Tag: mindfulness

Client developmentClient relationshipsEmotional intelligenceLegal communicationLegal technology

Resolve to Use Your Device as a Tool—and to Resist Being Tooled by It

2016-9-jack-pringle-croppedListen Like a Lawyer is grateful to share this post by Jack Pringle, a partner at Adams & Reese in Columbia, SC. Jack is a litigator, appellate advocate, and information technology attorney. He publishes on Medium and LinkedIn.

Introduction

It’s that time of year: reflection and some soul-searching about what to do differently when we turn over a new leaf on January 1st. Let me offer a modest proposal.

The New Body Part

Everyone reading this post has a smartphone. (Ok, Jared Correia does not have a smartphone, but the rest of you do). And chances are you are not going back to a flip phone, a bag phone, or a rotary dial phone hanging on the wall in your kitchen.

These cases require us to decide how the search incident to arrest doctrine applies to modern cell phones, which are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy. — Chief Justice Roberts, Riley v. California.

And I know you have some legitimate uses for your device: very convenient to get things done at any time and wherever you are. Ridiculous amounts of computing power and broadband internet speeds and video and pictures and those GIF memes, emojis, etc., etc. I get it.

giphy

But I am pretty sure that none of us planned to be on our devices constantly, at least not in the way we actually use them. Be honest: when you are on your smartphone, how often are you doing productive things? And how often are you doing “unproductive” things intentionally?

I am not being a scold here. No one enjoys playing as much as I do. The question is whether you decided to play, or whether your device just happened to be there and you started swiping and typing.

Are You Using the Device, or Is it Using You?

Bright, shiny devices that are so easily accessible and so full of bells and whistles tend to hijack self-control. And left to our own devices (thanks, I will be here all week), we are likely to create our own little Skinner Boxes—with games, social media sites, and constant checking of all our information streams—all the while not knowing that we’re doing it.

Your attention is being sought and used relentlessly by those doing business in the online world.

If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”. — Andrew Lewis.

Technology as a Servant, Not as a Master

And when computer tools are using us, we don’t get a chance to determine the ways in which we can use these technologies as part of our “extended mind”- allowing computers to perform tasks that free up our minds to do higher-level thinking. That higher-level thinking is what is going to enable work and workplaces to continue to evolve as automation advances.

In other words, if you are going to have your device as another appendage, then put it to work for you.

Train Your Mind-Try Meditation.

Headspace is just so easy to use. And you can use it anywhere. At anytime. Carving out those quiet moments may create the space for you to see the way your minds works, and how these technologies have commandeered your attention and created the idea that you are so “busy” all the time.

And I certainly am a proponent of getting quiet—whether through meditation, getting outside, exercising, or undertaking other pursuits—and away from devices altogether. But I don’t think it is an all-or-nothing proposition. The key is to have the space and frame of mind to discern what tools to use and when. And to realize who or what is being used.

Give Your Mind a Rest.

See above. In addition, stop keeping all these ideas in your head. Use Evernote or a similar program to memorialize and organize things for later use. If the device is going to be with you at all times, at least take advantage of that fact. As the late great Mitch Hedberg remarked:

I sit at my hotel at night, I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen’s too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny.

Free Up Your Attention

Quit complaining that you don’t have time unless you have gotten smarter about the way you use your time. Try Boxed. Or Amazon Prime. The idea is to use your time and attention up to do meaningful things. An afternoon of shopping and hauling things around is not meaningful in my world when there are available alternatives.

Feed Your Mind

There has never been a better time to learn new things. And these devices make myriad information sources available to you at any time. Below are just two examples.

Listen to Books. It has never been so easy to have great content literally at your fingertips. Consider a subscription to Audible, and listen while you drive, work out, walk, or otherwise have downtime. If you are looking for recommendations, click here.

Listen to Podcasts. See above. Long-form discussion. Topics directly related to your profession, interests, or entertainment choices. Always available. Pushed directly to your device. You don’t have to do anything but click and listen. Podcasts for lawyers? Click here.

Conclusion

The age of machines (artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomous vehicles, the blockchain) is only just getting started. The changes in the way we live and work are going to be significant (and arguably have already been significant). In order for humans to figure out where we fit in, we have to have lots of attention and figure out where to spend (pay) it. That means understanding these tools—their benefits and risks—and making sure we use them wisely and effectively.

