Houston Law Review
Peter H. Huang, Can Practicing Mindfulness Improve Lawyer Decision-Making, Ethics, and Leadership?, 55 Hous. L. Rev. 63 (2017), available at https://scholar.law.colorado.edu/faculty-articles/832.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction, defines mindfulness as paying attention in a curious, deliberate, kind, and non-judgmental way to life as it unfolds each moment. Psychologist Ellen Langer defines mindfulness as a flexible state of mind actively engaging in the present, noticing new things, and being sensitive to context. Langer differentiates mindfulness from mindlessness, which she defines as acting based upon past behavior instead of the present and being stuck in a fixed, solitary perspective, oblivious to alternative multiple viewpoints. Something called mindfulness is currently very fashionable and has been so for some time now in American business, education, media, medicine, popular culture, and sports. Many business, legal, and medical organizations are considering how mindfulness can help alleviate stress, improve productivity, reduce mistakes, and resolve conflicts. Many people from Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Wall Street practice some form of mindfulness. Much of the widespread popularity of mindfulness stems from (popular media coverage about) empirical, experimental research data in psychology and neuroscience about how practicing mindfulness improves emotional, mental, and psychological health by boosting attention, concentration, immune response, and positive affect, while reducing mind wandering, distress, emotional reactivity, and negative affect. Practicing mindfulness is a form of experiential learning that provides a temporal space to pause and reflect upon more thoughtful decisions, including sustaining ethical behavior and leadership. This Article draws upon various novel interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches, ranging from biology, decision theory, financial economics, management science, medicine, neuroscience, psychology, and psychiatry to analyze how practicing mindfulness can improve the decision-making, ethics, and leadership of non-lawyers. To date, there is little empirical or experimental research about how practicing mindfulness affects law students, lawyers, or law professors. There is a large and growing body of empirical or experimental research about how practicing mindfulness affects people who are not in the legal profession. Based on this research, this Article makes three recommendations. First, law professors and lawyers should team up with neuroscientists and psychologists to conduct multimethods waitlist controlled research studies involving law students, lawyers, and law professors to determine if practicing mindfulness improves legal decision-making, ethics, and leadership. Second, law students, lawyers, and law professors should try practicing mindfulness to see if they improve their legal decision-making, ethics, and leadership. Third, law schools, law firms, and bar associations should try offering voluntary mindfulness training and supporting mindfulness practice to see if doing so improves legal decision-making, ethics, and leadership.
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