Spirituality, positivity and connection: The next frontier for boutique wellness?
Life as a sole practitioner or in a boutique firm often, if not always, requires determination of workplace habits that best suit the individual lawyer’s needs.
To further ensure holistic success and wellness, some professionals are finding that incorporating “new-age” practices offers an additional boost on the road to personal and business health and happiness.
“Some people cringe at the idea of spirituality – they simply write it off as ‘hocus-pocus’,” muses Gallant Law principal Lauren Cassimatis.
This piece is not intended to push or advocate for any variation of spirituality that individuals – lawyers or otherwise – can immerse themselves in. Law, as with any profession, is a vocation that requires that one extrapolate how best they will find value and purpose in their daily work.
For some – perhaps for many – spirituality (maybe in the form of religious belief), practising positivity and seeking connection with the world around one’s self are ways to better reach such value and purpose.
This, ultimately, is what Ms Cassimatis and others would encourage: “Find something that brings you a real sense of hope or inner peace – that mentally takes you away from the stress of law and business – and implement it at a time that feels right,” she says.
To explore the myriad avenues of such “new-age” legal practice, as well as why adopting such approaches can be so beneficial for those who choose to adopt them, Lawyers Weekly spoke with Ms Cassimatis, Victorian barrister and Survivor contestant Sharn Coombes, Slades & Parsons director Jasmine Pisasale and Stidston Warren Lawyers partner Virginia Warren, self-styled as “The Zen Lawyer”.
Beliefs and practices
Meditation is a practice that Ms Pisasale undertakes daily, noting that the use of diffusing essential oils in the office helps enhance or complement specific moods or states of mind.
“I am a believer in angels who look after you, in my specific case, my late father. I quietly turn to him for support in times where I feel I need personal or professional guidance. Sceptics may raise an eyebrow or two at this approach; however, this has helped me get through some very tough times and follow my gut when making big decisions. I’ve never regretted anything because of this,” she says.
Ms Pisasale says it is fundamental for her to engage in such practices, given how accountable she is to her clients and their concurrent demands.
“Such practices keep me in touch with my true self, it reminds me to be honest with who I am and not lose perspective or try to be someone I am not. Stress can have such a profound effect on one’s personal functioning too, ultimately, you can find yourself getting wrapped up in your own emotional and physical responses to it. These practices keep me grounded and remind me to be present,” she says.
Ms Cassimatis employs a similar faith-based approach, in accordance with teachings handed down to her by her grandmother.
“I believe, as my grandma always told me, that you should have faith and confidence that things will turn out as you want them to. I feel this is something akin to the ‘law of manifestation’ – that is, if you put your dreams/goals out there and trust that you’re being guided or assisted to achieve them, all the while being genuinely grateful for what you already have, you will achieve them,” she explains.
“Some people channel ‘the universe’, others pray. I pray to my grandma and a greater energy out there. Whatever it is – I thank them for all I have, the help and guidance they give me, and ask them to continue to guide me.”
What this allows Ms Cassimatis to do, she says, is better appreciate what is in front of her.
“It’s important to have hope and trust that you’re being taken care of. The world of the criminal lawyer is intense, traumatic, complex and high-pressure. We absorb negative emotional energy, we become analytical, investigative and we picture worst-case scenarios,” she notes.
“These beliefs and practices add a new, uplifting and comforting dimension to this reality. They give you a sense of resilience, confidence and hope.”
Elsewhere, Ms Warren believes that all humans are “fundamentally connected”.
“I am an aspect of you, and you are an aspect of me. This connection, science is showing us, emanates from our hearts,” she submits.
“To live from the heart means you experience your emotions and connect with others in that space. I use centring practices to ensure I live the best life I humanly can by creating space within the ‘now’ moment, given that now is all we have. The best, most loving life choices for ourselves and others are made from this moment.”
Such an approach is meaningful for Ms Warren, given how lawyers have to work “from their heads”.
“Yet life and law are all about relationships, yet inherent in relationships is emotion. We need to shift our approach to find a balance in working between our heads and hearts. That way we feel fulfilled and begin to reconnect,” she says.
On the other hand, Ms Coombes finds that immersing one’s self in nature – whether it be “hiking in the bush, going on a trail run or getting to the beach for a surf” – is a surefire way to get back in touch with what is important.
“Reconnecting to the natural environment is huge for me in restoring equilibrium to my life. I find by focusing on the natural beauty that is around, indulging in that sensory feast, [helps centre] your thoughts, creates a sense of calm and gives you perspective. I meditate regularly, practice yoga and run,” she outlines.
Such pursuits are non-negotiable, Ms Coombes explains, so as to maintain an optimal level of wellbeing.
