In this episode, I am excited to have spoken to Nicole Sandoz, Lauren Dubin, and Michael Goldman: 3 amazing lawyers from Georgetown Law School. Lauren Dubin is Director of Public Sector Careers in the Office of Public Interest and Community Service and an administrator and facilitator for the Lawyers in Balance: Mindfulness for Law Students Program. Lauren graduated from the University of MD with an M.A. in Counseling, Higher Education and Career Development. She is dedicated to bringing the lessons of mindfulness to the Law Center community through ongoing meditation opportunities, continuing education and enhanced awareness of contemplative practice in professional development.
Nicole Sandoz is the Director of Student Life and Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Liaison (SARVL) at Georgetown Law. She is also a facilitator in the Lawyers in Balance: Mindfulness for Law Students Program. Nicole is a graduate of Amherst College and Cornell Law. After law school, Nicole practiced for five years as a labor and employment attorney in Los Angeles in top-tier law firms. While in private practice, Nicole discovered meditation and yoga, and they have since become a regular part of her everyday practice.
Michael Goldman, a Georgetown University Law Center graduate and a lawyer in a previous career, has been the Jewish Chaplain for the Law and Medical Centers since August 2002. He has been a student of Judaism for most his adult life and has taught numerous courses on Judaica, including courses at Georgetown. Prior to his involvement in LIB, Michael facilitated groups at the Georgetown Medical Center in their mind-body seminar. Based on that experience, Michael worked with administrators at the Georgetown Law to adapt the mind-body course for law students. In this regard, Michael has studied the works of Jon Kabat Zinn and Thich Nhat Hanh, among others, on the subject of mindfulness. He attended and presented at the June 2013 Workshop on Mindfulness in Legal Education at Berkeley Law.
- What led each of them down the path of mindfulness as lawyers, the inception of the program from Michael’s background at the Medical School, and how the course is structured.
- The students feedback to the program and the benefits that they receive; from stress and anxiety reduction to skills that help them ultimately become better lawyers, like attentive and active listening and better focus in their courses.
- How this grass-roots program became all it’s own over the years and how they train their facilitators. They also speak on tips for big law firms on implementing programs similar to theirs.
- The other applications of meditation and mindfulness at the law center and how the students founded The Contemplative Law Society to expand their reach to the community at large.
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Michael Goldman: [00:00:25] I think there are so many times where you’re engaged in an issue, you join the issue, you’re wrestling over the issue. And it can go sideways, as you indicated, but the ability to step back a little bit and say, wait a second, what if I concede this?
Intro: [00:00:44] Welcome to The Resilient Lawyer podcast. In this podcast, we have meaningful, in-depth conversations with lawyers, entrepreneurs and change agents. We offer tools and strategies for creating a more joyful and satisfying life. And now your host, Jeena Cho.
Jeena Cho: [00:01:10] Hello my friends. Thanks for being here with me today. In this episode, I am so delighted to have three amazing people from Georgetown Law School. I have Nicole Sandoz, Director of Student Life and Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Liaison. I have Lauren Dubin, Director of Public Sector Careers in the Office of Public Interest and Community Service. And finally, Michael Goldman, Chaplain of Georgetown Law and Medical School. All three of them are part of the Lawyers and Balance: Mindfulness Meditation Program at the law school. I’m really excited to see that law schools are actually making student well-being part of their priority.
Jeena Cho: [00:01:51] Before we get into the interview, if you haven’t heard the last episode, please go back and check it out. I shared a six minute guided meditation practice to help you let go of stress and anxiety. It’s also very apt because we’ll be talking about mindfulness and meditation in this episode. So often I hear lawyers complain that they know they should meditate, but they don’t have the time. And so I created a program Mindful Pause, which is designed to help you incorporate mindfulness and meditation into your very busy schedule in six minutes or less. So if you’re interested in learning more, please head on over to jeenacho.com to learn more.
[00:02:30] And with that, here’s Nicole, Lauren and Michael. Thanks to all three of you for being here with me today.
Nicole Sandoz: [00:02:37] Thank you. We’re excited.
Jeena Cho: [00:02:41] So starting with Lauren, maybe we can just have you do a short 30 second introduction to who you are and what you do at the law school.
Lauren Dubin: [00:02:49] Yeah sure, so I am part of an office that we affectionately call The Office of Public Interest and Community Service. It’s a freestanding center that provides support to students at the Law Center that are interested in pursuing public service careers. And we run educational programs, provide advising, all sorts of different supportive initiatives, as well as run job fairs and just offer students opportunities to join the public sector.
