Law Students Need Mindfulness Training

A study published in the journal Science found that a majority of participants would prefer to give themselves mild electrical shocks, rather than be alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes.

Last summer, a tourist in Melbourne, Australia was so engrossed in reading Facebook on her smartphone that she walked off a pier. She couldn’t swim, but thankfully a passerby was paying attention and came to her rescue.

Reports like this no longer seem surprising, given the widespread debate over the distracting effect of the instant availability of information. The smartphone is most often blamed, as everyone from kindergarteners to grandparents seems to have one; checking email, texting, playing games, often at the same time. In a law review article and past blog on the topic of teaching this “smartphone generation” of law students, I discussed how the constant stream of information available and accessed by these students has weakened the part of the brain needed for deep focus and concentration. One antidote to this distraction is mindfulness training.

While mindfulness training is often associated with meditation, its purpose in education can be more broadly seen as allowing students to learn to focus. It is currently being taught in a small number of law schools as a stand-alone class (for credit or pass/fail), part of a clinic, simulation, or professional responsibility class, or part of an orientation or well being program within the law school. But mindfulness can easily be incorporated into any law school class, and needn’t be seen as requiring any special tools or training.

This year in my legal writing course, for example, I forced my students to focus and work on their memorandum mindfully. With phones and laptops put away, I spread the students around the room and allotted 30 minutes to work on a particular portion of their memorandum. I gave them a checklist to keep them focused on the task and no talking is permitted. After they completed their work, I asked them to reflect on what they were able to recognize in their writing that they may not have seen before. Many commented that 30 minutes felt like a long time and they could not believe how much they accomplished. I then asked them to reflect on how it felt to work in this focused manner, and compare that to how they might usually work—surrounded by people, technology, and an endless array of possible distractions. This end of class reflection was important because it encouraged the students to be mindful of their study patterns and habits. While I had lectured to them about working free of distraction, this exercise forced them to feel that focus.

There are many resources available in print and online with more information on mindfulness and exercises that can be used in any classroom. I encourage you to consider mindfulness—it not only benefits students, but allows for more mindful teaching as well.

-Shailini Jandial George

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One Response

  1. I really find this post persuasive. I have started the HEADSPACE mediation and have told my students about the free 10 day trial just to get them thinking about it… no need to buy anything ever but just to tease out their understanding of their own mind, distractions and focus.

    I also have discussed yoga in class. Since I was a prosecutor and teach nitty gritty stuff like crimes, assaults and violence, students seem to appreciate the balance and perspective…….

    Mary

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