“As much as I enjoy my career and busy family life, if I don’t take care of myself first, I can’t function at my best in these other areas. By employing these practices, such as meditation and exercising regularly it [helps create] a balance in my life, which I find improves my productivity and general wellbeing,” she says.
Going against the traditional grain
In considering why the adoption of a more spiritual approach to her work was so fundamental, Ms Cassimatis says as a “generally outgoing, playful and compassionate” person, she has often wondered whether she is the right fit for a traditionally rigid and structured industry such as law.
“The formal business models, billable hours, the glass ceilings in the industry, the politics – none of these are really compatible with who I am and why I am a lawyer. I wouldn’t have been able to launch my own firm in a style that represents how I feel a law firm should operate, let alone as a woman in my 30s and mother of two young children, without incorporating positive thinking and the ‘law of manifestation’,” she recounts.
“My clients appreciate my empathy and hopeful approach. I go beyond their case; I assist them to put in place the right measures for the long term. We look at how they can salvage their personal relationships, find work, engage in rehabilitation. Through my incorporation of such a ‘new-age’ law approach, I instill some hope in them that with the right support, confidence and trust in the world they can turn their lives around.”
Ms Pisasale and Ms Coombes come at this query from a wellness angle, with the former pointing to the fact that the legal profession has often been wrought by overwork, fatigue, depression and in some cases alcoholism.
“This has been a cycle that has gradually become the norm, resulting in a mentality that you have to ‘do it tough’ to be a resilient and successful lawyer,” she says.
“By prioritising such practices, I want to reduce the risk of ‘burnout’ and break this recurring chain of negative wellbeing. It has resulted in high staff retention rates, a happier workplace and better performing lawyers.”
Meanwhile, Ms Coombes says: “The integration of ensuring a good balance of exercise, and a regular connection to nature helps me connect with clients and creates mental ‘space’. It alleviates the feeling of being overworked and stressed, which can affect the interactions you have with others and overall performance.”
Ms Warren comes at it from a physiological perspective, highlighting the importance of being heart-centric and detaching from stereotypical lawyer traits.
“Effectively we are trained to approach legal problems as half a human (left-brained thought) dealing with half a problem (conflict devoid of emotion). We have disconnected from ourselves and our communities. This is unnatural and, in my opinion, why depression and suicide are prevalent within the profession. And perhaps even why client dissatisfaction is an issue,” she says.
“A heart-centred approach brings us as lawyers back to who we are at a fundamental human level. Above all, it’s satisfying to work this way.”
Incorporation into the day-to-day
Ms Warren feels it is integral to embody the beliefs and practices one subscribes to: “Whilst I work in my day job as a lawyer, I am a connected human first. Law is the work I do, it’s not my identity.”
“By being centred and present, I create a loving space. I treat every client that walks through my door without judgment and with absolute compassion as I draw them into my field of connection. Essentially people want to be metaphorically heard and held,” she says.
Ms Cassimatis has a bevy of activities she incorporates into the day-to-day.
“I meditate before I go to bed at night for about 10 minutes and during this, I express my gratitude to the world and seek guidance from my grandma or a greater energy,” she says.
“If I feel myself becoming overwhelmed at work or anxious, I take a moment to breathe and repeat my practices. Sometimes I even do this when I’m about to appear in a case at court. If I feel particularly strongly about a case and find the nerves getting the better of me, I incorporate my practices at the bar table! I visualise a greater outcome for my client and gain strength as their advocate.”
Ms Coombes adopts a similar approach, noting that she starts her day with yoga at 6:00am.
“This incorporates mediation as well. As far as exercise and connection to nature, I try and go for a walk or a run in a garden or parkland at lunch time to take in the different sounds and scents that are a stark contrast from the digital light of a computer screen, or intense environment of the court room,” she explains.
What can also be just as important, Ms Pisasale adds, is to schedule a “time-out” into each and every day.
“I would often come back from court, eat lunch at my desk and solidly work past dinner time before rolling out the front door feeling deflated and depressed. What I didn’t realise was that work was taking longer to complete as I wasn’t working as my best self,” she reflects.
“I always make sure staff aren’t working late or on weekends. If they tell me they did so, I reinforce for them not to make a habit of it as it’s important that they use that time to reset for the new week ahead.”
Flow-on benefits to clients
Ms Warren’s practices have led her to a greater connection with clients by, simply, checking in with how they’re feeling.
“Being centred in my heart, I then hold space for them to be heard. If I’m dealing in litigious matters, I am able to show a client that the conflict they are in is the best thing happening to them for their personal growth,” she says.
“Every client is right from their perspective, yet this does not work in a win-lose model. Clients invariably walk away disappointed. I reveal to them that their perspective of the truth in their case arose from their belief systems. This helps a client self-validate. It is such a revelation to people to know that they don’t need to blame someone to feel better. That it was simply their belief system, whilst working for them when they were young, lead them to react to a situation in a certain way.”