Jeena Cho: [00:03:20] Wonderful. How about you, Michael?
Michael Goldman: [00:03:23] I am a graduate of Georgetown Law School and had a career practicing law. I mainly worked in employment law with particular emphasis in equal employment opportunity. After that, I came back to Georgetown Law as the Chaplain here. And we have a large, pretty significant campus ministry office here, as well as on the main campus. What we do is we counsel students in a whole variety of ways.
Jeena Cho: [00:03:56] But I have to know more about this, how did you end up going from practicing law to becoming a chaplain?
Michael Goldman: [00:04:03] My short answer is, they taught me to be an advocate at Georgetown Law and I talked my way into the job. Actually, I became very interested in my Judaism shortly after I graduated from Georgetown Law and am somewhat self-taught. And I’ve studied in many groups and I’ve taught in many contexts as well. So based on those credentials and experience, I was able to talk my way into the job.
Jeena Cho: [00:04:35] I love hearing transition stories, and I feel like life is just a series of different transitions. I love that story. Nicole, last but not least.
Nicole Sandoz: [00:04:46] Yeah, so I am also a former attorney. I practiced in Los Angeles for five years in two large law firms. I left to go be the Director of Career Services at Cornell for three years, and now I’m the Director of Student Life at Georgetown. I’ve been here for a couple years. In my job, I am responsible for co-curricular experience at Georgetown, including student orgs, the Student Bar Association, as well as any other thing that students do outside the classroom.
Jeena Cho: [00:05:17] Wonderful. Before we get into the mindfulness program at the law school, I’m kind of curious to just hear from each of you what led you on this path to mindfulness and meditation. Because I often find that people end up practicing mindfulness and meditation (and it was certainly true for me) because there is some personal reason behind it. So I’m curious if you’d be willing to share and maybe Michael, we can start with you?
Michael Goldman: [00:05:45] I’m happy to do that. As I said, I practiced law for many years. I was exposed to mindfulness at the medical school. Shortly after I arrived as the chaplain, and essentially I wanted to hit my head against the wall and say, oh if I only knew then.
[00:06:06] Because you know, law was a steady diet of stress and conflict and challenge. And I thought wow; this would have been something that would have given me a strategy, maybe even an antidote for what I had experienced. So I felt it really had to come to the law students.
Jeena Cho: [00:06:27] Yeah, it’s so true. There is so many parts of practicing mindfulness and meditation where I go, yeah this would’ve been really helpful in law school. So I’m so glad that you guys are teaching it to the students. Nicole, how about you?
Nicole Sandoz: [00:06:41] Yeah, so when I was practicing I found myself in the exact same position of a lot of stress, not being very happy in the job that I was in. And so I took a three month leave of absence. And during that three months of absence, my therapist introduced me to mindfulness and meditation as a way to deal with my anxiety and stress and some of the medication that I had started to be on, and she thought that this would be a good alternative, and it worked. And so I started doing it. I like to say that I practice once a week, I try really hard to do that. But this program at Georgetown has really re-inspired me about mindfulness and meditation and making it part of your daily life.
Jeena Cho: [00:07:23] Yeah, how about you Lauren?
Lauren Dubin: [00:07:23] So mine is a bit less self-initiated. Truthfully, Michael tapped me on the shoulder one day out in our atrium and said, “We’re about to start a mindfulness program at the Law Center, would you be interested in participating?” And I had great respect for Michael and I was flattered and I thought, well I’m not sure what that is but yeah, I’m in. I’ve always been a seeker, so I did know what it was but I just didn’t have the labels or the language at the time. And then immersed myself in this work and this philosophy in the subsequent eight years, now I can say that I’m still seeking. But I have you know, much more of our practice than I did eight years ago.
Jeena Cho: [00:08:07] That’s wonderful. So Michael, please tell me about the history of the program.
Michael Goldman: [00:08:12] Well I gave you a little bit of the personal history. As I indicated, I am the Chaplain at the medical school, so I learned about things going on there and I was introduced to their Mind Body course there. And even before this started, I said to the woman who ran it, “We have to bring this to the law school. You have to let me take this to the law school.” Anyhow, we went through it. It was kind of modeled on MBSR, a mindfulness-based stress reduction course, and I was even more convinced. I brought it here and it was not an easy sell, I have to tell you. It took about a year from people, “You want to do what?” But any event, the Dean of the law school finally came around and said you know what, that sounds like a good idea. And we have been putting on a few sessions, seminars every semester ever since. This was I think, 10 years ago Lauren was telling me. Interestingly, of course it’s for the students, but also the staff was very interested in this as well. As a matter of fact, we had several faculty who participated as well. As you would guess, the students loved it. I mean we have the feedback sheets and they’re really terrific. I’ve hesitated to quote them to professors because we do get very good reviews.
