By F. Gregory Coffey and Maureen C. Kessler, American Bar Association, Chicago, Ill. 376 pages, $29.95
This 376-page small (6.4 x 6.4) soft-cover book contains daily meditations designed to help lawyers recover from what the authors call “spiritual bankruptcy.” Every page represents a day in the year. For each day there is an introductory quotation, followed by a “reflection” which is inspired by that quotation. The book contains various themes such as: overcoming fear, personal beliefs and values, maintaining integrity, personally defining success, dealing with difficult people, and common workplace challenges. One can call it New Age Spirituality for Lawyers.
Dr. F. Gregory Coffey is a clinical psychologist who has been engaged in therapeutic practice for more than 20 years. He has been in private practice since 1992, and, in addition to acting as a life coach for many attorneys and other professionals, he creatively utilizes proven cognitive behavioral techniques and short-term therapy to treat depression, anxiety, and other manifestations of psychological distress and illness.
Maureen C. Kessler is a 1976 graduate of St. John’s University School of Law. Ms. Kessler began her legal career as a corporate associate with Kelley, Drye & Warren in New York. In 1980, she joined the legal department of Goldman, Sachs & Co., eventually becoming a vice president and associate general counsel. Ms. Kessler remained with Goldman Sachs through 2002.
Ms. Kessler also graduated Union Theological Seminary in 2001, and was ordained as a minister. She has served as an interim associate pastor and as a chaplain to the inmates of the Nassau County Correctional Center and the Juvenile Detention Center.
This book should not be read cover to cover in a few sittings as I did for this review. The way to enjoy this book is the way it was meant to be read – one page per day – every day. It can be reread every year, and you will continue to appreciate its messages as the messages will change for you as you meditate over their meanings as they apply to your ever changing life. Since reading the book, I have gone back during the last few weeks, reading one “reflective thought” each day.
Some examples of the “thoughts” are:
• “Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is.” – Erich Fromm
• “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” – Cicero
• “The best things in life are not things.” – Author Unknown
• We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being.” – Thomas Merton
• “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso
• “If you would only recognize that life is hard, things would be so much easier for you.” – Louis Brandeis
• “A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it, is committing another mistake.” – Confucius
And the reflective thought that best summarizes what the authors are trying to accomplish with this book:
• “Let me be clear. At its core the legal profession faces not so much a crisis of ethics, or commercialization, or public relations, but a spiritual crisis. Lawyers and the profession have lost their way.” – Joseph G. Allegretti
Other thoughts come from our ethical codes, the Bible, Dr. Martin Luther King, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Paine, Ghandi, Sophocles, John Lennon and many others. Clearly the authors drew from many sources in their exhaustive research to create this tool.
As the authors put it, “[s]pirituality is the way out of despair and into the light, and developing a spiritual practice that allows for the true expression of our authentic beings is our goal. Our reflections will introduce the components of many different spiritual concepts and practices . . . “
While the “reflective thought” at the top of each day’s page provides the foundation for that day’s thought, it is the rest of the page that provides the framework. The authors challenge you and ask questions to assist you in reflecting on that thought, and lead you to many other reflections and thoughts that you can ponder as the day goes on.
The book also provides an index broken down by topics if one cares to reflect in a particular area after using the book, or to quickly find an area that the reader wishes to review.
The book is a great gift for future lawyers, as well as a great purchase for those of us who can use a few moments of internal reflection every day.
Matthew A. Sciarrino, Jr. is a criminal court judge on Staten Island.