Ms Cassimatis backs this up noting: “My clients are appreciative of my positive, even spiritual approach. They are thankful for my compassion and big-picture thinking – for giving them a sense of direction, worth and purpose.”
For Ms Pisasale, the flow-on benefits to clients arise in that her practices allow her to be more productive across the board.
“For example, sometimes when I need to de-stress, I apply some calming essential oils to my neck and wrists, whether they work or not, I feel as though I approach decision-making in a more measured and calculated manner,” she says.
“Clients then observe a calmer, less frantic lawyer. I believe small changes like this results in increased confidence in the work I do for them and higher levels of satisfaction.”
Ms Coombes supports this: “I think these practices help you function and perform better as a lawyer because they allow you to be more focused, and calm under pressure. When you feel balanced and centred, clients get a sense of that, which in turn means they feel more confident in you,” she says.
Personal and professional advice to other boutiques
As already noted, adopting a more “new-age” approach to legal practice and one’s workplace environment does not have to mean conversion to a particular faith, nor should such things be simply dismissed as “hocus-pocus”. It is, as Ms Cassimatis identifies, about discovering your own sense of self, purpose and inner peace.
“Whether it is going for a run or swim, drawing, singing, yoga, being with nature – these are examples of uplifting/rewarding practices that actually help you connect with yourself, to clear your mind, think positively, understand your aims/goals/dreams and actually believe you can achieve them,” she says.
“It’s about believing you deserve something and knowing it can come your way. These beliefs are best pursued when you’re in a positive/relaxed headspace.”
The benefits of such approaches are not just personal, but also professional, Ms Pisasale notes.
“Even if people think that some of these effects are a placebo, I say go with it! It only serves to benefit your daily practice. Some of my biggest business decisions have been made on the back of reaching out to my father and seeking guidance,” she muses.
“I have relied on the signs that I needed to go forward in the right direction and follow my gut instincts. As a result, I couldn’t be happier with where I currently stand professionally.”
It doesn’t just apply to lawyers, Ms Coombes adds, but all people should search for some kind of spiritual practice or belief that strengthens their sense of self.
“Whether that be in the form of meditation and/or yoga, or walks immersed in nature, or even painting or drawing. Whatever allows you to be focused on the present moment where you can quieten the mind and find a sense of peace in this busy world,” she says.
This necessarily requires discovery of what works for each unique individual, Ms Coombes says.
As such, she notes lawyers should “experiment with different things, get creative, start conversations with other lawyers who might be employing different tactics and get ideas. Even though we undertake serious work, as a profession we can find better ways to look after ourselves and become even better lawyers in the process”.
Moreover, lawyers in the boutique space should be unafraid to indulge in and embrace “new-age law”, Ms Cassimatis argues.
“Try different things, such as meditation, yoga, crystals, praying, being with nature – whatever feels most interesting/intriguing/comfortable. In a high-pressure, traditional profession where we are so programmed to focus on evidence, facts, justification, proof – sometimes it is comforting, rewarding and interesting to explore something unique and new,” she says.
“It causes no harm – in fact it fills you with a lot of motivation, enthusiasm and hope to not just survive but to thrive.”
If nothing else, finding ways to reconnects allow lawyers to better serve others, Ms Warren deduces.
“Find a way to reconnect with your heart. You must put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help others,” she suggests.
“Other people can feel this. They feel your uplifted energy and that resonates through your workspace. Clients feel supported as you offer a loving, not fearful environment. The legal system is terrifying. People want an uplifting experience.”
This is especially important because it is “very easy to slip” into negative traits as a result of complacency, Ms Pisasale adds.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach, different things work for different people so don’t be afraid to start small. Take a 10-minute walk for fresh air, or listen to rainforest sounds at your desk with your headphones in. You will start to feel the positive change and subconsciously you will learn to make time for more meaningful practices and prioritise yourself on a daily basis,” she advises.
Being spiritual, practising positivity or connecting with the outside world will, of course not be for everyone. However, there are undoubtedly a plethora of psychological, social and professional benefits that one can tap into if they so wish.
For the professionals profiled in this piece, what is ultimately fundamental is being cognisant of the opportunity that lawyers have to make a positive difference in the lives of others and ensure that one is in the best possible position to create such change.
“Law is about governing relationship, we can either foster reconnection with people, bringing community together or we can continue to work in an unnatural state of separation,” Ms Warren espouses.
“In law school you were trained to disconnect from your humanity. You were taught that a client’s emotions don’t matter. Yet, this is a fundamental aspect to all conflict. Shifting to balance the head and heart not only brings you client satisfaction, it offers you a fulfilling vocation.”