[00:09:50] And I should also say that out of this, some very close groups were formed. Those people who took the mindfulness or Lawyers and Balance course together became friends, stayed friends through law school, and are still friends. Five, seven, eight years later they’re close friends. So that’s one of the nice bi-products of this, is that we create little communities as well as teaching mindfulness techniques.
Jeena Cho: [00:10:18] I’m curious, what were some of the objections when you first tried to bring mindfulness into the law school?
Michael Goldman: [00:10:25] I would say to sum it up, it’s touchy-feely, and I remember from my days practicing law that was pretty much the ultimate stigma. And I never was particularly persuaded by that. I think another objection is, how is this academically rigorous, how do we document what you’re doing? Do you have a syllabus, do you have a full curriculum?
[00:10:54] And you know we didn’t we didn’t fit in to that mold, that is usually considered for law school. So I think that was definitely part of it. You know, let me rewind why it happened because I think your point is interesting. The then Dean had a daughter who was at the medical school and she took the Mind-Body course there. And then I got a wonderful advocate.
Jeena Cho: [00:11:31] I love that, yeah I mean teaching mindfulness or learning about mindfulness is certainly very different from the Socratic method. As I understand it, law schools are kind of starting to shift away from it, I don’t know if that’s actually true but at least that’s what I heard.
Lauren Dubin: [00:11:45] Eight years ago was a very different era here, nine years ago actually. Now we have more of a wellness community or a wellness movement on campus, the students don’t obtain credit for this though, we really haven’t reached that level. But the university absolutely embraces this now, with there is much more support and it’s on the admissions page. Students will articulate to us that one of the reasons they came to Georgetown is because we have this work, this program, so it’s definitely a different era.
Jeena Cho: [00:12:19] Well that’s interesting, that it’s a retention or attraction in a sense. I think some law firms are starting to offer some sort of wellness or well-being kind of committees or whatever to kind of try to attract talent. So yeah. Well I guess speaking of not knowing what the curriculum is and having people be like, this is really touchy-feely, I’m curious to learn what you guys actually teach? How is the course structured, how long is it, how many students enroll?
Lauren Dubin: [00:12:52] So as Michael said, we inherited a curriculum, the program from the Mind-Body course over at the med school. And for the first couple of years, we pretty much followed it, with a little less of the science because our students weren’t necessarily as interested in the science. But for the most part, what we inherited was a program that offers two hour sessions, one per week for eight weeks. Each session has two facilitators, trained facilitators, and typically has around 8 to 12 students per group. We invite one L’s, LL’s, LLL’s, and LLM’s to participate. And the curriculum, basically the sort of structure or outline of it is that each session begins with an opening meditation, just sort of calm yourself and leave the stressors of the classroom at the door. And then do what we call a “check in,” a technique which is really a reflection technique, just to give students an opportunity to sort of begin to inculcate the notion of mindfulness as a, what am I feeling right now? What is it literally in this moment that is coming up for me? That might be animated through that opening meditation, it might be animated just by the question or the prompt. So students go around and share that with one another.
[00:14:15] We then dive into that week’s technique, and the techniques span eating meditation, guided imagery, journaling, stress re-frames, body scan, gratitude, all sorts of different things over the course of the eight weeks. So one of the facilitators will lead the students and the other facilitator in that meditation technique, which is a little bit longer. And then we typically will go around and have another reflection opportunity. And at that point, students are given the opportunity to just talk about how that meditation did or didn’t work for them. And anything else that comes up. So we will often include a prompt that will say, how is it that you will carry this out into your week? Or tell us about a particularly mindful moment that you might have had this week. We try to build that as the semester goes on, because the concept of mindfulness, the concept of non-judgment is not something that you get right away. You have to begin to sort of taste it, touch it, and then eventually it starts to really click.
[00:15:25] And one of the things that we hope to accomplish through this curriculum is that students also become much more mindful listeners. It’s not just their own mindfulness, their own self-awareness, but it’s something that they’ll carry out into practice, something that they’ll carry out into my life. So one of our ground rules is that when someone else is reflecting, all eyes on that person. You are focused and really present with that person. No cross-talk, hopefully no need to jump in and you know evaluate or to critique. But to really give that student the opportunity to express themselves. And then next person has their opportunity. But we frequently reinforce this notion that you’re listening to that person and you’re with that person. So it builds community, friendships, strong ties. Not to mention, they take it out with them. We give homework each week and we say, eat a meal mindfully, take a mindful walk without the phone, without the iPod. And then they come back and will share with us how that felt during the week.
