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Silhouettes “I’ve found mindfulness to be helpful” Helen said. Helen, a junior partner at a large law firm, was telling me about Mark, a senior associate. She told me how she made use of mindfulness to cope with what she saw Mark say and do. Mark, she said, is highly regarded at the firm, is up for partnership soon, and has been under a lot of pressure in the past couple of years. Helen had occasionally worked with Mark, as they are in the same department, and she found him to be intense, dedicated, tireless and a superb attorney. She felt they got along great, knew she could rely on him to get the work done right, and wanted to make sure they maintained their working relationship. “He can ride people pretty hard sometimes,” Helen admitted.

Walking past the closed door to Mark’s office, a couple of doors down from her own, Helen would sometimes hear Mark shouting. A number of times, she had seen staff or junior associates, looking shaken, come out of his office, their heads down, with Mark’s angry and loud reprimands still emanating from within. “When that happens,” Helen said “I find it helpful to be aware of what I’m feeling … .” Helen then described how she would notice anger towards Mark and sadness for the staff and junior associates. “Using mindfulness helps me accept my emotions as passing experiences,” and Helen described how she would use mindfulness in these instances to get a hold of her attention and direct it back to her work.

To bolster wellness, many law firms have directed resources to training initiatives to help their attorneys manage the stresses of law firm practice more effectively. Practicing mindfulness is an important component of many such initiatives, but mindfulness can also be inadvertently misused. In the situation described above, Mark would himself likely benefit from practicing mindfulness as an initial step towards better managing his stress and anger. But Helen, in the above case, is using mindfulness as an avoidance mechanism. She is treating her feelings about Mark’s behavior as a nuisance or distraction, and she is misusing mindfulness to avoid the discomfort of asserting herself and to reinforce an ineffective form of conflict avoidance.

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