In this episode, I am excited to have Harvey Freedenberg on to talk about how a daily meditation practice can revolutionize how you perceive the world and potentially help your firm.
Harvey Freedenberg is Firm Counsel at the law firm of McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, a firm of approximately 135 lawyers in Harrisburg, PA. He will soon be retiring after 40 years of practice that included insurance defense, general commercial and intellectual property litigation. Since August 2015, he’s been engaged in a daily mindfulness meditation practice. He’s participated in a week-long retreat with Jon Kabat-Zinn at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, and has completed an eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course.
- Harvey goes into both how he found himself practicing meditation daily and the benefits of his retreat and the MBSR course he is completing.
- How he went about introducing his firm to his meditation practice and how they received it.
- What the benefits that lawyers can see personally, professionally, and health-wise are when they adopt a consistent meditation practice. He also dives into his past work in loss-prevention work for his firm and how a healthy meditation practice could help curb incidents in firms.
- Harvey talks about resources he would recommend to lawyers who want to start meditating or improve their meditation practice.
For more information on Harvey, find him at:
Sources mentioned: https://www.headspace.com/
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Harvey Freedenberg: [00:00:01] There’s really no separation between what you’re experiencing sitting on the cushion or on a chair, and the experience that you might have stopped at a traffic light or talking to a colleague about a case, or dealing with a family member.
Intro: [00:00:18] 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: [00:00:40] Hello my friends, thanks for being with us today. In this episode, I am so happy to have Harvey Freedenberg, who is the firm counsel at the law firm of McNees Wallace and Nurick, which has approximately 135 lawyers, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He will soon be retiring after 40 years of practice that included insurance defense, general, commercial, and intellectual property litigation. Since August 2015 he has been engaged in daily mindfulness meditation practice. He’s participated in a week-long retreat with Jon Kabat-Zinn, I am totally jealous by the way, at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies and has completed an eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course. We have lots of things in common and to talk about, so I’m really excited.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:01:30] Thank you, and I’m happy to be here. It’s really a pleasure when we’ve interacted on social media. But this will be the first time we’ll have a chance to chat so I’m looking forward to it.
Jeena Cho: [00:01:37] Yeah, thank you so much. So I’m curious, what led you down this path of practicing mindfulness?
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:01:46] Well it was something that I had dabbled with years ago, and didn’t really have any kind of understanding how to go about it. I would say it was probably in the 1990’s, and I was one of those people who tried it a few times and thought that the goal was to make my mind blank. And when I couldn’t do that I sort of put it aside. So as you said, a little over two years ago in August of 2015 I had just read an article in The New Yorker magazine about the Headspace app. And reading that coincided with a period in which I had a couple of cases that were causing me quite a bit of angst, shall we say. And I thought, you know I’m going to give this meditation a try, to see if I can turn to this to perhaps relieve some of the stress I was feeling from this litigation; it was a couple of particularly contentious cases. So I downloaded the app, which offers 10 free ten-minute sessions, and I have to say I was pretty much hooked from the first session. I gained a pretty quick understanding of how the process of meditation was supposed to work, with the guidance of Andy Puddicombe, who was the one of the founders of Headspace. And the timing was right and it just clicked for me. And I’ve continued as you said on a daily basis since that time, which was late August of 2015. So it’s now been about 27 months.
Jeena Cho: [00:03:23] Yeah, I want to also give a shout out to Headspace. It’s such a wonderful program, and I think what it’s really excellent at doing is making it a part up your daily diet, just like brushing your teeth. And I think the way that Andy guides you through the process and really explains what meditation is all about, because I think so often there is that misconception that meditation means that we sit quietly and that our mind goes blank. And then when of course that doesn’t happen and there’s lots of thoughts and sometimes very distressing thoughts, then we become discouraged and say I’m not doing this correctly. And of course as lawyers we are very much focused on doing things correctly. Now I’m using my air quotation marks here. So I am a huge fan of Headspace. Do you still use it?
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:04:11] Yes, I still use it. I have been through all the packs as they call them, which are basically structured courses that run either 10 days or 30 days around a given topic. So for example, there’s one on stress, there’s one on anxiety. There are a number that they started last or I guess earlier this year on various sports and fitness activities. And you work through those on a day-by-day basis and they are all organized around that theme. So yeah, I’m finding that very useful. And I’ve branched out into other guided, unguided meditation. As you mentioned, I’ve been to a retreat, which I’m happy to talk more about.
