When San Francisco litigator William Veen initially told colleagues that he was attending a four-day silent meditation retreat for legal practitioners, he was barraged with facetious rejoinders. "People would say, 'Silent meditation for lawyers - isn't that a contradiction in terms?' " he recalls.
But Veen, who has twice attended an annual Marin County retreat coordinated by Massachusetts's Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, says meditation can be a boon to a law practice. "I think it's useful," he says. "Sometimes you get caught up in your own world and you become very tense, and your bandwidth is much narrower. You're not as effective, as an attorney."
About 75 legal professionals attend the retreat each year. It's part of a nascent but growing movement among attorneys and law students who are incorporating so-called "contemplative practices" into their work.
As the center's law program director, Oakland attorney Douglas Chermak coordinates not only the yearly retreats but also shorter programs for law firms and judges. In addition, he is planning the inaugural Mindful Lawyers Conference at the UC Berkeley School of Law later this month; participants can earn up to eight MCLE credits.
Nearly a dozen law schools - from Harvard and Yale to the University of San Francisco - have offered courses in the vein of mindful lawyering. At UC Berkeley, lecturer Charles Halpern, who was founding dean of the CUNY Law School at Queens College, will teach a spring course on the subject.
"I am not suggesting that the analytical skills that lawyers have and utilize should be abandoned or undercut in any way," says Halpern, who used to meditate with his old friend U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. "We are talking about a complimentary set of skills that make those individuals more effective."