any lawyers — and many law students — take pride in the amount of stress they can handle. The number of all-nighters pulled, cases read or hours billed become a badge of honor.
That approach is as unhealthy as it is shortsighted, says Rhonda Magee ’93, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law. Magee works to bring mindfulness and contemplation practices into the educational system, the workplace and anywhere else they are needed. Besides teaching torts, race law and contemplative lawyering at USF, Magee is also a fellow at the Mind and Life Institute in Charlottesville, and board chair of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, a Bay Area nonprofit founded by Google. She is the former board chair of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society in Northampton, Massachusetts, and serves on the Board of Advisors for the Brown Center for Mindfulness.
In September, Random House TarcherPerigee will publish her first book, “The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness.”
Mindfulness, Magee explained, “is any practice that supports paying attention with a certain openness and willingness to accept, at least for the moment, what’s happening without being at war with it; and the more flexible way of being in the world that often results from taking time for such practices.”
Yoga is perhaps the best-known mindfulness practice, but it is not always practical in a law office. Other mindfulness practices, which can be done anywhere, include meditating, keeping a journal, silent breathing exercises or simply pausing to focus before answering a phone call. All help push aside the mental clutter that comes in our multitasking professional and personal lives. Calmer nerves and lower blood pressure are their own rewards, of course, but Magee believes that mindfulness can help lawyers professionally by helping them focus, listen, communicate and empathize more effectively.
“Any person can benefit from being more awake and alive and aware,” she said.
Magee spreads the word widely, speaking to law schools, law firms, corporate legal departments and even law enforcement. A few years ago, she taught a six-week course in mindfulness to prosecutors, public defenders and judges from Santa Clara County, California.
A proud triple ’Hoo, Magee earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology from UVA. She first began practicing mindfulness while studying for the bar exam the summer after she graduated from law school. “This isn’t about trying to be perfect,” Magee said, “but about realizing that there are things we can do every day to make our lives a little more sustainable for ourselves and for the people who depend on us.”