[00:05:00] But that was really the door that opened it for me, and since that time I’ve recommended it to a number of attorneys in our office. My brother has become an avid meditator as a result of my telling him about it. So it’s something that I think is a good entryway for people who might be on the skeptical side about whether or not they can meditate.
Jeena Cho: [00:05:25] Yeah I think it is a really great doorway for entering into your own mind, which is what meditation is all about. Did that happen before or after you took the MBSR course?
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:05:43] The retreat was before, I’m actually just finishing up the MBSR course right now. That sort of grew out of the retreat. I decided I would say after about a year or so that I wanted to have a retreat experience, and I was familiar with the Omega Institute from a couple of friends of mine who had attended other programs there. It’s located about a four hour drive from Harrisburg, so it was very convenient. And I had read a couple of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books, “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” “Coming to Our Senses.” And if I have ever anyone who I consider a sort of meditation and mindfulness mentor, I would say he would have to be that person. So when I saw there was an opportunity to study with him and with his son, I jumped at it. So by the time I got to the retreat, which was in May of 2017, I had about 21 months of daily meditation.
[00:06:50] So I considered myself a fairly experienced meditator. It was when I when I got to the retreat (this was not a silent retreat by the way, although significant portions of it were silent, so during periods at meals or when we were not actually engaged in practice) I talked to a number of people who had been through the MBSR, the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course, and that got me interested in taking the course. And I found that there was an instructor here in Harrisburg that was offering that course, so it was convenient for me to take it and I started in October this year.
[00:07:28] So the retreat was just a way of I thought deepening and strengthening my practice, and it was it was quite valuable. It was a different experience from sitting down and meditating 15 or 20 minutes first thing in the morning, which is the typical practice that I have. We were meditating from 6 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. until about 9 in evening, with breaks of course. There was yoga, there was both sitting and walking meditation. There were discussions in the group, so it was a pretty intensive experience. Again, not as intensive as a silent retreat, but certainly something that gave me more of a foundation in a meditation practice.
Jeena Cho: [00:08:20] Yeah. What did you learn or when I say what did you get out of the retreat I don’t mean you go to get something out of it. But what did you realize, what did you learn about yourself, or what insights did you gain?
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:08:37] Yes that’s striving, if you’re going to get something out of it you’re striving, which was something we were cautioned against. Well I think that is the largest takeaway I got from that retreat was that meditation is really about life. That as John repeatedly said, “You’re not here to learn how to do some trick or to operationalize a technique.” It’s so much more than that, and that everything that’s happening in that retreat experience and of course you hope when you walk out of it and come back to your daily life, is part of a mindfulness practice.
[00:09:32] And there’s really no separation between what you’re experiencing sitting on the cushion or on a chair and the experience that you might have stopped at a traffic light, or talking to a colleague about a case, or dealing with a family member. So it’s kind of a seamless integration. I would say that was the strongest takeaway that I took from that experience.
Jeena Cho: [00:09:58] Yeah, what a delightful realization that mindfulness is not something that you do here, and then there’s the rest of your life; that it’s really an integrated experience.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:10:13] Right. And that’s one of the biggest challenges, is to take the experience that you’re having, of sitting in silence and watching your thoughts, of not reacting to them, letting thoughts go as they’re going through your mind, focusing on your breath; that’s the kind of meditation and I’m doing. Translating that experience into your daily life when you get up out of the chair and you have to go to work or some other activity, that you need to have those reminders that this should be seamlessly integrated with your life.
Jeena Cho: [00:10:58] Yeah, definitely. Have you tried to take this work or this practice to your law firm, and if you did how was it received?
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:11:07] I did. I have, and I’ve been very pleased with the results. There’s a little bit of a backstory that. Your book has something to do with that, “The Anxious Lawyer” which I was very excited about. I don’t remember when I first read about it, but I remember I was meditating at the time, and as soon as I saw this book was coming out I placed my order for it. So I had it on the day it was published, and I read it very avidly. And I recall you and Karen Gifford, your co-author, did a series of webinars, I think it was in conjunction with the National Association of Women Lawyers, I think that was the name of the organization, right?