Jeena Cho: [00:16:38] Oh I love that. Yeah and it’s so true, like you can learn something. I had this experience recently where I was like super angry about something, and I can just see that I’m just having a reaction and I was really angry. But I still couldn’t sort of shake myself from feeling that anger. And it’s so frustrating because it’s like, I recognize why I’m feeling angry and I just feel like I should be able to get over it.
[00:17:01] But I was still having that reaction so I just had to be like, well alright I’m just going to hold this moment kindly. But yeah, it’s really kind of that re-learning the tool sort of over and over and over again. So yeah, I love that you guys give them homework. It really sounds basically like the MBSR course, which is a wonderful, wonderful program.
Lauren Dubin: [00:17:23] There’s also great power in the sharing, because as we go around the room everyone is nodding. So whatever trigger or stressor or source of anger or frustration that anyone is feeling, everyone else is feeling their version of it. So one of my favorite parts of this work is the sort of teaching and learning that comes out of it. So it’s not just, I have to go back and re-frame my reaction to the anger. But I listen to the way Michael re-framed his, and maybe I can take some of that on too. So there is real power in that sharing and we love that part of this program. We’ve also tweaked it over the years to make it more of our own. We now also offer a one hour version, not just a two hour version, with the thought that more students might feel that they can fit one hour into their schedule. So there’s not as much reflection, but we’re getting great numbers. In fact, we usually have five to seven sessions per semester. So the math, that’s around 60 to 80 students that take part in Lawyers and Balance every semester.
Jeena Cho: [00:18:30] Yeah I remember in law school feeling completely isolated and alone because I just felt like you know, all this stuff that I was going through, just feeling like I didn’t have a place in law school and just feeling completely overwhelmed all the time. And I love that you guys are creating this space where you know, like you can actually say that and have everyone in the room nod their head. And it really breaks that sense of isolation. There is something about learning that you’re not alone in your experience that really is comforting.
Nicole Sandoz: [00:19:01] I just had a session two days ago with my group, and it was our last session so we sort of went around and talked about why this was beneficial or if it was beneficial. And she said that this was the place that she felt the safest, that she could talk about the things she was going through, that she had made some friends. And that coming from an international background, and coming here and being so scared, but that she found community here. And it was like music to my ears because that is exactly the space that we want to provide for them, especially in law school when it can be so stressful and so insane.
Jeena Cho: [00:19:39] Yeah. Nicole, can you talk a little bit more about some of the other benefits that the students experience?
Nicole Sandoz: [00:19:46] Yeah, so we hear about all the normal benefits, right? The reduction of stress, decreased anxiety, the enhancing of the self-awareness. But for law students in particular, we just find it’s been such a rich environment for them to grow some of the skills that they need to be lawyers. Like Lauren mentioned, the active listening, we hear all the time that they’re more present with their clients in clinic or even just in conversations with their classmates, that they have better focus in class. We all know that there is you know, solitaire being played in class or Facebook or whatever, but some of our students report that they come back and they are actually focused in class because they’re using some of the techniques that they had learned in Lawyers and Balance.
[00:20:28] The building community for us here at Georgetown is huge. We’re such a large school, with 600 entering first-year students, that it can sometimes just feel totally overwhelming. And so we build these small groups of students who know each other, who have had this experience together. And it’s one of the ways that we make such a large law school feel small. They make friends, like Michael mentioned, and they just gain a little bit of perspective about this law school experience. I had another student of mine talk about how she’s been so absorbed in law school that she didn’t realize that her roommate was really suffering. And it was really when she took a step back and really looked at her roommate and listened to some of the words that were coming out of her roommates mouth, that she was like, oh my gosh she’s really suffering. I need to get out of this law school experience and focus on my friend. So it’s just these kind of things that we hear over and over again, in fact Lauren got a really great email that she wants to share pieces of from one of our former students about the benefits.
Jeena Cho: [00:21:29] Yeah, yeah. And I think that’s really one of the greatest teaching that comes out of mindfulness and meditation, is just that empathy and having compassion toward someone that’s suffering. And sometimes it can be like, well we’re lawyers, like we shouldn’t have that. But I mean, that’s the core of what we do. Like we are in the suffering business. Like clients never come to us with happy news.
