Jenny Lykken is People Operations Specialist at Google. She’s passionate about mindfulness and social change, and sends us this report on the work of Charles Halpern—an advocate for contemplative programming in law schools who recently spoke at Google.
“Effective and Sustainable Law Practice: the Meditative Perspective” was a seminar taught by Charles Halpern at the University of California Law School at Berkeley (Boalt Hall). Halpern created this formal opportunity for law students to explore the intersection of meditation and legal practice. Students described the seminar as “transformative” and suggested that it be made available to all first-year law students.
In a recent talk at Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA, Halpern described the course and his experience in bringing meditation to lawyers. Halpern—who established the Center for Law and Social Policy, served as President of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and as chair of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society—says there’s now a considerable community of lawyers in the US who’ve come to believe in the benefits of mindfulness practice.
Halpern’s course, the first of its kind at Boalt, was approved to run in Spring, 2009—provided that at least 10 students enrolled. Forty students signed up, from whom Halpern chose 19, most of whom had never practiced meditation. Many students based their decision to enroll on a vague feeling that the course would help them to stay grounded throughout the very demanding pressures of their intended occupation and during the start of a legal career. Halpern observed that “[the students] wanted to use their legal education to build a more just world, including those who were not public interest law students in any obvious sense of the term.”
Students were given assigned readings by Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Halpern and others. For the final exercise, they were asked to write their own Code of Personal and Professional Responsibility, drawing on the readings and on their experiences with daily meditation and journaling. This document was to emerge from the students’ deepest selves as something modifiable that they could refer back to throughout law school and their careers. Halpern commented that “submissions were strikingly well-written, serious and insightful.”
Reflecting on the success of the course, Halpern wrote, “Each of the students acquired a set of skills and practices that will serve them well in their law studies, their careers in law, and in their lives. Students who enrolled in the course to help them deal with the stress in their lives reported that they had found relief and also found much more—insights into themselves and into the paradoxes of legal practice, its challenges and opportunities; and skills that will help them to cope with the challenging times that lie ahead of them.”
Contemplative law programming seeks to underscore the role of empathy in the judicial system, in which law becomes a vehicle to achieve positive social change. In describing the benefits of empathy, Halpern stated, “…to have an empathetic judge means that as she looks around the courtroom, the judge really makes a connection with the various litigants, and tries to understand what the importance of this case is to them, and also makes an empathetic connection to the lawyers and what this case is to them. So these people become human beings to the judge. And then the judge conducts the trial, and because she is grounded in mindfulness, she conducts the trial with total presence, able to take in what people are saying and really to listen deeply to the witnesses in front of her, to the arguments of the lawyers. And then she makes a judgment based on the rule of law…and it might depend on how she understands the litigant before him…and so the judge, having made this connection, is able to apply legal principles with a real depth of understanding.”
Clearly the proliferation of justice begins with oneself; the practice of meditation can only benefit. —Jenny Lykken
(Photo on first page by Jerine / Flickr)