By: Janet Stearns, Dean of Students, University of Miami School of Law
In this past year, I enjoyed some significant opportunities to advocate, negotiate, and study the new ABA standards. I return often to the text and context of the Standards and interpretations and consider how this language is challenging us in our critical roles in law schools today. In review, the comment to Standard 303 guides us:
The development of professional identity should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice. Because developing a professional identity requires reflection and growth over time, students should have frequent opportunities for such development during each year of law school and in a variety of courses and co-curricular and professional development activities.(emphasis added).
How do we teach the foundational skills of ‘reflection and growth” as part of well-being practices in law school? One very significant contribution to answering this question is through the teaching of Mindfulness in law schools.
My colleague and friend Professor Scott Rogers has written a fabulous and important resource—The Mindful Law Student: A Mindfulness in Law Practice Guide. Scott serves as Lecturer in Law and Director of University of Miami School of Law’s Mindfulness in Law Program and Co-Director of the University of Miami’s Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative. Scott is also a co-president of the national non-profit Mindfulness in Law Society. Scott has spent more than a decade collaborating on peer-reviewed neuroscience research assessing the efficacy of mindfulness training and shares a series of core practices that have been part of this research and are among those found in many well-respected mindfulness training programs. This Practice Guide was published in September by Edward Elgar publishing and is thus a very new tool in our toolbox for teaching mindfulness.
Overview: The Mindful Law Student
The Mindful Law Student is both profound and concise. The materials build upon Scott’s teaching at the University of Miami for the past 15 years. I have been blessed to have a “front row seat” and observe the evolution of Scott’s teaching from his first arrival at Miami Law. Having seen and heard many of his presentations over this time, I was tremendously impressed by Scott’s ability to pull together this complex body of work into such a focused and readable text.
The book is divided into three parts, each consisting of 5 chapters. The first part is called “Mindfulness Elements” and includes a discussion of Leadership, Attention, Relaxation, Awareness, and Mindfulness. This material is foundational and elucidates the relevance of this topic to every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Part II is “Mindfulness and You” and features specific strategies relating to Solitude, Connection, Self-Care, Movement, and Practice. As Scott tells us:
The chapters in Part II can be read in any order, and you may find them to be useful interludes that complement the readings in Part I.
(I will admit that I read them “in order” the first time but see the opportunities to return to them in different orders, and that this would be welcoming to students.)
Part III, Mindfulness Integrations, raises our awareness of the ways that Mindfulness can affect our lawyering in the areas of Listening, Negotiation, Judgment, Creativity, and Freedom. This section included some very significant “aha” moments for me. For example, in Chapter 11 on Listening, Scott talks about the tendency of lawyers (and physicians) to interrupt their clients and patients. He then offers very specific guidance on how to transition to a mindful listener. Chapter 12 on Negotiation highlights the value of mindful attention to understand better our counterparties and moving beyond self-centered thinking to productive negotiation strategies. Returning to our main theme of professional identity, Part III makes clear the integral role of a mindfulness and reflective practice in performing key elements of our work as lawyers.
Some Special Gems in The Mindful Law Student
Each chapter skillfully integrates scholarship and key teachings on Mindfulness with elements that make this particularly accessible to law students. For one, Scott features seven fictional, diverse law students who face academic and professional challenges and find a pathway for Mindfulness to assist each of them. Each chapter also includes some insightful visualizations and images that capture main concepts. As a visual learner myself, I find these images particularly captivating. Scott is most adept with his key “metaphors”—a reader of the book will quickly understand the images of the flashlight (of attention), the snow globe (of life’s confusing moments), the lightbulb (for awareness), and the spirals (of over-reaction). These images return throughout the book.
Most chapters introduce readers to a different mindfulness practice that connects to that chapter’s subject matter. A website for the book offers a series of 6-, 12-, and 18-minute versions of each practice, which students can also access via a free app. Scott provides access to practice scripts for those faculty who may wish to offer live guidance in class.
The text skillfully integrates the teachings of many great thinkers, from Rumi and Buddhist devotees to musicians like Herbie Hancock and Supertramp, from civil rights leaders like W. E. B. Du Bois to contemporary lawyers and judges who practice mindfulness.
The Mindful Law Student includes specific exercises and probing questions for meditation and self-reflection at the end of each chapter. Mindfulness requires practice and this is a practice guide. Each chapter also highlights key Trials and Takeaways, which are summaries of main concepts and areas for future work. Finally, each chapter has a concise but helpful list of references and resources for those who might want to dig deeper into any subject.
Chapter 14, “Creativity,” challenges the reader to connect with one’s creative soul through art and poetry. I felt the need to accept that challenge and take the “first step” on that “journey of a thousand miles.” The text discusses the Haiku structure, composed of three-line stanzas of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. I took the plunge, and so here I share my first mindful Haiku with you, inviting our readers to consider your own creative endeavors.
Powerful Law profs
Changing the world mind by mind
Moment by moment
Guiding law students
Capable of breath, thoughts, dreams
The key: mindfulness
Navigating this world with
Strategies for Using The Mindful Law Student
This Practice Guide can be integrated in a number of productive ways into the law school experience of teaching professional identity. Some options might include:
-A stand-alone course on Mindfulness. The fifteen chapters would be a successful outline of a weekly course dedicated to exploring the practice and applications of Mindfulness in the Law.
-The book, at just over 200 pages, could be on a recommended summer reading list for new law students, and then form the basis for well-being and orientation programming.
-The sections of the text that focus on listening, negotiation, judgment (and ethics), leadership, and creativity could be part of courses that focus on these particular skills, or included in law clinics, externships, or other experiential learning classes where these skills are taught.
As we explore new curricular options and models around professional identity in 1L and upper-level courses, consider whether The Mindful Law Student would be an appropriate addition to your curriculum.
For More Information:
Contact Elgar Publishing for a copy of The Mindful Law Student so that you can consider strategies for integrating this practice guide into your professional identity teaching.
Other useful resources include:
Mindfulness in Law Society website:
UMindfulness at the University of Miami
Mindfulness in Law Program at the University of Miami School of Law
Please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com if you have any questions or comments.
Janet Stearns is Dean of Students at the University of Miami School of Law and Chair of the ABA COLAP Law School Committee.