So I participated in those, I think that was in the fall of 2016. And one of the nice benefits was that you kindly gave everybody who was in the seminar two copies of the book. So I had the copy I purchased, and I thought you know this would be a good introduction to mindfulness meditation to lawyers in the firm. So I sent out a firm-wide e-mail and I said, I have two copies of this book and I included a link to the Amazon description so they could read a little more about it. I said I’ll raffle these off, send me an e-mail if you’re interested. We have about 135 lawyers at our firm, I think 30 lawyers responded; roughly a quarter of the firm. And I raffled them off and I thought, well there’s some interest here.
[00:12:53] And sort of on a parallel track with that, again this was in 2016. One of the things that I do as part of my responsibility as firm council is to attend an annual meeting that our malpractice insurance company holds every June, because part of my duty is lost prevention. So I handle the ethics issues and I also deal with preventing claims against the firm and if necessary, defend those claims. And there were a couple of things that happened at that meeting. One was a gentleman named Patrick Krill, who you might be familiar with.
Jeena Cho: [00:13:35] Yeah, I do know him.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:13:36] Who was the organizer of the study co-sponsored by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Foundation on mental health in the legal profession, presented the findings of his study. And they were quite alarming. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to use that term.
Jeena Cho: [00:14:00] No, definitely not. The results were that basically a third of the lawyers in our profession are suffering from depression, stress, anxiety, and very, very heavy rates of problematic drinking.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:14:12] Right, and probably some drug addiction thrown in there, which I think he said was under-reported. So that was sort of another piece of the puzzle. And then third was some discussion about a trend in the in the professional liability field, that insurers were starting to see a spike in claims arising from mistakes that were the kinds of things that good lawyers generally don’t find themselves getting in trouble for. That is, conflicts of interest and other problems are more the source of malpractice claims.
[00:15:02] And so there was some discussion about what might be driving this. And some of the concerns surrounding technology, the pace of legal practice. The fact that we’re basically on 24/7 because I can turn on my smartphone at 11:00 on a Sunday night and find an e-mail from a client. And so with that information, I went back to the firm and I thought about this some more and I said, this is something.. all the issues that are being talked about here, whether it’s the issues relating to mental health or problems in practice that might contribute to mistakes, are the kinds of things that I think meditation and mindfulness potentially can be helpful in addressing.
Jeena Cho: [00:15:53] Right.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:15:54] So for several years I was the chair of a committee we have at our firm called the professional and personal development committee, which in part focuses on life issues. In addition to things that will benefit attorney’s practices, but we put a lot of emphasis on wellness at our firm, on making sure that people stay physically and mentally healthy. And I thought this was a program that the committee might be interested in, and I pointed out that I had 30 lawyers who said they were interested in getting a copy of your book.
Jeena Cho: [00:16:32] Yeah, so you had a little bit of data.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:16:35] Yeah, so they eagerly embraced the idea and we agreed on a time to do it. So it was about two months ago that I did a lunchtime presentation. I think we had 25 people sign up for it. Our main office is in Harrisburg and we have several regional offices around the state and elsewhere, and a few people called in, several other people e-mailed me and said they were sorry they could not attend because they had a scheduling conflict, so we had about 20 people in the room. I did about a one-hour presentation, which included a brief guided meditation. Five minutes or so, I didn’t want to do it any longer than that. And I got a great response. I know of at least one or two people who at least said they have continued to try to meditate since that time. So I think it was a really good introduction to the practice.
[00:17:40] So that’s how I brought it to our firm, and I think it’s certainly something that lawyers generally should be introduced to and will benefit from.
Jeena Cho: [00:17:51] Yeah, which leads me perfectly to my next question, which is what are those benefits that you think lawyers can gain from practicing mindfulness? In your own life or in your own law practice, what type of benefits have you seen? And what are sort of the practical implications for other lawyers?
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:18:14] Well I have to break this down into two parts. I sort of joke about the first part of this, which is I wish I had discovered this oh I don’t know, 25 years ago when I was a busy litigator. By the time I started meditating, I was definitely in the winding-down phase of my active litigation process. But I know enough of it, and I certainly can reflect enough on my experience as a litigator, that first as a way of relieving the inevitable stress that comes with a busy litigation practice. It gives you an opportunity to have something to turn to when that stress intensifies. And I think it certainly is beneficial, I can think of occasions when I was in a difficult courtroom battle or in a deposition with a particularly unpleasant lawyer on the other side, that being able to have the mental space that I think meditation creates would have been very helpful to me. So I think it’s an extremely practical tool that a lot of lawyers would benefit from if they could incorporate that into their practice.
