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The University of California, Berkeley School of Law was scheduled to host the first national conference on meditation and the legal profession this last weekend. “The Mindful Lawyer: Practices & Prospects for Law School, Bench, and Bar” was scheduled to bring together 185 lawyers, judges, law faculty, students and neuroscientists for three days to discuss the science of meditation and how it can be harnessed to improve legal education and the practice of law. Conference organizer Charles Halpern, who teaches a seminar at Berkeley Law called “Effective and Sustainable Law Practice: The Meditative Perspective,” said that the legal profession is becoming more open to the benefits of meditation. “At one time it seemed very exotic, but interest in law and meditation has been growing for a decade,” said Halpern, founding dean of the City University of New York School of Law. “Courses have been showing up in law schools across the country, there have been CLE courses on this and gathering of lawyers focusing on meditation.” More scientific research on meditation has helped silence some of the skeptics, he said. Halpern said he hopes that the conference would raise awareness of the use of meditation in law and help create some national collaboration to further its practice among law students and lawyers. The inward focus of meditation and its goal of helping people detach can help lawyers hone their skills and manage stress and anxiety, said both Halpern and Snell & Wilmer partner Michael Zimmerman, who has been meditating regularly since 1994. “The lawyer’s job is essentially to be an analyst — to look at the law and analyze the situation and strategize about the client’s best position, which requires looking at things from numerous perspectives,” said Zimmerman, a former Utah Supreme Court judge who is scheduled to speak at the conference. “To be able to disassociate my subjective experience is essential to what it is to be a lawyer. It’s a tremendous skill advantage.” Zimmerman found his way to meditation when his first wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Meditation helped him to manage his grief and feelings of being overwhelmed when he found himself a single parent with three children. Law schools focus heavily on teaching verbal skills, but Halpern said meditation is an effective way to develop listening and observation skills, which are often overlooked in legal education. “When you’re in a complex courtroom situation with a multidistrict litigation, being able to closely observe what’s gong on in the courtroom and within the lawyers’ own emotions is a critical skill,” he said. In his seminar class at Berkeley, Halpern stresses ethics, empathy and stress reduction, among other practical skills. It’s proven to be a popular course that has filled quickly each of the three times it has been offered. Demand was also high for the conference. Organizers hoped to attract 100 participants, and had a waiting list 40 people long after they ran out of space. Planned session topics included meditation and the brain, mindful lawyering and social justice, and the benefits of contemplative practice for judges and lawyers. Participants also were to have their choice of yoga, meditation and Qi Gong (a Chinese form of meditation) sessions throughout the weekend.

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