How many times have you read a book and thought or proclaimed to a friend that it “changed your life”? While it can be exciting at first to see new possibilities open up in your mind after reading a book, the true test is whether it helped you change your life in meaningful ways. Time management guru, Laura Vanderkam, is a writer, speaker, and podcast host whom I have followed for nearly a decade. Having had time to see the difference, I can honestly say her work changed my life.
When I first encountered Vanderkam’s work, I was in the throes of young motherhood with an out-of-control litigation case load. I felt like I was doing everything wrong. I had no energy and I assumed somebody out there must have some answers. When I read I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Timeon a friend’s recommendation, I suppose I was looking for hacks and tricks to make things easier. What I got, instead, was far more valuable: reassurance that my messy life was normal and a reminder to be practical instead of perfectionist about my time.
Over the course of years, the mindset shift to dispense with all or nothing thinking made a huge impact on my life. Gradually, I began incorporating more of what I wanted in my life (writing, exercising, time with friends, etc.) and I let go of the doubts, worries, and guilt that got in the way.
Instead of assuming that I didn’t have time for the things I wanted or couldn’t commit to a new habit, at some point I decided to let myself try. Fortunately for me, meditation was one of the first habits I established. Because it gave me a quick way to recharge, mental space for insights and ideas, and awareness, other good things soon followed. I quickly got more active in my community, started writing more, and established a regular fitness routine.
Of course, Laura Vanderkam is not the only person to credit for this awakening. Friends, family, therapists and coaches have all helped me understand and craft this for myself. But I just listened to Vanderkam’s latest book, right as my own first book was coming out, and it hit me that I had unwittingly put into place so many of her time recommendations.
In Tranquility by Tuesday: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What MattersVanderkam shares more than a set of 9 steps to manage your time. Instead, this book is about managing how you feel about your time. It’s not a tome that tells you how to manage a to-do list or claims you can simply delegate the tasks you despise. Rather, it recognizes that you may be busy for good reason. In light of that, though, it offers strategies that can help you experience your life as rich and full instead of just overscheduled.
I can’t say that I have put all 9 steps into practice but many of them have been essential to helping me open my mind and my schedule for more of what I want. In particular, fifteen minutes of Friday planning has helped me envision the coming week and prioritize personal and work goals. Likewise, moving early in the day has helped me manage stress and start my days off with energy. Finally, the biggest shift came when I started to prioritize what Vanderkam brilliantly calls “effortful fun.”
Though that sounds like an oxymoron, it makes senses. It means fun that takes a little more effort than standard relaxation. I had never heard the term before I read Tranquility by Tuesday but I can tell you that allowing myself to pick effortful fun more often in my life is one of the most important changes I have made.
This is the shift that Vanderkam’s work can help you make. She has five kids, two podcasts, numerous books, and a well-updated blog. Even so, I reached out to her to ask for a quote for the blog and she responded within an hour with this gem for all the lawyers and professionals who read the blog:
I think that one of the biggest misconceptions with demanding jobs is that there isn’t any time for other things. There may not be much, but “not as much as I want” is a very different story from “none.” The first story invites us to study our schedules, and see where this time may be, and how we can make the most of what we have, and scale this up over time. The second story is just defeatist. So the first, which is more truthful, is a better option.
I also think it’s important to look at life in terms of weeks. Individual days might be long. But often, over a week, there is space for the things outside work that make us feel like whole people. There are 168 hours in a week. If you work 60 hours a week, and sleep 8 hours per night (56 hours per week) that leaves 52 hours for other things. Again, it is not an infinite amount of time, and you might need to be creative to seize it. But there is likely time for some exercise, reading or hobbies, and quality engagement with family. Think of it as a quest to find this time, rather than dwell on how little there is.
Indeed, lawyers rarely have as much time as we want but most of us have more than none. If you want to learn a few ways to make the most of the time you have, check out Vanderkam’s work and her latest book, Tranquility by Tuesday. I don’t promise that it will change your life, but if it changes your mind on a few things that will be a pretty good start.