[00:21:53] I always thought that it was always really weird that we’re in this environment where people are constantly coming to us with the most heartbreaking news, but yet we don’t actually have any tools for how to deal and process all the suffering of our clients. I do consumer bankruptcy, no one ever comes to see me with happy news, I hear heart-breaking stories. And I just didn’t have any tools and what ended up happening was that I went through burnout. I remember thinking, I’m such a failure as a lawyer because I went through burnout, not recognizing that I just needed some additional tools. So again, I’m just so grateful to you guys for doing this.
[00:22:32] So yeah Lauren, I’d love to hear some of what the student wrote in the email.
Lauren Dubin: [00:22:36] I’m not going to read the whole thing obviously, but her words are just really powerful and I cherish this. So this was about three years after she graduated and took LIB. And she wrote to myself and my co-facilitator:
[00:22:51] “I just want to say thank you again for a great LIB experience. Thanks to you both, I continue to meditate at least once a week, often more. It’s a great stress reliever. But more than anything, the seminar made me gain a much more balanced perspective on the big and little things in my life. And the seminar has without a doubt made me a better lawyer. I’m able to examine arguments and take criticism much more easily, without getting my emotions unnecessarily involved, or taking what I perceive as my lack of perfection personally. It sounds small, but it makes a huge difference in my work and my day-to-day life. Your seminar also made me realize that mindfulness and perspective are so crucial to the things that make us succeed in life. Those qualities I think are a prerequisite to character traits like determination, self-motivation, empathy, and self-control, that are keys to being a good student, lawyer, and life partner. As my husband and I think about having kids, those are definitely the types of values we want to instill in them. I wish, along with math and reading, I had taken mindfulness when I was growing up.”
Jeena Cho: [00:24:06] Beautiful, yeah I got slightly teary-eyed hearing, just beautiful.
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Jeena Cho: [00:25:09] So Lauren I’m curious, can you tell me about how the facilitators are trained?
Lauren Dubin: [00:25:15] Yeah, sure. So as I had said earlier, we’ve sort of evolved and made the program more of our own over the years. But in the early years, Michael would tap people on the shoulder and say, “Hey, do you want to be part of this thing?” So there was sort of a core group of five of us, and we went with the med school training and we joined in. And they had over 100 facilitators over there, because their program had been running for years. And we joined up and had a pretty extraordinary three day experience, this initial group of five. So every year we would send two or three more people (we had the budget for that) to the Mind-Body training. And basically the training entails going through an entire eight-week session, having the experience over the course of three days. So that you are a student, you are actually experiencing it.
So it’s not really the sort of training where you then are leading meditations or are writing scripts or finding scripts or administering that program at all. It’s 100% go away to a beautiful retreat center and have the experience of the check in, the reflection, you know experiencing the scripts and the techniques. So for several years that’s what we did. And you know, it was working, but at a certain point we kept fantasizing that we would like to have our own training. That it would just be members of the Law Center staff and community, and that we would build bonds amongst ourselves. And these are the people that were going to go on and lead the program here.
[00:26:48] It’s all volunteer, it’s out of you know, the goodness of our hearts, it’s something we believe in. But none of us are paid for this, this is in addition to our day job. So we just thought, there are other reasons for us to have our own training. So we modified that, and we’ve been doing it now for two summers. And each summer we were able to have around 10 additional Law Center staff members participate, and we just tweaked it. But it’s the same thing; we come in. we get to know one another. we do a lot of team building. We make sure that we go somewhere beautiful and quiet and lots of nature. And we have eating meditation and walking meditation and journaling and imagery, we do all of that, all those techniques.
[00:27:32] What we’re trying to do now is give people the opportunity to practice also, while they’re there. Because we come home, everybody’s really high and invested, and you come home; to life and the laundry. And then all of a sudden it’s late August or early September and suddenly we say okay go, lead a group. We try to make sure that a new facilitator is paired with a more senior facilitator so that you’re not on your own the first time. We created a binder with new scripts and new process prompts and other readings and things that facilitators can use for their students. We send the team emails, sample emails and sample follow-up emails. What we try to do is after each session, is have a follow-up email to send to students with practice tips for the week.
[00:28:24] Not everyone does that consistently, but we have all sorts of different things that any one group can do. There is no one way, one group will be doing walking one week and somebody else will be doing journaling. There isn’t this, you have to do it in a particular sequence. So during the training, something I should have said is we select people very carefully. We select people that we think are empaths and either have a practice or absolutely someone that students will feel very comfortable with. They establish trust and rapport quickly. So we’re pretty careful in choosing people that will be very engaged in this, but that students will respond well to.
