry on a regular basis. Now, we have a good working relationship despite our frequent clashes. On a practical level, this has made me calmer and treat opposing counsel with more respect so that we can work together to discuss case scheduling or stipulations or even settle a case when the circumstances are right.

It’s even useful when settlement or conciliation aren’t the aims. Some worry that doing practices like loving-kindness might turn them into a flower child who can’t aggressively advocate for clients. That’s not been my experience. The practice can certainly evoke strong emotions and soften the heart. But it does not empty the head of rationality or logic. Instead, by facing the emotions I may have for difficult opposing counsel and sending them well wishes, I have generally experienced a release that has allowed me greater mental clarity and increased objectivity when it comes to my cases. In turn, this has made me calmer in the courtroom, more incisive in my analysis, and far more courageous in my advocacy.

By no means am I saying that loving-kindness or any kind of meditation can make litigation an easy thing. As an adversarial process where the stakes are frequently high, litigation tends to be difficult on all parties involved, including the attorneys. The difficult nature of litigation, however, is exactly why it helps when attorneys know how to avoid making the situation worse. As odd as it sounds and as uncomfortable as it may feel at first, loving-kindness practice is one tool that can make litigation less painful and litigators more effective. Though it doesn’t make litigation easy, it can help you feel more at ease and that’s why it is the practice I most frequently recommend for lawyers.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Why You Should Add Self-Compassion to Your List of New Years Resolutions

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.

I’m not talking about lowering standards or even managing expectations. I want you to dream big and to go big in 2021. But, while high standards can lead us to great things, they can also send us pretty low if we don’t get the results we want. So, the question is this: how do you get the best of both worlds? Can you set high goals without setting yourself up for failure?

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. You know what she’s found? She’s found that people who treat themselves with compassion are more likely to exhibit resilience in the face of challenges and, thus, more likely to achieve goals. One of the reasons this is true is that people who act with self-compassion tend to view a failure or a setback as a learning experience, rather than an indication of their personal worth. In short, self-compassion is a buffer that can help high-achieving people from taking goals (and themselves) too seriously.

It’s compelling stuff, but it leads to another question: how does one learn to respond with self-compassion? This is a fair question. After all, it is one of the easiest things in the world to get down on yourself when you don’t achieve a goal that’s important to you. Clearly, you would have achieved the goal if you were good enough, or worked hard enough, or were more committed, or wanted it more, etc., right??? Well, no, it’s not that clear. For us lawyer moms, life is rarely clear. We are trying to manage our lives, our families, our practices, and—on top of that—achieve new goals and grow. That’s not easy. It’s really hard.

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:

  • For a quick overview of Neff’s research, check out this interview of her on the Ten Percent Happier podcast.
  • For research, tools, and free compassion guided meditations, check out Neff’s website.
  • For more in-depth discussion of Neff’s research on self-compassion, check out her book.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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