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Mindfulness makes its way into law schools

Legal News Reporter

Published: October 17, 2012

The University of Akron School of Law is joining a number of other law schools in diving into the developing field of mindfulness-based stress reduction. The school will co-sponsor a one-day practicum on mindfulness and other wellness techniques with the Akron Bar Association on Friday, Nov. 9.

This will be the third annual seminar on this topic held at the bar association located at 57 S. Broadway downtown Akron.

“We really like ideas that are progressive and innovative and provide unique programs, and we thought that this one did that,” said Meg Matejkovic, associate dean for external programs for the law school.

Matejkovic said that the law school and the bar association regularly partner for about a half dozen programs a year.

“We regularly talk with the bar association about programs and CLEs that we can partner on throughout the year,” she said, adding that this particular program got the go-ahead in January.

Many recent medical studies have found that mindfulness practice, which involves sitting still, relaxing and relating with the present moment, can have health benefits, including reduction in indicators of stress like high blood pressure. In the pressure cooker that law school can be, many schools are looking for ways to reduce stress among their student population, and mindfulness practice is becoming increasingly popular as one means of doing that.

The mindfulness program, said Matejkovic, “impacts our constituency. As a lay person, I know that there has been some benefit for others who have tried meditation and yoga (which will also be a part of the program). I have heard through stories that these have a lot of benefit, and I am curious about hearing more. This is intriguing, as a person, to me.”

In helping to sponsor this program, the Akron law school joins a growing list of law and other professional schools which are offering mindfulness as stress reduction to law students and the local legal community.

Anchoring this movement is the book Mindfulness for Law Students by Scott L. Rogers. The author also runs the website The Mindful Law Student (www.themindfullawstudent.com).

Rogers also developed a program called Jurisight (www.jurisight.com), which, according to the program’s website, “is a method of sharing mindfulness with lawyers, judges and law students that uses the language, imagery and culture of the law to share fundamental mindfulness insights and exercises.”

Several law schools have instituted their own mindfulness programs—some for credit, and some not for credit.

The University of Georgetown School of Law has developed a program called Lawyers in Balance, which is an eight-week, non-credit seminar. Adapted from a course taught to graduating medical students, Georgetown’s mindfulness program for lawyers-to-be offers groups of 10 students “a range of stress reducing ‘mind-body’ techniques, including meditation, journaling, reflective discussion, guided imagery and the like.

That program is jointly sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Students (ODOS), Campus Ministry, OPICS, graduate Ppograms and CLE.

Berkeley Law School in California offers a seminar in mindfulness and the law by mindfulness law school advocate Charles Halpern. Halpern is no fly-by-night—he was the founding dean of the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law and the founding board chair of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society as well as the founder of the new Berkeley Initiative for Mindfulness in Law.

The CUNY School of Law has been offering meditation and yoga to students since 2001. In 2008, the school developed the contemplative practice and the law course as well as a contemplative lawyering group under student affairs.

The University of Miami School of Law has an entire mindfulness in law program, including a mindfulness student practice group. The program is connected with Scott Rogers, who lives in South Florida and offers a for-credit mindfulness class.

Other law schools with mindfulness programs include those at Florida International University, University of Buffalo, University of Missouri, University of San Francisco, Vanderbilt University and Washburn University.

While The University of Akron may not be looking to develop a mindfulness course, Matejkovic and others at the school are certainly open to discussing the impact that this practice may have on the school in the short and near term.

“We would like to do more programming to help people,” she said. “This is the kind of thing that our students might really relish.”