When I tell people that I teach a class in law and meditation at UC Berkeley’s law school, I often hear snorts of disbelief. “It’s easier to imagine a kindergarten class sitting in silence for half an hour,” a friend said to me, “than two lawyers sitting together in silence for five minutes.”
But the class is no joke. In fact, it’s part of a ground-breaking movement that has quietly been taking hold in the legal profession over the past two decades: a movement to bring mindfulness—a meditative, moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, relationships, and external circumstances—into the practice of law and legal education.
Judges have been meditating before taking the bench, and opening their courtroom with a moment of meditative silence. Lawyers in tense divorce negotiations have been more effective by maintaining a perspective of mindful reflection throughout the process. Courses offered at a dozen law schools have given law students an introduction to meditation—an effort to help them sharpen their legal skills and make them more effective trial lawyers, negotiators, and mediators. All these steps are part of a bigger effort to help these budding and established professionals cope with the stresses of law practice—a field that, regrettably, tops all American professions in instances of depression, substance abuse, and suicide.