I have used medication to treat depression in the past so I don’t suggest that other people shouldn’t. I have also used therapy several times in my life and benefited each time. The reason I felt relief when I read about the new study, though, is that more information may provide us with more options for treating mental health conditions.
Even so, I have to admit that I was also a little concerned about how the study might be spun or construed. With that in mind, here are a few things to consider when thinking or sharing news about the study.
1. The Good News
We have known for decades that regular meditation can have physical and mental health benefits, but it is not until much more recently that meditation has been embraced as a treatment for mental health conditions. The fact that researchers thought it worthwhile to consider the impacts of meditation practice v. medication shows how much of a mindset shift has occurred.
Overall then, the new study signals continued growth of research into the impacts of mindfulness and greater acceptance of meditation by the medical and scientific community.
2. The Potential Downside
Despite the positive indications from the new study, I also had some concerns . The first one that sprang to mind was that, perhaps well-meaning, but uninformed people may tell others to “just meditate” to address their mental health needs. Over the years, I have heard many friends confide in me that a loved one told them this. I have also had friends or contacts beat themselves up about not being able to manage their mental health needs with meditation.
Moreover, before you share information about the study, you should be aware of what it really says. The study didn’t compare 5 minutes of meditation a day with medication. Instead, it compared an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (“MBSR”) course with medication.
I have taken the MBSR course and it includes weekly classes, a recommendation to meditate 45 minutes a day outside of class (a huge amount for new meditators), and a half-day retreat. In other words, it is an intense and immersive commitment that is at least as time-consuming as therapy. So, be careful when you talk about the study that you understand that context.
3. What I Hope Happens Next
As we know, scientific progress is continually unfolding. Thus, this new study clearly does not represent the final limits of what we can know about the impact of mindfulness practices on mental health. Given the limitations of the MBSR program, I hope researchers continue to study the impact of mindfulness practices at shorter intervals but over longer terms on mental health conditions. I didn’t start at anything even close to the amounts recommended in the MBSR program but experienced significant relief after a few weeks and more pronounced benefits after several months.
I hope researchers also continue to develop studies that show us how meditation may work with medication, or therapy, or exercise, or time in nature, etc. And, of course, I hope we see more studies showing the effects of various meditation practices. Again, MBSR primarily relies on body work and breath practice, but other practices such as loving-kindness can have profound impacts on how we relate to the world and thus our mental health.
In short, I see the new study as an overall positive sign, but care should be taken with how its findings are discussed. Having personally experienced how much meditation helped me manage my own anxiety, I am glad the study shows that meditation may be a promising treatment option. I hope further research will help us understand more to ensure that all people have an array of potential tools to meet their mental health needs.
This month, I am talking and thinking a lot about possibilities. It’s a fitting theme for me because a totally new possibility opened up for me when I published my first book How to Be a Badass Lawyer. No, the world didn’t stop and it wasn’t an international bestseller overnight, though I was ecstatic when it attained #1 New Release status on Amazon.
Still, I have wanted to write a book for years. When you achieve a long-term goal like that, it causes you to reconsider who you are and what you can do. I have a lawyer friend, Christon Halkiotis, who recently did something that caused the same reflection. She’s a lawyer in North Carolina and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro this September to raise money for Multiple Myeloma Research. All told, her group raised $200,000.00.
It’s a pretty amazing story and Christon has some others to share too. She started her law practice just before the pandemic started, she learned to market her practice on social media, and she is one of my awesome co-authors for the bestselling book Networked.
I had Christon join me on Instagram Live for one of the blog’s Easy Like Sunday chats. She shared her story and dropped some knowledge, badassery, and inspiration. What I loved most was that Christon explained that mindfulness helped her get through the toughest parts of the climb. Check out the interview here.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After almost 14 years with my former firm, I made a change to a new firm this May. As excited as I was by the new opportunity, it was a hard process. There were many thoughts swirling in my mind and there was a ton of emotion. My reasons for making the change will remain private out of respect for everyone involved, but I have already said publicly that I was grateful for the start my former firm had given me. In this way, the goal when I left was not just to pursue a new opportunity but to do it while causing as little pain as possible.