[00:29:05] And there will be ongoing training throughout the year, we try and meet twice a month for about an hour just to share ideas. How is your group going, try out a script with one another. Do a meditation together and a reflection, just to continue modeling it. So where everybody is busy and everybody has a lot of email and meetings to attend, but we try to just keep moving it along and always building it and thinking creatively.
Jeena Cho: [00:29:35] I love hearing that sort of history of how the program came about, and just how you guys have really grown this practice from volunteers, I think it’s really remarkable.
[00:29:50] Nicole I know you used to be in big law, and I know one of the things that hot topics right now is how to make the workplace more humane or more friendly. And it seems like especially big laws are kind of waking up to the fact that, oh the well-being of our attorneys actually matter. I’m curious you know, since you’ve worked in big law, what sort of tips would you offer to a law firm that’s considering implementing a program like the one that you guys have at the law school?
Nicole Sandoz: [00:30:21] Yeah, I mean I think that this would be an amazing program to implement at a law firm. Especially the one hour sessions are sort of the perfect package deal, in terms of getting some of that check-in, but not..You know, I think that part of the problem with law firms is that like Michael said, nobody wants things that are too touchy-feely. Or that that there is a risk of diving deep into these emotions and then having some sort of backlash while you’re working or with someone you’re working with. So the one hour sessions do take back that a little bit, and focus a little bit more on the techniques. And sharing those techniques and making sure that people have tools to use while they’re practicing.
[00:31:03] I have been working with a friend of mine who is still in big law, and sort of ad hoc showing him some of these techniques that he can use. And he’s actually really appreciated it, he started journaling, just journaling every evening. And I’m hoping that it’s helping him reduce some of his stress that he was finding as he’s heading towards the partnership track, and the more stress that that brings. I shared a few techniques with him, and it was the one that stuck. And that’s sort of the thing that we tell our students, is try as many times as you can and then find the one or two that you can take with you. Not every technique is going to feel right, so you’ve got to find the one that fits for you. And then just keep using it and keep practicing it, and using it to help reduce your stress.
[00:31:45] So it’s been really successful I think, for my friend. And so I think a law firm could do this really easily and give their lawyers some techniques to use, but maybe without as much of the check-in, so that you don’t have people who fear that it’s going to have some sort of backlash in the workplace.
Jeena Cho: [00:32:02] Yeah it’s always a little tricky to try to implement something like this, especially in a law firm environment. Michael, did you have something that you wanted to add?
[00:32:11] I’ve spoken to some big law lawyers or groups or whatever. And one thing I’ve found that is effective, and I’ve done this with our legal experts as well at the law school, is simply when you’re in a tight situation, you’re not sure how to handle it. Stop, take a couple breaths, pay attention to your breaths. Just do that instant meditation and then come back to it. And to a person they say, “Oh.” They see a different option, a different approach where that is not the end of the world. So I think even that quick cure as it were, or pill if you want to call it, self-meditation does work. And if it’s something that they can use, try it out. And say, “Hmmm, I think I’ll do that again.” And that’s how you get your foot in the door as well.
Jeena Cho: [00:33:13] Yeah. It’s so interesting, because you hear that saying like, oh you know just take a deep breath, count to ten before you say something when you’re angry. But it actually works. I found really surprising when I first started practicing mindfulness that I can be in a hearing, and just by actually really paying attention to what the judge or the opposing counsel was saying without letting my mind kind of do it what it naturally does (which is to prepare my response) but really just a listen. And then once the person is finished speaking just take a breath, kind-of collect my thoughts and then respond. I was actually able to slow down the pace of how things were moving in the courtroom. And I just found that to be so fascinating, that I’m not this helpless person standing in the courtroom and on the whim of what the judge or the opposing counsel was doing; that I actually do have some more autonomy than I initially thought. And I found that to be incredibly helpful.
Michael Goldman: [00:34:10] You know many athletes do that same thing, and you used the word “slow down.” I think you slow down what’s going on. And most athletes will say, when things seem to slow down they can do so much better. The key is that you slow yourself down.
Jeena Cho: [00:34:27] Right, exactly. And even just something really simple like just feeling the sensation of my feet as I’m standing at the podium, or just feeling my hands resting on the podium. Just something you can touch and feel and focus on, that just for a moment gets you out of that anxiety mode. Where it’s like, oh my gosh what is he going to ask me next? And the question after that, and you kind of go into that spiral of thinking.