GIF courtesy of GIPHY via Huffington Post

See Andy McDonald, 11 Ways Smartphones Are Not Making Us Any Smarter, Huffington Post (March 24, 2014)

CollaborationEmotional intelligenceLaw firm managementLeadershipPeople skills

Mindful interactions with colleagues

Mindfulness and listening go together in a lot of ways, some obvious and some subtle. A recent HBR Blog post, “See Colleagues as They Are, Not as They Were,” challenged readers to be more mindful in working with colleagues, especially longtime colleagues.

The post defines mindfulness as “noticing what is happening in the present moment, without judgment.” And thus the post raised the question: when we interact with colleagues, are we present and mindful of who they are now? Or are we substituting our own mental shortcuts of who they were and what they’ve done in the past? The post encourages readers to “See your colleague as they are today, not how you remember them from yesterday”:

[A]s an experiment, simply notice your colleague afresh. How do they look today? What is their tone of voice? What are their facial expressions? Are they really saying the same old stuff, or is there something new to be heard that you could notice and appreciate?

Noticing colleagues afresh is a challenge. This is partly general human nature: “By the time we have worked with someone for a few months or years, we have developed expectations for what they will say and do.” It’s always been that way, of course.

The ever-present role of email only exacerbates these expectations. The author, Duncan Coombs, describes his findings that email communications reinforce and solidify expectations about coworkers:

I’ve previously written with my good friend and colleague, Darren Good, about the “flash images” we form about people when we see their names in our inboxes. This flash image, based on past experiences, happens before you even read the content of the email, and then influences the way we read the email. While this is a normal part of brain functioning, it has a potentially adverse impact when our negative lens leads to negative interpretations.

I believe the legal workplace suffers from these issues as much as any other industry, and maybe more so (at least in law firms).

An associate does good work, and she builds the “halo effect” around everything she does—whether the work remains stellar or not. Another associate produces a weak assignment or two, and she her billables just start fading away. The effect cuts the other way too: Associates may develop positive expectations about working with a particular partner, which lead them to enjoy the work and do it well. Conversely some partners may engender a sense of existential dread among associates prodded onto their teams. The same effect influences relationships with paralegals, administrative support staff, and legal professionals throughout the firm. And the e-mail “flash image” reinforces all of the above.

Many would say this is far from a problem; in fact it is (a) reality and (b) a good thing.

In a law firm, an associate builds her reputation—for better or worse. Keith Lee wrote about the difference in personal brand (what you say about yourself) and reputation (what others say about you) . The work inside a law firm flows toward the individual lawyers with strong reputations, and away from others. Individual lawyers’ reputations are important because they contribute to (or detract from) the overall health of the law firm.

This is true in any business of course, but the competitive reality of law practice and the pessimistic mindset of lawyers may exacerbate it. As one lawyer stated to Law360 in giving advice and admonitions to new associates, “what takes years and hard work to build can be lost in a second with one bad decision or lapse of judgment.”

I don’t think the HBR post is arguing against a lawyer’s earned reputation and its deserved effects. Nor am I, here in this post.

I think the post is digging into the process of how a reputation happens in the first place. If a reputation comes about from non-mindful, even lazy mental shortcuts of others based on insufficient, incomplete, or inaccurate information, reputation is not only not a good thing but actually bad or at least far from optimal. Consequences that come to mind include frustrated individual working relationships that result in less accurate information, less effective distributions of work, wastefully “writing off” legal professionals despite achievements and potential, and shrinking or illusory opportunities for professional development.

Is working with someone for “a few months” enough to accurately define that person’s capabilities and, accordingly, their reputation? Even if a working relationship has lasted years, could a person actually change?

These questions open up numerous discussions on assessment and evaluation, as well as a “growth” or “fixed” mindset about human capacity, with implications too big for one post. At the individual level, the HBR post goes on to some positive recommendations for interacting more mindfully with colleagues:

As an experiment, consciously seek to notice something positive about the person. What is one thing about this person that you appreciate? What is one thing they say that is helpful? What is their contribution to the organization? What is their single greatest strength? Focus on that and pay total attention to that one thing. Hold that focus and make that your first “foothold” on the path to an improved relationship.