Experience tells me that I am not alone in this. Even when a job is no longer right for us, we may feel loyalty to and genuinely want the best for the team we are leaving. We may need to maintain good relationships since lawyers in some jurisdictions might all know each other. Or maybe we just don’t want the personal baggage of knowing we made a hard situation worse with nasty behavior.
With all of those things in mind, here are the steps I took that helped me make my decision and leave with as much grace as possible.
1. Pick a new firm with good values.
Most of us would like to think that we are perfect angels and would always do the right thing no matter what. But, the truth is that we are social beings and are heavily influenced by those around us. Thus, if you want to live your values, it really helps to work at a firm aligned with them. One of the best things you can do to make a good transition is to pick a firm with good people who can support and guide you and will not put inappropriate pressure on you. In other words, the first step towards leaving well is to be sure that you are joining a team with good people.
2. Don’t gossip before you give notice.
This may be one of the hardest things for lawyers to do because we are incredibly social. Yet, this is why you should be cautious about sharing information about your plans too soon. Word spreads quickly among lawyers and the rise of social media has made that phenomenon even faster. To honor the feelings of your colleagues and allow for a planned message to clients, it is best to avoid discussing your plans publicly before you give notice to your firm.
3. Don’t play games with client relationships.
This one should be a no-brainer since the ethical rules prohibit it, but the temptation to get a competitive advantage in retaining clients is always there. Don’t give in. Following the rules when it comes to client relationships in the midst of attorney transitions is essential. Not only does it avoid putting clients in an awkward position, it also avoids behavior that will all but guarantee an acrimonious relationship with your former firm.
4. Talk to calmer and wiser people.
Though you should be discrete about it, life change necessitates seeking counsel from a wise and stable person. Ideally, this person can listen to you and remind you to take the long view and walk in the other person’s shoes. They can help you to focus on your future instead of getting embroiled in issues from the past. They can help you avoid becoming defensive or combative because you feel frustrated or unsure.
In the best case, they can even help you prepare for the difficult conversations that await you and help you plan out how you are going to give notice. Taking the time to talk out your concerns and plan out your course of action with a trusted advisor will help you stay true to your values even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
5. Manage your emotions.
Leaving a law firm is not just a business transaction. It also means changing or perhaps terminating some relationships. Emotions are likely to arise on all sides. It doesn’t work to fight them, so your best bet is to care for them. Expect that you may have to deal with a range of potentially conflicting emotions both in yourself and others. Plan in time to write or talk these issues out with interested parties or trusted friends and relatives. Move as much as possible to discharge excess energy and relieve stress. Give yourself grace as your emotions fluctuate from elation about the future to sadness and even grief about the past.
When you change jobs or think about changing jobs, guilt may be one of the first emotions you feel. Our work as attorneys and roles in our firms can serve as a foundational part of our identities. The idea of changing these roles can cause us to feel like we are being disloyal or doing something wrong. Or it can just cause fear about what the future might bring.
At the core of many of these emotions, you may often find judgment. When you can move past the judgment or at least hold it a little less tightly, another opportunity opens up. Instead of focusing on whether you or your decision is good or bad, you can focus with more precision on how to execute your decision the right way. If you make ethics and values the cornerstone of your transition plan and balance the emotions of yourself and others, you can change your law firm without losing your soul.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
There are so many resources, websites, books, and teachers of meditation out there now that it is very likely that, at some point, you may come across one you don’t like. You know what? That’s not really a problem.
There are many different meditation techniques from numerous disciplines. Even though many meditation practices have been studied in a clinical setting, the practice can be deeply personal and spiritual. In this way, it’s a good thing that there are lots of different teachers out there because there is bound to be one or more who speak to your experience.
In this interview, our founder, Claire Parsons, talks with her friend, Talar Heculian Coursey about influential teacher, Eckhart Tolle. Claire isn’t a superfan but Talar is. Check it out to learn more about Tolle’s teachings and style and to consider how teaching style can affect the way you’ve learned mindfulness.
Not into video? No problem. Scroll on down for a full transcript of the video with some links to Talar’s profile and website, as well as the past blog posts and other resources we mentioned.
