Making Law Zen

By Virginia Warren
 

People say that things don’t happen by accident, but in my case yoga did … literally, and it wasn’t pretty. There I was, pondering my lunch options whilst teetering about town in my favourite leopard print heels. Out of nowhere at the pedestrian crossing, “thud!” down I went before stunned onlookers, dignity and all. Just imagine it, in the middle of the crossing on my hands and knees wishing those stripes would open up and swallow me whole. Embarrassing! No more Zumba for me, my knees were in no condition to help me shake that “thang” anymore. So, off to the chiropractor I went. He dryly suggested I try yoga as therapy for both my bruised ego and knees, which in turn, was met with my audible eye rolls and inaudible mutters of “yeah, that’ll be like watching paint dry …” as I limped away.
 
That memorable event happened some years ago, and happily, my knees and ego are much better, thank-you. The point is, yoga surprised me. So much so, that in addition to my day job in law, I became registered as yoga teacher. Here I was, thinking yoga was all about sitting in lotus position chanting “ommm”, but remarkably, I found it to be much more than that. As I furthered my study into the traditional Indian and Himalayan philosophical systems dating back in excess of 2500 years, I discovered that there is far more to us humans than first meets the eye.
 
This revelation changed my life. It was my *ding!* moment. As I started examining my life more closely, I then wondered why a typical slice of my day job looks like this:
 
I brace myself for the fight. I explain my client’s position, putting best stilettoed foot forward, even throwing in some sound legal argument for good measure. And what do I get in return? Angry retorts, expletives, and attacks of a personal nature that I won’t repeat here, despite said attacks being against our practising rules. I then sit and ponder at the wisdom of such “meaningful” banter. These “conversations” can often be bitter, pointed and in my view soulless. I ask myself questions like: Do they have kids, like me? Did they have to think about what’s for dinner, just to get home to: “No, not risotto again!” How do I stay swimming with these sharks but not get eaten? Can I wear leopard print? So many important questions, so little time.
 
It became vibrantly apparent to me that the word “soulless” was the issue. Any wonder why depression and suicide is endemic among lawyers. I decided to review the extent of wellness-styled material on offer within our regulatory bodies and wasn’t entirely satisfied with what I found. Some sage advice was to “go meditate”. Prior to my yogic knowledge, if someone told me to “go meditate”, I would have looked at them with a vacant stare.
 
Further exploration into the metaphysical realm has helped me to see that there are often sound reasons for a person’s behaviour, which often has to do with their own personal journey. And, it all starts at soul level. With this in mind, I made an immediate effort to see the humanness in every situation I faced. And I began to look at my clients, and my opposition, as the beautiful souls they really are.
Invariably, my newly found realisation was not an easy topic to share with others. A bit “woo-woo” for some. I laughed out loud to myself as I imagined telling my colleagues to take a good dig around to check in and connect with their souls, let alone to convey this concept to their clients.
 
Family Law and Probate Law, are my main areas of practice, where, as in many areas of law, real human emotions are factors in resolving issues. One example of bringing soul to my legal table is, instead of hitting clients with the joke about the Dalai Lama and the hotdog vendor to introduce the concept of oneness, I ask a client to step into the shoes of the others involved. Here, they can seriously consider how the consequences of each decision they make, will affect all parties in the matter. I then invite them consider the on-flow effect of that decision. Helping them then understand that resolution is the path to least harm in any conflict, so all can move on with dignity intact, anticipating life’s next adventure. I encourage a client to immerse themselves in their favourite creative endeavour, not only as a distraction from the pain they face, but as food for the soul. There is printed material and a separate website that I offer to those in severe emotional pain, not as a substitute for medical advice where needed, but for some comforting reminders as to their inherent inner strength and value as human beings.
 
My contribution to the injection of soul into the legal profession is presently only in its infancy, but I remain of the view that the work really starts with us lawyers. As a profession, we need to discover and connect with our truest selves. We need to remove the ego’s need to win at all costs, so as to treat our clients not only as our source of income, but as opportunities for us, as creators, to make a real and positive difference to each individual’s life.
 
Perplexed at how I could share my perspective with the greatest number, I decided to write a book, which I aim to have published at the end of this year. A book that says “yes, you do have a soul”, with a humorous slant that I hope, will appeal to lawyers for the legal humour alone. It may just spark some interest and correspondingly, let some legal souls be free to bubble to the surface.
 

Virginia Warren spends her working hours as a Partner at Stidston Warren Lawyers in Mornington and is grateful to enjoy the stunning Mornington Peninsula as both her home and backdrop to her workplace. She is a qualified Yoga Teacher, registered with Yoga Australia and volunteers to give the experience of yoga to those who need it most. In her spare time, she writes a blog about her take on this game we call life. Learn more at the zenlawyer.com.au.