Lawyers Turn to Meditation to Function During the Pandemic

By Debra Bruno

April 27, 2020


If anyone could use a little stress relief right now, it’s Gary Powell. The general counsel at the Cincinnati offices of Emery Oleochemicals recently took on a second job at the chemical company when the director of its human resources department left at the beginning of March. Suddenly, Powell was handling HR on top of legal matters.  

Nothing like doubling your workload at the height of a global pandemic. But the lawyer says he was — and still is — surprisingly calm, thanks to a meditation app he developed specifically for attorneys. 

“I don’t know how I would have been able to deal with the past four to six weeks without having a solid meditation practice in place,” says Powell, 61. 

Legally Mindful uses sound-assisted meditation exercises. In short, it’s a process that uses a mixture of music and binaural beats (two different sound frequencies) that match a person’s brain waves to get into a deeper meditative state, helping him or her to focus better. 

“Most meditation exercises look toward relaxation, and that’s a great thing,” Powell says. But meditation can do even more. If Powell is working on a legal brief, for instance, he can think of the intention to work on the brief as he begins his exercises, and that allows more creative thoughts to come in. 

D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program Manager Denise Perme says lawyers are trained to excel at problem solving, making them “great at thinking several moves ahead to prepare for the worst, which helps their clients.” But this also means lawyers are often not “in the moment” or present for their own emotional experience. 

“Meditation teaches us to stay present with our breathing and the stress in our bodies. It helps us slow everything down and focus without judgment, in the moment, on just being. This lowers stress and anxiety, lengthens our attention span, and improves our concentration — all benefits that enhance health and the practice of law,” Perme says. 

Powell came to rely on meditation after he lost his sister to breast cancer 12 years ago. “Kathy’s death really got me to look at things with more of a spiritual bent,” he says, “like, what am I doing here?” He realized that using meditation for more practical uses also made a big difference in his life. 

In fact, since Powell is now working from home, he’s had the sense that his brain feels as if it’s racing all the time. The other night, he says, he realized he had been working for 10 straight hours without doing anything else. So he did a meditation exercise to move out of his jittery mindset. 

When he first started meditating, Powell says he was reluctant to tell other lawyers because he thought they wouldn’t see meditation as “normal.” 

Powell says many lawyers think that meditation would make them soft and that they need an edge to be effective legal advocates. But Powell tells them, “You’re more in control of that edge” with meditation. 

Nancy Jacob, a bankruptcy solo attorney in Cincinnati, listened to Powell’s webinar and downloaded the app soon after. She thinks it could be useful for her. “I do have trouble being mindful and intentional,” she says, and as a solo, “I tend to do 10 things at once.” 

But, in truth, she hasn’t had a moment to follow through on the full exercises, she says. She’s a little busy these days.