Recht in Balans

Evolutionary Legal Leadership

Amanda Boardman, founder of the Centre for Integrative Law in South-Africa (Cape Town) training her students, lawyers;

Evolutionary Legal Leadership

“Law is a cognitive profession and the legendary stressors in legal education and the practice of law can take a tremendous toll on cognitive capacity. Lawyers suffer from depression at triple the rate of non-lawyers… A number of innovative companies have instituted programs designed to enhance the bottom line. Research shows that perks such as onsite gyms, stress management classes, and mindfulness training produce vibrant workplaces and thriving employees. Forward-looking law schools have created wellness programs designed to relieve law student stress and improve well-being.”
~ Debra Austin, Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die From Law School Stress and How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance

There are some pretty awesome developments happening around the world in the field of neuroscience and optimizing the use of our brains. Finally these developments are starting to filter into some of the more cutting edge law firms, which are realizing that you can curate a culture of cognitive wellness. But sadly 99% of firms (and sole practitioners) are continuing the insanity of doing the same thing and expecting different results. Lawyers work until they’re broken, then go on leave most of which is spent just trying to get back to “normal” ie being able to fall asleep without alcoholic or chemical assistance and actually being able to watch waves crash onto a beach or clouds scurry across the sky without an anxiety that one should be doing something else.

Sometimes it gets really bad. Many lawyers end up incapacitated by depression or anxiety, some needing hospitalization. There are firms worldwide including some in South Africa that pay for their lawyers to receive psychiatric treatment from time to time rather than put in preventive programs to stop this happening. Although it seems crazy, this is in line with the reactive approach prevalent in much legal thinking which you may have seen illustrated by the analogy of a cliff with a fence at the top and an ambulance at the bottom: It is said that no matter how many clients want a stronger fence, their lawyers insist on improving the ambulance service.

It’s not so funny when we might be referring to real ambulances. Ask the partners in your firm who’ve suffered heart attacks.

If we had any time to think about it (which we don’t because we’re billing by the hour) it’s pretty obvious that there’s a strong impact on our brains when our bodies are stressed. We also know that our anxiety levels play a huge role in our ability to learn and problem-solve. Are you familiar with the “my mind went blank in the exam” phenomenon or have you ever noticed that you don’t even hear a person say their name when they introduce themselves if it’s a high-pressure gathering or if you’re socially anxious? That’s because the part of your brain that retains information is not operative over a certain level of anxiety.

The good news is that all these scientists, doctors, neuro-biologists and cognitive behavioural therapists have done the research on how to stop us frying our brains with stress! And the even better news is the discovery of neuroplasticity which basically means that we can re-mould our brains with training. There are many benefits to basic mindfulness training which include developing emotional intelligence competence, excellent leadership skills, and the capacity for sustainable happiness.

You don’t have to wait until you fall apart to seek help. Let’s build some stronger fences.


The master of ceremonies, and developer of Google’s Search Inside Yourself (SIY) emotional intelligence curriculum, is Chade-Meng Tan. Tan describes two levels of mindfulness:
the Easy Way (bring gentle and consistent attention to your breath for two minutes, and when your attention wanders, bring it back) and
the Easier Way (sit without an agenda for two minutes, shifting from doing to being).
Right now, stop everything for 2 minutes and give it a try. You may want to set your phone unless that makes you anxious (I set mine for 4mins and then then do a 2 minute practice – weirdly I worry otherwise about being interrupted!).

It sounds simple but you may find it really difficult to focus only on your breath. Your mind may be jumping around like crazy (referred to as “monkey mind”). Don’t swing off into your thoughts, just bring your attention back to your breath. Give it a try. Seriously – stop reading and give it a try.

Now look at your schedule and work out how to schedule another 2 minute breather before a meeting or call that requires your full concentration. Set your phone so you’ll have enough time.

Still think this is silly? A lawyer who began meditating started a Facebook page called Meditating Lawyers to see if other lawyers meditated. She’s got over 100 000 following her. That’s a lot of silly lawyers.

Be well”.

By Amanda Boardman, Director of the Centre for Integrative Law


You may also like to read (Dutch):

‘Zo blijven advocaten psychisch gezond’

“Het beroep van advocaat is zwaar. De werkdruk is hoog… Intussen is de cultuur op veel kantoren er één van survival of the fittest. Wie niet mee kan wordt vaak als zwak gezien of ongeschikt. Het gevolg: psychische klachten of zelfs verslaving aan drugs en alcohol. Geluk blijkt in de advocatuur allesbehalve gewoon. Hoe komt dat en wat moet er aan gebeuren?”

Bronvermelding:  ‘Waarom advocaten zo ongelukkig zijn‘ – Artikel in Advocatenblad, oktober 2014
Geschreven door: Juriaan Mensch



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