Claire Parsons (“CP”): All right. Hey, everyone. This is Claire Parsons from the Brilliant Legal Mind blog and we are trying something new this week. We are trying one of our first ever video blog series. So I have with me to Talar Herculian Coursey. And if I said her name wrong, I’m sorry. She’s a good friend of mine from LinkedIn.
I am debunking myths this month on the blog. And so one of the myths that I wanted to debunk in this series is to talk about the idea that what happens when you come across a meditation teacher, you maybe don’t care for that much. If you saw a few weeks ago, I did a post about Kendrick Lamar, his new album and men’s mental health. And in that album, Kendrick Lamar name drops, Eckhart Tolle quite a bit. Eckhart Tolle had been on my reading list for a long time and when Kendrick Lamar you know, mentioned him so much I was kind of intrigued.
So I listened to The Power of Now and my honest opinion, is it it wasn’t amazing to me. I didn’t think it was bad. I didn’t think you said anything wrong. But it just didn’t speak to me. But my friend Talar loves Eckhart Tolle, and so I wanted to have her here to talk about why, just to sort of point out that maybe you don’t like a meditation teacher, but maybe somebody else does and that there’s a lot of different opinions out there about meditation teachers and what works. So we can talk about this so Talar, can you first of all, give me just an overview, a quick snapshot of who you are.
CP: Yeah, congratulations. on that. I just saw that. So that’s amazing. Talar. I know in addition to all of those things, you you have been certified to teach yoga and I know you do have an interest in mindfulness. Can you talk about that? Just a little bit.
TC: Definitely. My, my first introduction to mindfulness was through yoga. And I, I used to refer to it as my moving meditation. And while I do meditate, I use the calm app, and I try to meditate at least 10 minutes every day through the daily 10 minute meditation. I am not very consistent. I do enjoy it, but not as much as yoga so for me, the mindfulness practice of yoga that includes both not just both mind, body and breath, the connection is what really works for me and what I look forward to doing as opposed to sitting down to meditate which confession, even when I do my 10 minute meditations, I do it lying down. I know she tells you straight back, sit up, stay alert. I don’t do it. I don’t follow those instructions. But it works for me.
CP: And yeah, I usually sit up because I don’t want to fall asleep. But I sometimes lay down to meditate and it’s generally okay to find a posture that works for you. She’s probably just telling you to try to be alert on that app, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. So I asked you here to talk about Eckhart Tolle, and I know at some point on LinkedIn, like you had like Eckhart Tolle, like fan girl or devotee or something on your LinkedIn profile. So what is it about Eckhart Tolle that you like so much?
TC: It’s groupie. I am a self proclaimed Eckhart Tolle groupie. I don’t think that group these are just for musical bands. I think that authors can have them too and I and I’m one of his. I would like to think I’m his number one groupie. It’s really hard to say it’s kind of like obscenity you know, when you see it you know, and I guess for Eckhart toll, it’s, it’s when you listen to it, or when you read it. And it’s funny, you mentioned that, you know, you’re not a fan.
My first introduction to Eckhart Tolle was actually in Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier. I don’t know if you’ve read that or if you’re Dan Harris, and he wasn’t a fan either. But I went down that rabbit hole, and actually started with listening to Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Eckhart Tolle. She did you know, I think it was a 10 part series, one podcast episode, per chapter where she interviewed at cart. So I listened to that before I read the book, and I don’t know if perhaps that helped me. Get you know more comfortable with the book. But I have the book in print. I have multiple copies that I gift to people, whether they want it or not. Some people return that gift. It does happen because he’s not for everyone. It’s kind of like caviar. You know, I don’t like caviar, but apparently some people do. I also have the power of now and a new earth on audio.
And so I like going to various chapters on the audio when I’m taking a walk and need to recenter myself. I just I just the way that he explains concepts and what he talks about, really works for me, and specifically, this concept of us being the watcher of the ego. You know, for me when I am trying to practice mindfulness, and not just because I’m trying to meditate or do yoga, really in interpersonal relationships. And conflict, even in communications on LinkedIn. After reading a Eckhart’s work, I will literally take a step back and watch my ego my ego might want to trash talk and complain and and argue but I will take a step back to watch my ego and recognize that it’s my ego that’s having that reaction. And in my opinion, I think most of the time, when we are reactive, you know, that is the ego at work as opposed to your you no mindful, true self. I can’t remember the question, but hopefully somewhere in there I answered.
