Meditating lawyers no oxymoron

State Bill Colorado: The image of workaholic lawyers slowing down to silently meditate strikes many people as incongruous.

Eric Bentley, litigation partner at Holme Roberts & Owen’s Colorado Springs office, would like to change that.

“Last year, when I went to a meditation retreat for lawyers, I got several laughs,” he said. “A very typical response is that meditation for lawyers is an oxymoron.”

In April, Bentley and about a dozen other meditating lawyers held the first meeting of the Colorado Contemplative Lawyers Society. Their goal, Bentley says, is to give lawyers a place to discuss the unique ways meditation can help lawyers practice law, as well as spread the word to those who don’t currently meditate.

One of the first things the Contemplative Lawyers emphasize is that lawyers who meditate do their jobs better.

“It’s not just a New Age fad,” said Stephanie West Allen, Contemplative Lawyers’ founder. “It’s very much a mechanism for improving your professional skills and your professional performance.”

Allen is a professional mediator (one “t”) and also a strong proponent of meditation (two “t’s”) for lawyers. She sees signs that meditation is becoming more accepted in the legal profession, though she acknowledges that most lawyers are still wary.

“One of the reasons lawyers are often resistant to meditation is that they think it would put out the fire in their belly,” Allen said. “It’s not going to put it out at all — it’s going to focus it.”

Allen and Bentley met by chance. Bentley was featured on the Website for a national meditation group. Allen saw the site and was surprised to see a Colorado lawyer advocating meditation. She got in touch with him through a friend at HRO. After corresponding, they decided that even though there aren’t a lot of meditating lawyers, there are enough to form a local group.

Meditation and other “mindfulness practices” help people become aware of their own thought processes, Allen said, something that lowers stress and organizes thoughts.

Bentley said he became a better litigator after he started meditating, because it allows him to step back from a situation to see all sides and come to more creative solutions.

The Contemplative Lawyers come from big firms, small firms and the government — all but Bentley are based in Denver. HRO donated use of its boardroom in Denver for the first two meetings in April and May. There the group discussed lawyer-specific aspects of meditation like managing the stress of dealing with opposing counsel.

After the general discussions, Bentley led the others in 10-minute guided meditations. He began and ended the meditations by ringing a Buddhist meditation bell — which Allen was amused to observe Bentley carrying in a litigation bag.

The participants’ enthusiasm at the first meetings gives Allen and Bentley hope that more lawyers will take an interest in improving their practice through meditation. The next meeting is September.

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