[00:19:40] So that’s the one piece. The other piece is, and this may be.. I won’t say it’s unique to me because there are lawyers in other firms that do this job. But I have found it to be extraordinarily helpful in the work that I have done as the firm counsel. What happens typically, I have other people on an ethics committee I don’t do this all by myself for a firm of our size, so there are two other members that work with me on loss prevention issues and several members on an ethics and conflicts committee. But the vast majority of questions have come to me over the nine years that I’ve been doing this job. And they come from every area of the practice. I would say the majority have to do with conflict issues, but they could deal with anything from difficulty with an opposing counsel, inadvertently receiving a document, what do would do with it?
An improper communication that somebody has made with our client, I mean the whole gamut of issues that arise in regards to professional conduct. So it’s sort of like a helpline and I’ve got to be prepared to respond to all these questions. And it’s certainly been a great value to me in becoming a better listener, sort of listening for the question maybe below the question that I’m being asked. And to help the lawyers in our firm and to help me sort of clarify what our values. Not every question is as simple as, do we have a conflict or don’t we have a conflict. There are a lot of judgment calls that go into this job and in handling, I’ve literally had thousands of interactions with our lawyers over the time that I’ve served.
[00:21:55] And I think having a mindfulness practice helps you clarify what your values are, to shift your perspective to look at something from a variety of different angles. I love the idea, I know you’re familiar with it, the beginner’s mind. I don’t approach these consultations with the idea that I necessarily have all the answers, and therefore I’m willing to listen and to sort of allow my perspective to take shape. And I think all that is just enhanced and deepened by a mindfulness practice.
[00:22:39] And then the other aspect, if I can go on for one more minute about this, is on the loss prevention side. These can be very difficult conversations, for anyone who’s ever had them. When a lawyer comes to you and says, “I think I made a mistake,” or, “I did make a mistake,” and you’re the one in whom that person is confiding, you’re dealing with what can be a very fragile situation. And I think you need to approach it an empathetic way. The lawyer who you’re talking to has probably been beating himself or herself up for at least 24 hours, maybe lost some sleep over the issue. And in addition to that, they are imagining all of the horror of the consequences that they think are going to occur as a result of what they believe their error might be. So they’re engaged in catastrophizing about that. Your job is to sit there, even in a situation where you say, well this might be bad. And not to respond to it, not to react to it in any kind of an impulsive way. Not to do anything that’s only going to exacerbate that person’s psychological distress.
[00:24:24] I like to think I had some of those qualities before I started meditating, but I assure you that they are a lot better than whatever I had. Since I have been meditating, because I’m very conscious now of the thought process that I’m going through. So it’s just, it’s kind of a long-winded answer and there’s a lot in there, but there are just so many ways in which this has enhanced the way that I practice, and the way that I really look at what the practice of law is all about.
Jeena Cho: [00:25:02] Yeah. And I know to be true what you’re saying just from my own experience and just having worked with lawyers on bringing mindfulness into their own life. You know, for me I feel like it actually has made life clearer. It just feels like we all sort of walk around with these blinders and these filters, but it feels like I can see life with just so much more clarity. And so when my mind is doing the catastrophizing like you say, I can go oh, I’m catastrophizing and I’m literally imagining the worst case scenario because I missed a deadline and I know, maybe forgot to file this thing. And the mind is doing that thing where it inevitably leads to, like I’m going to be disbarred and then I’m going to be homeless.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:25:56] Right, that’s it. And the mind doesn’t sort of stroll down the road to those, the mind races to the worst possible consequences of what might happen. And this acts as a brake on that. So it’s very helpful to have that, I think that kind of approach to it. And I think I have some of the feeling that you have, that I think I am able to see some things more clearly. You know this is not a panacea, it’s not going to transform someone’s personality overnight. But I think there is an evolution that takes place over time, and if you ask people who are close to me about certain behavior traits or certain personality traits that I had before I started meditating and to compare that to now, they will tell you there’s been an improvement. So I would say don’t ask me, if you want to know whether meditation is having an effect, ask your spouse or your close friends and I think they will tell you that it has.