CP: I think you did. You might have gotten into some of my later questions too, but no worries I can adjust. So, one of the things that in when you say when you talked about this think the thing that I like about Eckhart Tolle was the fact that I think he does explain concepts with a lot of clarity. The thing about his story that I think is the hardest for me is that in everything that I’ve learned about meditation and Buddhism, the enlightenment piece is the thing I struggle with most like I can’t necessarily conceive of it. You know, I’ve read about it, and I understand like, what in general it means, but I think his story is the hard part for me to understand how that just happens.
And so I think, he doesn’t get into the method as much like how to actually do these things. You know, he talks about concepts, but he doesn’t as much explain how to do it. He does get into meditation a little bit. I do like that. He talks about the importance of the body and meditation because I agree that that is very central. But like, that’s the piece that I have a disconnect with. He tells me where what the goal is. And he explains it very clearly. He doesn’t as much tell me how to get there. So when you say that you can watch yourself and your ego because you listen to him. Like can you connect those dots for me at all like in a practical way how his his work helped you do that?
TC: Like, you know, it’s hard to explain and I don’t you know, I don’t disagree with you. I don’t know that. His work. I don’t necessarily think of it as a you know, handbook guide for how to meditate and how to go about life. I think I think of it is more conceptual. And that you know, if you want to really hone in your mindfulness practice, you need to go deeper. You need to, you know, subscribe to your blog and listen to people like you to get the how, I don’t think he necessarily talks about how. I think he’s just painting the picture of where you can get to, and you know.
It’s interesting. I’m gonna go to something else you just said about the enlightenment piece. So I in addition to being Eckhart groupie, I’m also a Jesus groupie. And one of the things that I like about the way Eckhart describes his concepts he does pull in these great teachers, including Jesus, including Buddha, and Muhammad and all these other people. And his point as these concepts already exist and beliefs that you may already have you don’t have to choose one or the other. They’re not mutually exclusive. And he I feel like he describes it in different ways that different members of the audience might be able to understand it and for me as a Jesus groupie his reference to the Holy Spirit resonates with me in terms of enlightenment. So that’s what you know, my goal Nirvana, enlightenment that I’m trying to get to is access to the Holy Spirit within me, and stay true to that rather than the ego of my human form.
And for some people, you know, who don’t follow Jesus there that you know, maybe something else will. I, you know, I don’t think I’m fooling myself. I have had these moments where I feel like I’m back there. I’m literally having this out of body experience. And when I say back there, because I feel like I consider, you know, the ego being the outer shell of my body, not necessarily just in physical form, but the, you know, the animal part of me, and and when I think about having my out of body experience or tapping into the Holy Spirit, I literally envision myself stepping back. You know what I mean?
And watching this other person that happens to be me having this human experience, and that’s what I think that’s one of the other things he says is, he describes us as the spirit having a human experience, you know, and I just, I don’t know for me, it. I really enjoy the kinds of visuals that he represents, and especially as it relates to how much emphasis he puts on connection of all of us, that we are all connected by one Spirit, one energy, you know, and it each one of us is just having a human experience of that energy. So I like that concept and and because I do believe that we are all connected, and I think it’s just not just in our own personal best interests to support that mission. But also for the greater good as well.
CP: So you got a little mystical on me there. And I’m not necessarily I don’t think that’s bad or unimportant because I think those pieces of life matter a lot, but in practical terms, because honestly, the reason I love meditation so much is because it’s practical, and it’s useful. So, you know, for our readers, who are lawyers and professionals, I mean, what are the practical things that his teachings have helped you, you know, do in your life, what are the practical benefits, and you can just list them if it’s easier.
