On Well-Being

Woman smiling

Photograph of Jeena Cho courtesy of The JC Law Group

Mindfulness has become a popular program at many law firms and bar associations. Research from the American Psychological Association shows that mindfulness helps to reduce stress, rumination and emotional reactivity while improving memory, focus, cognitive flexibility and relationship satisfaction. And a 2014 study indicates that mindfulness practices may help to reduce implicit bias.

Over the past few years, I’ve been working with law firms to create mindfulness programs that are easy to implement and can fit into the busy lawyer’s schedule, and to measure the impact of the programs. Creating a long-term program that engages the participants and encourages them to practice on a regular basis isn’t easy. It takes a good launch protocol, selecting the right technology and delivery mechanism, as well as curating the content to be highly relevant for the participants.

PERSPECTIVES: WHY AT YOUR FIRM?

Laura Maechtlen, a San Francisco-based partner at Seyfarth Shaw, says that “with 24/7 demands, law firms often overlook the importance of their people’s physical and mental health, but the fault lines forming now threaten the resiliency of both firms and their people. The legal market is increasingly demanding, and our continued high performance is dependent upon the well-being, resilience, grit and ‘growth mindset’ of our talent.”

Leslie E. Wallis, a Los Angeles-based partner at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, decided it was important to implement a mindfulness program at her firm. “Mindfulness can help us become more aware of each other and our communication deficiencies across the firm so that we work to improve and integrate our problem-solving, responsiveness and interpersonal skills with our legal skills. This shift makes us not only better at our jobs but more connected and happier to be there. A mindfulness program can also serve a particular need for BigLaw because in a large firm we often are physically segregated or separated, even working in silos.”

Michelle Wimes, chief diversity and professional development officer at Ogletree, believes mindfulness programs can be one prong of a firm’s overall wellness and diversity strategy. “Mindfulness practices not only help us to focus and increase our capacity to think more clearly but also help us to act more intentionally by raising our awareness of our emotions in any given moment. By regulating our emotional responses, we can decrease the occurrence of bias and our natural tendency to employ stereotypes and unconscious expectations in our interactions with others.”

GATHER DATA, INCREASE BUY-IN

It is critical to measure the impact of any mindfulness or other wellness program. This can help highlight areas of improvement as well as measure the effectiveness and return on investment of the program.

The first online mindfulness training program I implemented was in partnership with the National Association of Women Lawyers and Seyfarth Shaw. Seyfarth offered an eight-week mindfulness program to all of its attorneys and NAWL participants. John Paul Minda, a psychology professor with the Brain and Mind Institute at the University of Western Ontario, ran a study to measure the program’s impact. The results were surprising. Lawyers reported a decrease in stress, anxiety and depression (32 percent, 30 percent, 29 percent, respectively), while job effectiveness increased by 6 percent.

Minda studies the impact of mindfulness training in companies. “We are measuring and assessing things like perceived stress, mood, psychological resilience and the occurrence of anxiety-producing thoughts,” he says. “Based on prior research, we predict a reduction in the negative aspects—like stress—and an increase in the positive aspects—like resilience.”

The goal of the research is twofold. First, to determine the impact on stress and anxiety. Second, to determine whether meditation, with its emphasis on being present and nonjudgmental, provides an additional buffer against stress by increasing resilience.

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Jeena Cho consults with Am Law 200 firms, focusing on strategies for stress management, resiliency training, mindfulness and meditation. She is the co-author of

The Anxious Lawyer and practices bankruptcy law with her husband at the JC Law Group in San Francisco.

This article was published in the May 2018 issue of the ABA Journal with the title “Changing Minds: 4 strategies for effectively implementing a mindfulness program.”