Alumni News

Illustration by Gordon Schmidt
Richmond Law put a spotlight on mindfulness for alumni at Reunion Weekend. Aubrey Ford, a Richmond trial lawyer and certified mindfulness teacher, led a virtual session about the practice. The following is an edited, condensed excerpt of some of his remarks:

As lawyers, we follow a paradigm of resolving problems. Usually, people come to us with a problem of some type — at least as a litigator, that was always the case for me. I can remember that about my third year [of practice], I realized that I had 110 active cases going on simultaneously. One day, I thought I would keep track of the number of phone calls that I had when I was not out in court. On the day I did, it was 52. Many of you might be able to relate to that with everything you’ve got going on from family to work, to deadlines, to everything else.

Mindfulness can be very helpful in dealing with these stressful issues and anxiety. With lawyers, I have to assume that there’s some degree of skepticism. What is this mindfulness? How in the world could this be any use to me? From my perspective, mindfulness is being intentional about our attention. We place our attention in various places and tend to change it about every eight seconds, often unconsciously. I liken mindfulness to going into a dark room with a flashlight. You intentionally move the flashlight and point where you wish to illuminate.

Mindfulness is not really a relaxation technique. I do feel calm, and diminishing stress is a manifestation of it — but that’s not really what it’s about. It’s really more a self-awareness practice that comes from managing one’s attention. The focus is being in the present moment, out of your head and observing experiences that you confront without judgment. It does tend to radically reduce one’s level of anxiety and enhance one’s focus.

The essential inquiry is, “What is happening now? And how am I with it?” The questions themselves provide some freedom because when you are worried about the brief that is due tomorrow and you haven’t begun it, or when you are worried about the conflict you’re having with your husband, it feels like those worries are all of you, that they surround and encompass you. But through this practice, you begin to see that’s not true. That worry or fear is just a thought, and you can relate to it in any way that you choose. That choice is freedom and the path a different way of living.

What benefits do we get from mindfulness? I think a lot of them are self-evident. There is a reduction in stress. There’s also improved focus. This is the reason, I think, that hundreds of law firms — large law firms — are doing this. As a lawyer, you can clearly see the benefits. As a sister, brother, husband, you can see the benefits of this. You have a calmer demeanor in the midst of tension and anxiety. You have enhanced attention. You have the capacity to listen more deeply and equanimity in the face of difficulty.