The corporate world is taking mindfulness seriously. So too should lawyers, says Vario's Matthew Kay.
The start of the year is synonymous with dull grey mornings, empty wallets and a month-long sobriety. Getting back to work can be a struggle after the festivities, and the first few months of the year can also be a stressful time, as firms gear up to the inevitable year-end. New Years resolutions have often fallen by the wayside by this time of year, but for lawyers, a resolution worth sticking to is engaging with mindfulness to help deal with the stresses that come with the job.
With lawyers among the most stressed professionals in the UK and women the worst affected, tight deadlines, too much work, pressure and responsibility can take their toll. But mindfulness offers a way of coping for those dealing with such anxieties.
Mindfulness – what is it?
The NHS defines mindfulness as a way to start paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you. And this can improve your mental wellbeing. Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says: 'It's easy to stop noticing the world around us. It's also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living 'in our heads' – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour.'
It could be easy to dismiss mindfulness as a new-age fad, but the business world is sitting up and taking notice of these techniques. Just recently, leaders at the Davos business submit attended a meditation session by Jayanti Kirpalanil, the European director of Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University. Sessions like this shine the spotlight on how seriously the corporate world now takes mindfulness. Not surprising given stress is one of the biggest factors contributing to work absences, costing the business world millions every year. The government supports mindfulness too - in 2015, the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group published the Mindful Nation UK report which made policy recommendations across four areas: criminal justice, healthcare, education and the workplace.
Statistics also support mindfulness and meditation as a way to tackle stress – a study published by the University of Oxford in 2013 showed that individuals who had completed a month-long mindfulness course enjoyed a 58 per cent reduction in anxiety levels and a 40 per cent reduction in stress. And we all know law can be a stressful profession – in 2016 The Law Society’s practising certificate holder survey indicated that 95 per cent of solicitors experienced work-related stress.
How do I practice mindfulness?
In this modern world it’s not unusual to think back on your day and find you can’t recall your morning commute, or what your lunch tasted like. You may even find it difficult to concentrate on a film without reaching for your phone. Mindfulness is designed to help centre the mind and shut down unhelpful distractions.
Importantly, mindfulness doesn’t necessarily mean taking a half hour slot every day to meditate. Simple ways to practice mindfulness include being attentive to your own feelings throughout the day and taking a moment to sit back and take a few breaths if things are getting overwhelming. Other ways to be more mindful include making sure you have a lunch break and actually leave your desk – no more crumbs in the keyboard. A walk outside, appreciating your surroundings can help centre the mind.
Likewise, cutting down on technology is also proven to lessen stress. Make sure your out of office is on when you’re away on leave and be strict with yourself about checking your emails.
This is also a good time to have a look at your work/life balance - many of our contract lawyers are drawn to this different way of working after taking a look at how long they were spending at work, and deciding to rebalance their lives. Contract lawyering can, for many, offer ‘another way’ which means they can continue to grow their career and skill set but without the normal hustle and bustle of day-to-day office life. For many, being a contract lawyer means they can concentrate on the legal work, whilst also enjoying the variety of different in-house contracts.
It would also be worth investigating if your firm offers any mindfulness or wellbeing programmes. At Pinsent Masons for instance, we offer a wellbeing programme, which encompasses an array of offerings including: compensation and benefits, an Employee Assistance Programme (providing the means for employees to raise concerns), an employee-led Disability and Wellbeing group, private health insurance, yoga/pilates, massages, running clubs etc.
So the start of the year may be a grey time, but for lawyers it doesn’t have to be a stressful one too.
Matthew Kay is director of Vario at Pinsent Masons