Lessons from the Monastery
I spent a recent May weekend at the Society of St. John the Evangelist monastery (part of the Episcopal church) in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a group of family lawyers from around the country (I know, it sounds like the beginning of a lawyer joke!). You’re probably wondering why a group of divorce attorneys spend 3-4 days at a monastery, a good bit of the time in silence, and meet with the resident monks to discuss things like authenticity, listening and “wonder”… I’m sure you are. Well, it’s a long story which I’m happy to share with you sometime, but here’s the short version.
I work with a legal consulting firm in Florida called Atticus (good name for them, right?). I’ve been working with Atticus coaches for years, and have been in groups with top family lawyers from around the country, where we focus on the business of our law practice—including best practices, how to provide the highest level of service, innovating for our client’s benefit, etc.
Great advisors at Atticus, and I’ve had the opportunity to get to know excellent, like-minded attorneys from all over the country. This has been one of the great pleasures of my law practice over those years, and I’ve made some very strong friendships with these men and women lawyers who I share so much in common with.
So, one of them suggested that one of our quarterly meetings should be at a monastery in Cambridge. The initial reception of our members was not enthusiastic, but eventually we agreed to try it. We’ve gone back every year since, and look forward to it all year long. (Again, much more to share when we have a chance, but I need to cut to the chase here.)
This year, Brother Curtis (our favorite monk) led us in a discussion of the concept of “wonder”. You could call it “being present”; “stopping to smell the roses”; “living in gratitude” for what is around us, etc. Brother Curtis likes to say things like “we’re all gonners” (and then he belly laughs…!). He tries to get you in the state of mind where you realize that it’s an actual miracle that we each wake up each morning alive for another day; that our eyes open and we can see; that we can swing our legs over the edge of the bed and stand up, etc.
And when he talks about this, you can see that he is actually surprised and grateful that all of this happens, and that he has at least one more day to enjoy life! Because, of course, we’re all gonners (“ha!”, he laughs). The first time I experienced this, I have to admit that it didn’t completely land. But over time, with his infectious joy and straightforward approach, I’ve gotten mostly there. At least, when I’m sitting in the monastery listening to him, I get it, and it’s pretty freeing.
Anyway, you get the picture (and it’s not for everyone), but it’s been very powerful for me, and has influenced the way I approach the law firm. For instance, Brother Curtis is very focused on helping this group of family lawyers (as helpers of people in great distress) keep ourselves healthy.
One simple suggestion he had a few years ago was to put fresh flowers where we see them over the shoulder of our clients while meeting with them, so that we see beauty at the same time we take in a lot of tragic, sometimes toxic, information, emotion, etc. And the secondary effect is that the clients are sitting right next to beautiful fresh flowers. We started that in our office right after that meeting and have continued it for several years through today.
Happy to discuss more about this with you anytime. In the meantime, this newsletter features Jonathan’s article on Mediation, Part 2: The Do’s and Don’ts Once You’re There, my article on self-care tips for divorcing clients, and a few pics from the firm’s outing to the Ranger game last month. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!
About the Author
Larry Hance is managing partner and founder of the Dallas law firm Hance Law Group. With more than 35 years of experience in family law, Mr. Hance uses his experience with the legal system, judges and other lawyers to help clients achieve the best possible results.