Colorado’s contemplative lawyers

The Colorado Contemplative Lawyers Society is marking one year of defying lawyer stereotypes. The group was founded last April on the idea that meditation and “contemplative practices” can benefit lawyers in many ways, including helping them become better lawyers. The two dozen lawyers in the group come from firms big and small, as well as government agencies.

“The year has been one of maturing,” said group founder Stephanie West Allen. “We have, over the months, made some changes in format, and now have one that fits the attendees.”

The meetings, which have been held in the offices of Denver law firms Holme Roberts & Owen and Davis Graham & Stubbs as well as in the Colorado Attorney General’s office, involve conversations on topics dealing with the practice of law and meditation, followed by a 15-minute guided group meditation. At the most recent meeting, the contemplative lawyers held a conference call discussion with Rick Hanson, the psychologist author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, which the group had just finished reading.

“Because [Hanson] is grounded in neuroscience, he helps you understand that this mindfulness stuff is not just something you are being asked to take on faith,” Allen said. “When you have a mindfulness practice, you literally change your brain.”

She said the group talked with Hanson about some lawyer-specific issues, including “research that shows that two indicators for success in the legal profession are pessimism and perfectionism.” Pessimism can be a blessing and a curse for lawyers, Allen said.

“Pessimism really helps you to be a good lawyer, because part of being a lawyer is worrying about everything that can go wrong for your client and then protecting against it,” she said. “So a sunny, Pollyanna lawyer might miss some things because they think everything’s going to turn out all right.”

The “mindfulness” aspect of meditation allows lawyers to become aware of their own thought patterns and prevent their useful pessimism from spilling over into their personal lives.

“The nature of the practice of law is stressful because we’re dealing significantly with other people’s difficulties and their times of stress,” said Colorado Springs attorney John Scorsine, a member of the contemplative lawyers group.

“The mind is very much like Velcro when it comes to bad thoughts and stress, we seem to latch onto that, and with more pleasant experiences the mind seems to treat that like Teflon and they don’t impact us as much. Through contemplative practices you try to reverse that trend,” he said.

Contemplative practices can also help lawyers rewire their brains so they’re not always thinking like a lawyer, Allen said.

“The billable hour gets so ingrained into your brain. You get out of the shower and think, ‘Oh, I just took a .2 shower,” Allen said. “Parents will go off to their child’s soccer game, and all of the time part of their brain is saying, ‘I’ve just spent 1.2 hours where I could have been billing.’”

The first step to stopping that kind of thinking is to become aware of it, Allen said, with meditation being a good way to do that.

The Colorado Contemplative Lawyers Society has its next meeting April 20, from 5:30-7:00 p.m. Contact Stephanie West Allen at for more information.

[via Law Week — link removed Apr 30, 2015, since the site was infected with malware.]
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