Accounting for Law

Mindfulness can improve how lawyers practise law

A commitment to mindfulness can lead to less stress and better communication, and it could also change the way you practise law, says Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars

“As lawyers, we often get reactionary so quickly, we’re not even aware of the anger before it’s too late. Mindfulness will give you a second of space between your thoughts and emotions before you react,” she tells “It provides some sense of clarity.”

Kopping-Pavars, principal of NKP Law, says mindfulness may even help during tense courtroom drama, such as cross-examinations.

She recalls a day in court when she was about to cross-examine a father and was having difficulty proceeding.

“I knew that in my cross-examination, somebody was going to be harmed by the words I was using,” she says.

“You’re leading somebody to a place you want to go but it may not be pleasant for them. I struggled with it, so I said to the father in open court, ‘I want to apologize to you for any harm I may cause. Please understand I have a job to do and my job is to advocate for my client. But I want you to know, I mean you no harm.’”

Kopping-Pavars says the energy in the courtroom changed in that moment.

“The father looked at me and nodded,” she remembers. “You can bring compassion to any situation.”

Kopping-Pavars leads workshops on mindfulness and emotional intelligence.

She describes mindfulness as having an awareness of your own body and mind at any given time, including your feelings, which opens you up to clearer thinking.

“Sometimes people confuse mindfulness with being mindful, which means thinking about something in a particular way,” she says.

“True mindfulness is dealing with your life to learn more about yourself and how you respond by having self-awareness.”

She says practising mindfulness does not mean that the world stops turning or that problems go away. 

“Mindfulness can't take away the causes that bring you stress and strife in your life but it can teach you to respond to them in a less reactionary way," says Kopping-Pavars.

"Long-term mindfulness helps one deal with life so that the issues don’t stress you out. It’s providing space so that you learn to recognize and understand how you’re feeling and then to change the way you react, thereby hopefully creating a more positive situation.”

Kopping-Pavars says communication at law firms and between lawyers can also be enhanced by mindfulness.

“We have to be attentive to our speech, our writing. Communication is key in the job we do.”

If what you’re going to say is hurtful, it won’t help improve communication, Kopping-Pavars says.

She suggests taking a moment to think about the best words to use.

“Is what I’m about to say thoughtful? Is it helpful? Does it inspire confidence in the person listening? Is it necessary and kind? If you can answer 'yes' to those four questions, then your communication will hopefully prevent a person from reacting in a negative way.”

Kopping-Pavars says lawyers can sometimes take negativity personally and they shouldn’t.

“We’re just doing our job for our clients, but we assume this attack is about us.”

Kopping-Pavars suggests if you feel anger welling up inside, take a breath before saying or doing anything else. She uses a technique called STOP.


Take a breath.

Observe how you’re feeling.


You can even take a moment to walk away from the situation before doing anything, she says.

“The only people who are going to be hurt by an outburst are the clients because you’ve got two lawyers fighting it out for their egos,” she says.

“Just say, ‘I can’t speak right now. I will call you back in a couple of minutes.’”

Kopping-Pavars say lawyers are often skeptical and it can be to their detriment.

“Law school teaches us not to have feelings. It teaches us to be competitive, pessimistic and perfectionists.”

The antidote can be simply understanding that we may be prone to these tendencies, but we have the ability to change our thoughts, she says.

“It’s really important that people just have awareness because this awareness brings wisdom,” says Kopping-Pavars.

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