TC: Well, you know, I think it just comes down to one general term. And, and it’s avoiding being reactive. You know, and I think that that’s part of the goal in meditation, as mindfulness is to be able to take that pause and be responsive instead of being reactive. And after reading his work several times and listening to it. I’ve gotten better and better at doing it both in my personal relationships work on LinkedIn in any situations where like, I can feel the fire of reactive, you know, bubbling up, but I’m able to step back and pause. And my personal method, like I said, is questioning you know, the reactivity that I want to deliver, questioning whether that’s my ego or my true self. So that’s, that that’s been how I’ve been able to adopt it. So
CP: Basically, my next question was going to be that, you know, I read the power of now and what other resources would you look to but it sounds to me that you maybe already answered that earlier when you said that interview with Oprah, to kind of go through that and listen to Eckhart talk about his book and what it means maybe in a more personable setting, since Oprah is a miracle worker in terms of her interviews.
TC: Yeah, it was phenomenal. And like I said, I don’t know if I would be such a fan had I not listened to that first because it made work so much more accessible. Okay, great. That’s a good tip. Definitely that one and for anybody who hasn’t read 10% Happier. You know, that was my introduction to mindfulness work, I think, but I really enjoyed that. He’s a good storyteller too.
CP: Well, on that note, I am a fan of Tara Brach and in 10% Happier Dan Harris actually is kind of critical of Tara Brach, too. And I referenced one of this on one of our earlier blog posts, but there’s a later interview of Tara Brach on Dan Harris’s podcast and they discuss that and they have a real nice conversation about how they both learn from that. So I definitely, I think for that reason, I’m probably like not wanting to go after Eckart Tolle and say bad things about him because like, I got really mad at Dan Harris. I was like “really?”
So I try I understand that there’s a lot of differences with respect to how people react to teachers, and that every teacher isn’t for everybody. So that’s kind of why I wanted to do this. So on that note, like if there is someone out there who finds a meditation teacher or reads a book or listens to some guided meditations or whatever, and they just don’t like the teacher, what would you tell them to do? If they were still interested in mindfulness?
TC: Keep looking. Absolutely keep looking. You know what, what I would analogize it to is food. We we all like different things. Just because you like fish and I don’t doesn’t make the fish bad. And you don’t stop eating. You keep searching for what works for you. And, I mean, personally, it’s been suggestions from friends and of course, my husband is also a certified meditation teacher, and he’s the one who first introduced me to Dan Harris and 10% Happier and he’s had a great practice for many years, but I would take suggestions from different people don’t hold it against them if you don’t like it.
I mean, Claire, you and I can still be friends even though you don’t understand how wonderful Eckhart is. He’s not for everyone, and that’s fine. But I think with the amazing amount of literature and people who are available in the mindfulness realm right now, you will find people that you love. It’s the same for yoga teachers with me. There’s, I love yoga, but if I don’t have a teacher, whose voice I like to hear, like if it’s cringy I’m gonna have a terrible practice the same with a meditation teacher, or if I don’t like the way that they are describing the poses or if they’re going too fast, whatever the case.
You know, I, I absolutely think it’s worth the effort to find someone that you like and you enjoy and it doesn’t have to be just one person you can find several. If there’s one thing I could tell my younger self, have a mindfulness practice sooner. In fact, one of my goals is to start a yoga practice at my son’s middle school like once a week 10 minutes to start getting them familiar and use us to mindfulness at a younger age because, you know, I didn’t learn about it until I was in my 40s.
CP: Okay, so Talar I really appreciate you talking to me today and explaining some things that I may have missed with respect to Eckhart, so thank you very much. So just so people can find you. If people do want to find you, where should they look? You can find
TC: Find me most days at the LinkedIn coffee shop, which is just the platform but it’s kinda like a coffee shop, Talar Herculian Coursey. I also have a website, which is wwwtalaresq.com. And if you’re in Salt Lake City where I live, give me a shout just don’t be creepy and follow me home or anything like that. That’s where you can find me.
CP: All right, follow on LinkedIn. Do not follow home. All right, everyone. This is our interview blog with Talar and I really appreciate you taking a watch and checking out the blog. So I hope we’ll have some new stuff up next month including we might have a guest post from to Talar’s husband Bob so stay tuned for that. And we will see you later. Bye.
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?
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.
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.