[00:34:57] And of course, when things go sideways it never goes wrong in the exact same way that you had anticipated. I had a very similar story from one of the attorneys that took one of my courses. And she said, “You know I realized when I was with my kids I was never fully present to them, because I was always thinking about work or on my phone.” And then of course the reverse was also true, like she would be at the office and thinking about her kids and being like, did I remember to put that book in her backpack? And she said, “I really learned just when I’m with my kid, to fully just be with her. And when I’m at work, just to be at work.” And it sounds so simple, but to practice it almost requires a constant re-commitment and effort to bring yourself back to that moment, over and over and over again. It’s not like you can just do it first thing in the morning and then forget about it. It’s that constant reminder.
[00:35:51] So what are some of the other applications of meditation and mindfulness at the law center?
Nicole Sandoz: [00:35:57] Yeah, so we realized sort of as we went along that Lawyers In Balance is amazing, but we have 600 students to try to reach. And we have a limited number of facilitators, so we can really only have 78 sessions maybe, per semester. So we’re just not going to hit everyone. And so we’ve been brainstorming and using some of these techniques to spread the message across to different students and other people at the law center. About six years ago we had a group of students who were in Lawyers in Balance who wanted to sort of keep some of the meditation going. And so they founded a new student group called The Contemplative Law Society, and they are charged with bringing some of the mindfulness and meditation techniques through the student group experience. And so that has been a nice way for the community at large, and for students to take some ownership over the teaching of some of this.
[00:37:05] We also have implemented it in orientations, so we have a wellness focus as part of our orientation. And we did two meditation sessions per day, every day of orientation. And it was open for any student who wanted to come and learn a little bit more about Lawyers in Balance, but also to just take part in a meditation; to just really set the tone right at the beginning of orientation, that this is important to us and that it’s something that makes Georgetown special. And we’re so glad you’re here, and to just give them a taste of what that would be like.
[00:37:37] And we also have started a Staff in Balance program, so we realized that these great techniques can also be helping our staff and faculty. And so we have a wonderful woman in our community named Mitos, who really takes that on as a labor of love and does Staff in Balance every semester. She has a group of 12 to 15 staff members who take part and learn some of the same techniques that students are using as well.
[00:38:04] Lauren and I just did a Saturday session. So we have an evening student section at Georgetown, and it’s really hard to get facilitators to teach in the evenings. But also in addition to that, they class in the evening. So the timing never really works out. And so what we decided to do was to do a half-day meditation retreat on a Saturday and really advertise it to our evening students and their significant others. And we had staff and evening students and day students and just a bunch of people here on a Saturday, learning some techniques and getting some mindfulness and meditation; it was a couple Saturdays ago. And then Michael teaches in the externship course.
Michael Goldman: [00:38:44] Yeah, in the past I had the opportunity to teach a couple sessions in the externship training. And I taught mindfulness, and it’s in that context where I taught them and showed them how to use the breathing approach to dealing with difficult issues. In fact, even in class we would talk about difficult issues they dealt with in their externship, often with a boss who is not communicating very well. And so they would actually go through it and take a couple breaths and say, okay, so what do you think about it now? And then they thought of new ways to deal with it. And we actually had a sheet where they would actually describe what was going on, how they took the meditation, and what it looked like afterwards. And it was quite effective.
[00:39:35] Actually, I got some of the ideas for that from Scott Rogers, who I assume and I take it you know. So this was something that we implemented.
Jeena Cho: [00:39:45] Yeah I think it’s really great that you guys are bringing mindfulness into all these different areas of the law school.
Michael Goldman: [00:39:52] There is a deep-sea mindful lawyers group, they actually were involved in that half-day retreat here at the law school. The good news is now they use Georgetown Law for their monthly training or monthly retreat sessions. And so we are really aligned with them now, in fact the President of that is an alum of Georgetown Law. So we’re able to combine forces.
Jeena Cho: [00:40:21] Well I want to thank all three of you for joining me today, it has just been so delightful. And I love hearing about mindfulness spreading in law schools. And it’s been really fun to hear about the evolution of the program. And to kind of wrap things up. Michael I’m curious, the name of this podcast is called The Resilient Lawyer. What does it mean to be I mean resilient lawyer to you?