Jeena Cho: [00:27:14] Yeah, it’s so funny because my husband also meditates with me. And there will be days where for one reason I don’t meditate for a few days, and he’ll actually notice and go, “Have you been meditating?” And I’m like, no. And he’s like, “Maybe you should.” So it’s apparently very noticeable when I’m not meditating.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:27:34] Well one of the things about Headspace, and it’s not without some controversy, is they have something called a streak, where they will tell you how many days in a row you’ve meditated. And I’ve had this very long streak, and some people derive that idea. They say, you know it’s not about counting and striving and all that, but to me it’s useful to track how much time you’re doing it, how dedicated you are to it. And I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t meditate, I wish I was committed to physical exercise as I am to meditation, because I can’t imagine what a day would be like if I didn’t sit down for at least ten minutes to meditate.
[00:28:22] I have made it an absolute priority in my life, and I try to do it first thing in the morning because I find I’m most alert then. I find if I do it late at night I’m more likely that maybe nod off, which is not the ideal. But it’s just, it’s like brushing my teeth or eating or getting dressed.
Jeena Cho: [00:28:44] Yeah, totally. Yeah. And I found not only my ability to respond to difficult situations, but also like I’m able to just experience more joy in my life that I didn’t notice before. And I think a lot of that is that we as lawyers spend so much time sort of in that space of catastrophizing, and also we have the negativity bias. Where we’re constantly looking at all the things that’s not going right in our life, and we don’t have that counter-balance. And I feel like meditation has really served as a counter-balance. And you know, even being grateful for something that’s really important and critical, like oh I have a healthy body, or I have a roof over my head. Or I have you clean water.
[00:29:33] Just so many incredible blessings, and I think often we can just get into this mode of looking at life with this grim lense and saying, oh everything’s not okay, and look at all these things that are not going my way. And we really just forget the incredible amount of blessings that we all have.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:29:53] Yeah, and the problem is that our professional training.. I mean some of us come to profession with that kind of mindset, but our professional training exacerbates that if we are already that way, or inculcates that if we aren’t. And that is to look at things like, what’s the worst case scenario. If you’re a litigator, you’re by definition in a situation of conflict. One of the things that’s occurred over my 40 years of practice is of course there’s much more emphasis on alternative dispute resolution, mediation, and things of that sort. But those are still situations of conflict. And then you throw in the fact that lawyers are I think by definition perfectionists; everything has to be done exactly right. You know, you read and re-read a contract or a plea to make sure that you have not missed anything. So all these things are sort of reinforcing that kind of negative self-critical mindset, and that makes it very hard to walk outside your office and look up at the sky, or pick up a leaf and look at it, or focus on what’s happening in the moment. You know, John Kabat-Zinn likes to say, “This is the only moment you have. This moment that you’re in right now is all you are doing. If you’re living in the past with regrets about what you did last week or last month, or your anticipating something in the future, you’re missing out on what’s happening right in front of you.
[00:31:46] And it’s easy to do that as a lawyer. There’s always a deadline coming up, there’s always a trial next month or six months from now. Your phone’s ringing, your clients are upset about what’s going on in a case. So I think you need something to anchor you. And I found that meditation for me has been that anchor.
Jeena Cho: [00:32:10] Yeah, yeah. So true. I remember when I did the eight-week mindfulness based stress-reduction class, there’s like a day-long retreat that you go on. And we were doing walking meditation and I saw this giant, beautiful rose bush and I walked over to it and I smelled the roses. And it’s so cliché, like smell the roses. But I did, and it was just one of those blissful moments, and I remember being like this is why they tell you to smell the roses. I mean, like you know its so cliché. Like oh, smell the roses. But how often do we actually pause to do nothing but savor and smell a rose, which is like this incredibly delightful experience. So now I take it to heart and I make a point to actually go smell the roses when I see a rosebush.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:33:02] Well we just had our retreat for the MBSR course, and I had a similar experience watching a duck glide across a still pond. To stand there and say, when have I done that? I don’t want people to leave this podcast with the impression that you’re going to be walking around this blissful smile on your face and all of life’s stresses will suddenly bounce off of you. It’s not that way, but just the fact that more times a day than you could ever imagine you’re going to stop, you’re going to take a deep breath, you’re going to look at something in a new way. You’re going to focus on a problem in a different way that you wouldn’t have if you were wearing the blinders of your conventional thinking. Suddenly these things are going to start adding up and give you a much richer and fuller perspective on life.