These are recommendations that some skeptical lawyers may find naive. Supervisors who complete and sign semi-annual evaluations simply don’t need to make this effort. There’s a path of less resistance: directing their work and their time to other associates and legal professionals where the positive reactions come more easily and naturally. (Thus it’s very good advice for new attorneys to treat partners like clients from day one, and try to avoid this situation in the first place.)

But for attorneys and legal professionals who are committed to—or stuck in—working arrangement for some time, this positive advice may be helpful to frame more mindful, constructive interactions.


For more on mindfulness, see the work of Jeena Cho. Her book, The Anxious Lawyer, will be coming out this year. Her course on “Better Lawyering through Mindfulness” touches on mindful listening and many other topics. She writes for Above the Law.

This article originally from the Vermont Bar Journal and now posted on the Ohio Supreme Court’s website also touches on themes of mindfulness in interacting with others.

People skillsProfessional development

Mindfulness and mental chatter

Listen Like a Lawyer is headed into that time of year when it’s going to be difficult to maintain weekly posts. Being too busy has a detrimental effect not only on one’s blogging goals; it can also interfere with communication. And since lawyers fall into from the “busy” trap at least as much as the average person and probably a lot more, this is a good moment to think about what that does to us and how to respond.

Seeking some wisdom on this topic, I started to check out Scott Eblin’s new book Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative. This book seems kind of like the “7 Habits” equivalent for the mindfulness movement.

After digging into the book, I was going to start by exploring the concept of “mental chatter.” Mental chatter is also known as “monkey mind” or (less memorably) “discursive thoughts.” Basically it means random disorganized thoughts running through your head. Should we listen to them? Or ignore them? (Is that even possible?) These random thoughts are obstacles to mindfulness—defined as “the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose in the present moment and nonjudgmentally” (Eblin quoting mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn). Also from Eblin:

Mindfulness is about “putting yourself in a position to be more aware and intentional about what’s really going on inside and what, if anything, you want to do about it.”

And then I had two back-to-back days that were busier than any in recent memory. They reminded me of the days back in law practice when I had three filings due in three different courts at 5 p.m. on the same day. There was no time to be mindful! Or so it seemed. The day was actually too busy for random mental chatter because there was too much to do requiring full focus. I tip my cap to the legions of practicing lawyers who handle these types of days year in and year out.

What is the solution? It’s not “finding balance.” On this, I like what Eblin has to say:

[I]f you’re an executive, manager, or professional with a demanding job, you’re about as likely to find balance as you are to be a purple unicorn. The reason is that the world and life are both fast moving and ever changing. In that environment, balance, at best, is a temporary and fleeting state. Instead of seeking balance, try to find a rhythm instead. By focusing on rhythm, you acknowledge there are times when your pace is going to be much more oriented to work, home, or community and there are times when the counterpoints of other aspects of your life come to the fore.

It’s also not about using mindfulness as a Band-Aid. Techniques such as deep breathing can help with reducing stress in specific situations, but mindfulness really means something broader. For example, having consistent routines—like sleeping and exercising—provides resilience on days that swing to the painfully hectic side of the pendulum.

And if mindfulness is about awareness, then we need to think about it when we think about listening. Eblin has some interesting thoughts on different styles of listening, and Listen Like a Lawyer will delve into those on another day.


Here are some additional resources on mindfulness:

The Berkeley Institute for Mindfulness in Law

Becky Beaupre Gillespie, Mindfulness in Legal Practice is Going Mainstream, ABA Journal (Feb. 1, 2013)

Susan Moon, Moonlighting: Mindfulness for Lawyers and the Jedi Master, Above the Law (August 12, 2014) (featuring Jeena Cho)

Robert Zeglovitch, The Mindful Lawyer, ABA GP Solo Magazine (October/November 2006)

Scott Rogers, The Mindful Lawyer: Practicing Law with Presence

Chris Bradley, Jeena Cho on Zen Lawyering, Lawyerist (June 24, 2013)

Jeena Cho, The Anxious Lawyer (ABA forthcoming 2015)

Shalini Jandial George, The Cure for the Distracted Mind Why Law Schools Should Teach Mindfulness, 53 Duq. L. Rev. (forthcoming, winter 2015).