Michael Goldman: [00:40:48] To me, what I think mindfulness provides, and I’m changing the message slightly, is the ability as one of us to step back. I think there’s so many times where you’re engaged in an issue, you join the issue, you’re wrestling over the issue. And it can go sideways, as you indicated. But the ability to step back a little bit and say, wait a second. What if I concede this? It’s not going to hurt us at all, as a matter of fact it might help us. The ability to get that perspective almost instantaneously, I think is not only a great tool as a lawyer, it does give you resilience. Because it makes you realize you’re not stuck in a corner, you’re never stuck in a corner. You never are in an impossible situation.
[00:41:42] You can see the bigger picture, and I think that’s essential to resilience. That you realize you don’t have to have burnout. Because you can listen with empathy to the other side. You can see their perspective, if you see their perspective you might well find a solution, a mutually beneficial solution. Same thing with a client, of course clients come in and ask for “X.” And if you’re able to recognize, they’re not interested in “X”, beating that other person out isn’t going to do anybody any good. What is underneath that? I know that’s interest. But I think mindfulness, resiliency allows you to see the bigger picture. And I think as a lawyer that’s what we’re supposed to do.
Jeena Cho: [00:42:35] Yeah, I think that possibility of a different solution that you don’t currently know. It’s a wonderful, wonderful gift from mindfulness. Nicole, how about you?
Nicole Sandoz: [00:42:47] Yeah, so this is actually a question I think about a lot. Our Dean of Students, one of his passions is creating resilient law students, and therefore creating resilient lawyers. And we think about it a lot in different ways, but a couple of the ways we think about it is taking that ticker tape that’s in your head, that can be negative but positive, but just sort of that those thoughts that are running through. And stopping those thoughts and re-framing them, if needed particularly the negative thoughts, and creating a different frame for them. And using that frame to move forward when you need to.
[00:43:21] It’s also the time when people face a lot of different challenges and it’s being able to breathe, like Michael said, take a breath, rethink this, and attack it in a different way and learn from it. I think our law students in particular struggle a lot with, you know they were all top of their undergrad class, and they get to law school and there’s a lot of challenges here. It’s a new way of thinking and learning, and we work really hard to try to get them to understand that this is going to be a challenge, but that part of resilience is learning from that challenge. And it’s your mindset, it’s not seeing this as a failure, but instead seeing this as a learning opportunity to grow. And I think mindfulness plays a huge part in that, of just taking a breath, re-framing and moving forward.
Jeena Cho: [00:44:11] Lauren?
Lauren Dubin: [00:44:13] I would add one additional dimension, and that is accessing compassion. This work allows lawyers, who generally feel there’s really no room for softness, for vulnerability, for letting opposing counsel see you as weak then. That’s crazy, we’re all vulnerable and fragile and doing the best we can. So I think self and other compassion, when you can really access that and own it and hold it, just allows everyone to be more flexible, to be kinder. We’re all doing a job for a purpose, and it might be opposing purpose, but we have one life, and kindness and compassion are just so vital.
[00:45:12] So Michael used the term touchy-feely several times, and to me a resilient lawyer is one that embraces touchy-feely and squishy. I love the layering into our work and this message of adding compassion into this profession. I work with students as a counselor, so I have a lot of one-on-one, intimate conversations with students all day long. And so many of them express this stress over not being able to be authentic and sincere and real. And the essay they wrote for admission to law school is so different than reality or the practice. So compassion allows you to recognize that, but have compassion for it. And then hopefully, eventually be more integrated, which I think is a result.
Jeena Cho: [00:46:10] Yeah. And I hope that those students can retain some of that and bring it out into the workforce. I think that our profession is just severely suffering from lack of humanity. I think about touchy-feely as just being a core of what it means to be human, to actually have emotions and feelings. It’s so crazy to me to think that lawyers are supposed to be devoid of feelings and emotions, because that’s the thing that drives our clients and drives us. So yeah, I think we need to make more room for all the touchy-feely. Not to say that we have to react to every single touchy-feely thing, but to just hold it kindly.
Lauren Dubin: [00:46:54] So loaded, why does it have to be such a loaded term?
Jeena Cho: [00:46:54] Well I want to thank all three of you for being here with me today. I’m so grateful to all of you, for all the work that you’re doing.
Lauren Dubin: [00:47:09] Thank you.
Lauren Dubin: [00:47:10] Thanks for giving us the opportunity.
Closing: [00:47:20] Thanks for joining us on The Resilient Lawyer podcast. If you enjoy the show, please tell a friend. It’s really the best way to grow the show. To leave us a review on iTunes, search for The Resilient Lawyer and give us your honest feedback. It goes a long way to help with our visibility when you do that, so we really appreciate it. As always, we’d love to hear from you. E-mail us at [email protected] Thanks and look forward to seeing you next week.