A Second Chance at Life
Updated: Aug 10, 2018
A man had been incarcerated with many prior convictions, so the cards were not in his favor. But when he walked into Justice Urbina’s courtroom, he had an opportunity to change his life. Unlike other judges, Justice Urbina listened openly and with compassion to the man’s story. He realized the man struggled not with laziness, as would be presented by opposing counsel, but with insecurity. Justice Urbina insisted the probation officer ensure the man get a job and come back in 90 days. On a next visit, the man was reported to be doing very well at the job; the second visit he returned with his boss, who testified that he was the most reliable employee he ever had. By the time a year had passed, the once incarcerated man had opened his own business and came in with two of his employees! The outcome could have been so different had Urbina been too busy to pause, be present, and listen with compassion.
Justice Urbina’s story was part of the first annual conference of the Mindfulness in Law Society. The first for the society and of its kind, MILS presented an entire day of tools, testimonies and evidence in how mindfulness can improve lawyer well-being. The keynote was Hon. Ricardo Urbina, who served more than 46 years as a lawyer and judge, including Judge on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Additionally he was nominated by then President Bill Clinton to sit on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, from 1994 to 2012. Justice Urbina was part of numerous high-profile cases during his time on the bench, chock full of political pressures, media pressures, and the simple knowledge he was in one of the most watched districts in the nation. Justice Urbina spoke of how he managed such pressure, through things like meditating prior to trials. He called his meditations “a place where I could rest”. He felt his practice made him a better professional, and helped him better evaluate and make decisions; how he was able to listen better and consider with greater clarity what might be the better decision.
The legal profession is no doubt a stressful one, and as a result there are approximately 28%, 19% and 23% of attorneys struggling with some level of depression, anxiety, and stress, respectively.1 Consider their conditions – first of all, use of a lawyer is not typically a happy time – you are in crisis, an argument, etc. where two sides don’t agree. Additionally, consider lawyer vocabulary – they present “arguments,” go to “trial” and present their case in front of “opposing counsel.” Their clients often don’t speak kindly to them (because of the stress of having something to lose), and yet they are required to return calls and emails in four hours or less. They must track their time in 8-minute increments and present a certain number of billable hours each month in order to be deemed a worthy employee. Altogether, that does not scream zen to me! So when a Mindfulness in Law Society is formed, and a National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being is establishing grassroots working groups all over the country, there is a growing recognition we need even our most driven individuals to stay well.
Whether you practice law, or are in any other stressful situation, Justice Urbina’s testimony is encouraging news that practicing mindfulness gives us hope for being more centered, make better decisions, and become more successful. In life, things change quickly: a sudden thunderstorm causes traffic to halt and you’re late for an appointment; jobs are lost; friends and loved ones pass on. Things change without our approval (or knowing), requiring us to adapt. Mindfulness offers ways to help us adapt to those changes and become more resilient as a result. And when we are more resilient we can bounce back more quickly, ready to take on the next challenge. There is a 2015 scientific study around the profession of law that shows, “the quite limited value of money, grades, and prestige for the well-being of professionals. They also call into question law school grades and honors as measures of competence and suggest that more attention be given to the well-being of those lawyers in the more typical practices who are neither highly paid nor in the public sector.” In other words, those of us in the middle need to pay attention to our well-being too.
If Justice Urbina has seen success with meditation, it might serve you too. There are lots of apps and resources on meditation to help you get started. Here are a few things you can do:
Find a quiet place. I like to do it before the rest of the house gets up, otherwise I find myself listening to what they are doing instead of focusing on my meditation.
Sit comfortably. I like to sit on a yoga block, or a couple pillows when I’m traveling so that my hips are higher than my knees. It allows me to sit with a straighter spine as well.
Set the timer. I just use my phone. The other day someone suggested the alarm sound be the chimes.
Set an intention. This can be what you are grateful for, or maybe there is something you are struggling with and need to work through. Gratitude is a great one though.
When the alarm goes off, I take some deep breaths before moving on to your day.
Many of us are busy climbing in our careers. To make the climb, we must be able to lift ourselves to the next wrung on the ladder. Sometimes we need rest to make the ascent, sometimes knowledge, sometimes the counsel of others, or the feeling of love and inner purpose that creates the drive to get there. When you’re not sure what you need or why, sometimes meditation can help you arrive at that answer.
I have a stack of quotes on my desk. One says, “The hardest part of climbing the ladder is getting through the crowd at the bottom.” YOU ARE A CLIMBER – find the tools you need to get to the top (or whatever wrung makes you most happy).
1. The Report of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being; The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change
2. Krieger, Lawrence S. and Sheldon, Kennon,M; What Makes Lawyers Happy? A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success p.592