[00:34:10] At least that’s been my experience. And in conversations with lots of other people who are doing this as well, I don’t think there’s anything unique about me by any means.
Jeena Cho: [00:34:21] Right. Yeah, I remember going into my first MBSR class and I was just so stressed and so anxious. And typically they start by asking the group, you know what brings you here. And you kind of go around and everyone shares. And I’m like, oh! There are 49 other people in this room that have the exact same thing that I’m struggling with.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:34:44] The idea of as I’ve heard it expressed of “just like me.” If you look at people who are doing something, or if you’re critical of somebody, you’re being trained through this process to take a step back and say you know, that person wants the same kinds of things that I want. Maybe they’re not going about getting them in the most skillful way, but they’re no less human than I am. And it gives you a very different perspective on the people that you interact with.
Jeena Cho: [00:35:24] Right, yeah that idea, “just like me,” was so critical for me. Especially for the litigators out there and the lawyers that are handling really contentious cases. Because there are just people that you come across and you’re just like, I really do not like this person and I have nothing in common with this person. And you can really start to personalize every interaction with this person. I had this one particular opposing counsel, and she and I were just not getting along, to put it mildly. And we were doing that thing where we would send one nasty e-mail after another, trying to find each other.
[00:36:01] And something clicked inside my head when I learned that concept of “just like me,” because I realize you know just like me, just as I find her to be incredibly difficult and I don’t want to be on this case with this woman, she probably feels the exact same way. And just like me, she too wants peace and happiness and joy and safety and security; all of these very, very human things. And I think we can often sort of lose sight of that, our common humanity.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:36:34] Well you mentioned the e-mails, sending off nasty e-mails. And that at times has been the bane of my existence, both as an attorney, a litigator representing clients, and on occasion as firm counsel. Of course not too often because I’ve tried to reinforce that message to our lawyers, but think about the way e-mail, (which has been around basically for 20 years, I’d say since the mid 1990’s) people send the most outrageous things and do it in such an impulsive way. And they live to regret it. If you have something that’s going to intervene between writing that nasty e-mail that’s going to get you or your client into a lot of trouble in that case and clicking the send button, that’s a really valuable skills to have.
[00:37:38] And there have been times when I’ve completely rewritten an e-mail, when I said no this is not the right tone. I just had to get this down, get it out of my system. Now I’m going to go back and re-write it. So I think mindfulness gives you the space that is going to have you sending fewer of those e-mails, or reacting to the bait. You know how there are certain lawyers who’s game plan is to try to get you to lose control? Every litigator has them, they have one or two or three of those.
[00:38:17] One of the worst things about caller ID is, you now know you’re going to have a phone call with that nasty lawyer you can’t stand because you see the phone number or the name of that person. At least in the old days in my practice, the phone would ring and I would pick it up. Now you have an opportunity through mindful to say.. and one of the things I’ve started doing, this is fairly recent, is I will let the phone ring three times before I pick it up. I’ve had to educate a couple of lawyers in our firm who give me one ring and then they hang up. But the point is you know, take a couple of breaths, get yourself grounded. It’s kind of a mini-meditation that you’re doing, and then you’re able to field that (what you know is going to be a stressful phone call) with a little more mindfulness.
[00:39:17] I think that’s a technique that, you don’t have to be meditating to do that. It certainly helps to get into that meditative state, but it’s something that I think is very valuable. And then when the other attorney starts hurling insults at you or at your client, you’re less likely to get into an escalating war of words. And that could be very valuable.
Jeena Cho: [00:39:40] Yeah and often mindfulness is talked about in the context of there’s a stimulus and there’s that knee-jerk reaction, and mindfulness gives you that ability to pause before your knee-jerk reaction. Which then becomes a response, so you can sort of respond with the best intentions. Sometimes we send off e-mails and it might not get us or our clients into trouble, but we just know that was not my best work. That was not my most genuine, I didn’t show up as my best self when I sent that e-mail. Which was a little bit hitting below the belt or was unnecessarily unkind, or you know whatever that may be.
