Zen and The Art of Lawyering

I’m playing with this title. Of course, it’s a rip off of Robert Pirsig’s book, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but actually, the book I prefer is Zen in The Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. Here’s a quote from the book that I especially like:

When, to excuse myself, I once remarked that I was conscientiously making an effort to keep relaxed, he replied: “That’s just the trouble, you make an effort to think about it. Concentrate entirely on your breathing, as if you had nothing else to do!”

As to lawyers (or anyone working in professional services or any industry!), what if job #1 was enlightenment or if you’re more comfortable with the term, self-actualisation (see Maslow’s work)?

I wonder what they’d make of it?

Risible, chortle-worthy or I suspect you’d get that blank stare which means all sorts of things but mostly, “That’s silly and I’ve got no time to mess about with Zen or any other psychobabble. My career is too important.”

Actually, for all of us, lawyers or workers, surely, that’s what we need: a mass awakening to the importance of the animate world? Now, I realise that that’s not necessarily the right meaning of enlightenment but surely, it wouldn’t go amiss now for lawyers and everyone else to have a change of consciousness around their/our place in the world?

Why pick on lawyers?

Why not!

Well, for a start, being one gives me a little insight into the main thrust of the job and the existential woes that mean, by and large, you’ve got a profession that has a lamentable record in looking after the mental health, well-being and lives of the people in its care.

Ooh, that’s a bit strong.

No, it’s not. The evidence is out there and has been for a long time — and from my bailiwick, even though I’m no longer in the private practice trenches, it doesn’t appear to be getting any better.

What about Zen?

What about all these questions?

Ah, always the more beautiful question…

For me, Zen is about wisdom and compassion. Sure, you might have your Bodhi Tree moment and have ascribed the status of Master of Guru but the reason I’ve stayed with my own practice and investigation of Zen is that it forces me (us) to do the inner work — i.e. the unexamined life is not worth living — and has no truck with the be all you can be trope that so fills up the corporate airwaves. (My wife has said more than once that I should have been a monk. Perhaps she’s right.) I’m not saying that Zen or any other spiritual practice isn’t awash with spiritual materialism — see Chögyam Trungpa‘s book bearing on this — but there’s a hell of a lot more wisdom to be acquired that could be used in legal practice than having to be trained in the dark arts of billing, client service and whatever else is now being talked up as the saviour of the profession.

I suppose what I’m trying to say, as clunky and imperfect as it is, is that the profession has everything it needs — i.e. it’s people — to transform itself but it won’t do so unless it considers that inner work is the most important thing and will always remain so. And sadly, from my own experience and I’m sure it hasn’t changed, that’s the thing that lawyers least want to do. I don’t want to speculate why that might be (fear is certainly in the mix) but until they face their existential demons, no amount of training is going to fix the problem.

I realise that I’m making a number of wild and slightly teeth-gnashing assumptions in this post but I remain convinced — and I say this with a compassionate heart — that if only the profession would listen to its people in a loving and kind way, it might realise that what most lawyers are seeking is not only professional fulfilment but a way to find inner peace.

Take care.


— Ju

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