In our 2013 entry “The Law: What’s Love Got To Do With It?“, we noted the movement toward integrative law, which “Pauline Tesler, director of the Integrative Law Institute, believes… is the next ‘huge wave coming to the legal profession.’ As she explains, this type of practice is aimed at ‘out-of-court solutions and the well-being of all players in the legal system, lawyers and clients included.'” Meditation was noted as one of the practices being embraced by the movement to improve practitioners’ ability to be compassionate or loving, both towards themselves and others.
Compassionate? Lawyers? Well, what if being more compassionate resulted in better results, for our clients and ourselves?
In Making the Case for Love in Your Law Firm, Christy Cassisa notes a study at a large nonprofit long-term health-care facility and hospital that explored the influence the emotional environment has on employee, patient and family outcomes, which went on to compare results in a number of other industries as well. As one of the study authors concluded, “Overall, we found that — regardless of the industry baseline — to the extent that there’s a greater culture of companionate love, that culture is associated with greater satisfaction, commitment and accountability.”
Cassisa argues that lawyers start out compassionate. “We are a profession that is supposedly comprised of counselors and advisors. Many of us were drawn to the law by an internal, idealistic desire to do good and to help others. And our clients are very frequently in great emotional distress… [but] burnout and compassion fatigue are very real in our profession.”
Law firms can take a page from the companies that are making “love” part of their culture. Google offers emotional intelligence courses for employees, General Mills has a meditation room in every building on its corporate campus, and even hard-nosed firms like Goldman Sachs and BlackRock are teaching meditation on the job. These programs are trying to make employees more “present” in their work, more inclined to make better-considered decisions and generally nicer to work with.
As reported last month in The New York Times, Mark T. Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna, overhauled both his own personal health regimen and the culture at Aetna after a personal near-death experience. The company now offers free yoga and mindfulness meditation classes, which are in huge demand, with more than 13,000 employees participating. “Meditation is not about thinking about nothing,” Bertolini is quoted as saying. “It’s about accepting what you think, giving reverence to it and letting it go. It’s losing the attachment to it. Same thing with pain.” Aetna is also selling the same classes to the businesses that contract with Aetna for their health insurance.
So what is the impact of this touchy-feely culture on a competitive company like this? After the first three months of offering these classes, Aetna analyzed data they found “astounding.” Employees participating in the yoga and meditation classes report a 28% reduction in their stress levels, a 20% improvement in sleep quality and a 19% reduction in pain. They also become more effective on the job, with each gaining an average of 62 minutes per week of productivity that Aetna estimates is worth $3,000 per employee per year. “All employees who stuck with either the yoga or the mindfulness reported significant reduction in perceived stress and sleep difficulties… the study also found that physical measures of heart rate variability and cortisol levels had both decreased.” In addition, after a year, paid medical claims per employee were down 7.3%, or roughly $9 million. The results of Aetna’s study were published in The Journal of Occupational Health Psychology in 2012. Then in January, after reading “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the treatise on inequality by the French economist Thomas Piketty, Mr. Bertolini gave his lowest-paid employees a 33% raise.
So that must have taken a toll on the company’s bottom line that wiped out all those feel-good gains? “Aetna’s stock has increased threefold since Mr. Bertolini took over as chief executive in 2010, and recently hit a record high.”
What specific steps can we take to build more compassion into our lawerly lives? Cassisa gives a roadmap in 10 Strategies for Bringing More Love into the Law. As she notes, “some will conflict with your legal training — and maybe even your personal upbringing. Science backs every single one.” Here are excerpts:
1. Understand biology. From day one in law school we are conditioned to believe competition and fear are inevitable, but those states trigger basic survival strategies that can actually lead to inferior performance. Understanding it is the first step in managing this biological programming.
2. Accept evolution. [W]e are also wired to share emotions, and this means what I feel will be transmitted to you, whether you or I want it or not. The fact that we have social brains means that we must learn to be aware of what we are feeling to better control what we are sharing.
3. Increase self-awareness. This one is tricky for a profession notoriously low in emotional intelligence. But self-awareness can be cultivated and improved. It’s a challenge — looking oneself in the mirror and really seeing what is there. But we can develop self-awareness with conscious effort and practice. Take a personality or emotional intelligence assessment. Practice reflection and journaling. Ask respected colleagues what they see. Open your ears and mind to receiving what is there to be learned.
4. Practice mindfulness. Become aware of both the internal landscape of your experience (automatic habits, recurrent thought patterns, emotional reactivity) as well as the external environment and stimuli. You might take a conscious breath every time you leave your office, meditate for 10 minutes before launching into your day, eat a meal mindfully, or take a five-minute mindful walk. By inserting small steps like these into your day, you can experience immense improvements in your awareness, resilience and state of mind.
5. Choose responses. [I]dentify your own habitual reactions. For example, becoming defensive when that client calls incessantly, feeling panic when facing an inbox overflowing with emails, hiding in the bathroom when you have an upcoming deposition, competing with colleagues in meetings or eating a cookie at 3 p.m. Pick one habitual response and work on noticing the impulse right when it arises. Then before acting, take 10 deep breaths. This allows the brain to re-engage so you can choose your response.
6. Create new habits. Choose one behavior that you’d like to see more of from yourself and practice it for one month. Perhaps it’s learning to compliment your significant other. Or exercising in the morning. Eating healthier. [B]e intentional and construct a plan to integrate these behaviors into your life and make them permanent. For example, set an alert on your phone to remind you to compliment your partner. Calendar those exercise appointments. Schedule a day off with nothing planned other than curling up with a good book.
7. Practice gratitude. Research shows that those who practice gratitude have stronger immune systems, sleep better, have lower rates of depression and anxiety, are more resilient and are happier overall. Gratitude blocks negative emotions like envy and aggression and promotes altruism and goodwill toward others. Practice gratitude by keeping a journal of what you are thankful for, or just saying a sincere thank you to people in your life.
8. Build social relationships. Yes, at work. (And no, not necessarily over drinks.) Taking time to get to know co-workers on a personal level builds social community, helps you better understand and empathize with one another, and makes it more likely that you will take opportunities to help and even lift up one another. So take the time to foster those relationships. Send notes of encouragement and support, celebrate birthdays, offer an ear or a hug of support. These small moments will build a more caring and satisfying work environment.
9. Practice compassion. Research shows that people who practice compassion are mentally and physically healthier, recover more quickly from disease and even live longer. But it’s hard to nail your adversaries to the wall when you have compassion for them and empathy for their case. Putting oneself in another’s shoes and wanting to alleviate their pain seems counter-intuitive in our adversarial system of justice. What the law is really about. Only you can answer that for yourself.
10. Give yourself a break. You’re human, just like the rest of us. Beating yourself up for making a mistake is actually detrimental to performance. Research shows that practicing self-compassion, or kindness toward yourself, leads to greater motivation to improve after failure. Lawyers in particular can be perfectionists, and that can lead to depression, substance abuse or worse. Try letting that go and see how it changes the way you relate to other humans.
In the competitive, hard-charging world of modern legal practice, couldn’t you and your firm use some profit-stoking compassion?