[00:40:23] And I think as lawyers we have that obligation to try to show up as our best selves, and to really be clear about our intention and what we hold to be true and what we value as sort of the core of who we are as lawyers, and how we’re going to show up for every case or every situation.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:40:43] Well one myth that I would like to offer my small debunking of, is the idea that a meditation practice and mindfulness are somehow going to make you soft, weak, ineffective, not aggressive on behalf of your clients; and none of those claims are true. I would say if anything, they’re going to make you a better lawyer. Because you’re not going to leap to instant judgments. You’re not going to think that you know all the answers and find yourself closing off avenues of thought or investigation that might help your client’s case. So when I’ve heard that objection, I think that’s one of the easier ones to debunk. I think it makes you potentially much more powerful and much more effective, because you’re learning more about how your own mind works. And you know as a lawyer, that’s our tool. We don’t have machines, we don’t have MRI’s or x-ray machines, we have our minds and we have our thought process. So anything that contributes to clarity of thinking and soundness of judgment and empathy, that’s a good thing. And those are all qualities that meditation fosters.
Jeena Cho: [00:42:23] Yeah. So I guess to kind of wrap things up, now that we’ve hopefully shared very fully all the different benefits and why lawyers should practice mindfulness, what are some resources that you would recommend for lawyers who want to start meditating?
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:42:41] Well I’m allowed to say this because I know you’re not a soft promoter, so I would strongly, strongly recommend your book “The Anxious Lawyer” that you and Karen Gifford wrote. The thing that I think is beautiful about that for lawyers is that as distinguished from the many, many hundreds of fine meditation instruction books that are out there (and I’ve read a number of them), this is specifically geared toward lawyers. It has a lot of information about your experiences and Karen’s experiences in practice, and how the techniques of meditation and mindfulness are applied. So if you’re looking for a book to get started, I would certainly highly recommend “The Anxious Lawyer”. And then Headspace, As I said has been a great app for me. Another app that I’ve experimented with a little bit is Dan Harris’ app, 10 Percent Happier, which has a variety of instructors in the app and it’s I think maybe a little glitzier than Headspace. Either one of those. And then there are lots and lots of apps out there, Insight Timer is another one that has free meditations..
Jeena Cho: [00:44:03] Right, that’s the one that I use, yeah.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:44:06] So there are plenty of resources out there, but I think your book is as good a starting place as any. And it’s also got a program, a week-by-week program for eight weeks to introduce somebody to a mindfulness practice. And it’s very clearly written, there’s no jargon in there, so go buy Jeena’s book.
Jeena Cho: [00:44:34] I appreciate that, that’s very kind of you. Harvey, for the folks that want to connect with you or ask you questions, or just want to pick your brain. what’s a good place where they can go and do that?
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:44:51] Well I think the best place Jeena, since I’m transitioning out of my law practice, would be on Twitter. My handle there is @HarvF, “H-A-R-V-F”. I’ve also created a couple of lists there, one is on mindfulness and meditation, which has several hundred people that are involved in various aspects of meditation. So you might want to check out that list. So that’s probably the best place to get in touch with me right now.
Jeena Cho: [00:45:25] Wonderful. And you are very active on Twitter, and I always enjoy reading what you have to say. So definitely go connect with Harvey on Twitter and I will also include his Twitter handle in the show notes. And my final question to you is, the name of the podcast is called The Resilient Lawyer. What does it mean to be a resilient lawyer to you?.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:45:50] I love the name of the podcast, and I thought a lot about this. To me, it’s somebody who keeps the practice of law in its proper perspective. And it is someone for whom the various aspects of life, which would include work as a lawyer, family, community service, exercise, sleep, nutrition; all the things that go into healthy living. And through mindfulness and meditation, in my case a practice of mental and emotional self-care, that all of those elements are in harmony or balance. I think if you can achieve that or strive in that direction, that you will be well on the path to becoming resilient.
Jeena Cho: [00:46:45] I love that answer. Harvey, thank you so much for sharing your time and your wisdom with me and the audience. I really appreciate it.
Harvey Freedenberg: [00:46:54] Thank you Jeena, it’s been a real pleasure. And thank you for all you’re doing to spread the message of mindfulness.
Jeena Cho: [00:47:04] Thank you.
Closing: [00:47:05] Thanks for joining us on The Resilient Lawyer podcast. If you’ve enjoyed 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, and look forward to seeing you next week.