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In today’s fast-paced legal landscape, the tools for success go beyond negotiation skills, business acumen, research competency, and courtroom expertise. Professional success also necessitates that attorneys cultivate resilience and self-regulation. In my experience as a resilience coach and well-being trainer, the ideal way to develop professional mastery and personal satisfaction is to understand the intricate interplay between the mind and the body—specifically, how to harness the mind-body connection to engage all our intelligences and put them to work. Last winter, for six consecutive weeks members of the Buncombe County Bar (BCB) in Asheville gathered virtually to learn the foundational tenets of building resilience in the practice of law using the wisdom of the body (soma). “Tuning Into the Wisdom of the Body to Optimize Your Legal Practice” focused on scientifically studied somatic practices that regulate the nervous system when stressed. Each week the participating attorneys learned cutting-edge tools that develop mind-body connection, somatic intelligence, and self-compassion. We discussed ways to apply the concepts to more effectively practice law, including practical ways to maximize resilience and minimize stress during the workday using somatic practices, and how to bring the nervous system back to regulation when emotionally, mentally, and/or physically dysregulated.

The purpose of developing the mind-body connection and somatic intelligence is to grow the skills needed to become an “active operator of one’s own nervous system.” The concept of being an active operator of one’s own nervous system is a Polyvagal Theory term that refers to one’s ability to return the nervous system to a state of regulation after becoming dysregulated.1 For example, being able to consciously come back to a state of emotional calm after getting frustrated with a client or being able to reinstate mental clarity after getting thrown a confusing curveball in court. Opportunities for nervous system dysregulation happen constantly in the practice of law; countless situations occur throughout the course of a lawyer’s day that potentially cause mental and/or emotional reactivity. And yet, most of us were never formally taught the tools we need to become active operators of our own nervous systems in our personal lives—let alone in our legal careers. We are, therefore, oftentimes at a loss for how to return to an ideal professional demeanor when emotionally triggered or mentally rattled.

When lawyers have the tools to become active operators of their own nervous systems, they find that they get triggered less often, and when they do get triggered, they more easily and quickly return to their “window of tolerance.” This means more time actually practicing law and less time ruminating about the mistakes we think we made or will make. Attorneys that are regulated and working inside their “window of tolerance” have better control of their thoughts and emotions; they then show up with clients, in court, and during interactions with colleagues and opposing counsel in a regulated state.

Every time I present a new course I’m curious to hear participants’ feedback. I want to understand what is most meaningful about the course and which aspects of the theory are most helpful. In particular: What is the impact of the course both on the participants’ ability to more effectively practice law and their sense of resilience in their lives in general? The feedback and the course evaluations from this series brought to light several themes, four of which I’ll share below (participants’ comments shared with permission).

Theme #1: Somatic Tools are Effective for Understanding How to Return to Regulation if Dysregulated when Practicing Law

As described above, the course centered around the use of somatic tools for “self-regulation” (i.e., how to actively return your dysregulated nervous system back to a state of regulation). Many participants, including David Irvine, owner-partner of Irvine Law Firm PLLC, shared how beneficial somatic tools are for client-facing work. “I have seen in real time that my self-regulation had a positive effect on clients, opposing counsel, and family members. When in a regulated state, I experience increased clarity and creativity. Indeed, I am a better person for knowing the lessons learned in this course.” David’s law partner and wife, Stephanie Irvine, remarked, “Attorneys need all of the tools they can get to not only deal with their own stress, but also to understand and address what their clients are going through.” Attorney Matt Lee expressed, “Attorneys don’t have to be at the mercy of high stress and nervous system dysregulation. There are somatic awareness tools available and accessible for improved mental and emotional states, physical health, and greater overall well-being.” One of the most satisfying things about teaching the CLE courses for the BCB is that the six-week program allows the participants to learn a variety of tools and practice them over time, providing the opportunity to “stack” the tools during the workday—applying different tools to different situations. Having time to put tools from their toolbox into action and then ask questions and share ideas the following week builds competence and confidence around self-regulation.

Theme #2: Somatic Tools are Effective for Optimizing Efficacy and Building Skills Necessary for Law Practice

The demands of the legal profession involve high levels of stress, emotional intensity, and the need for effective communication under pressure. Somatic self-regulation tools can enhance an attorney’s ability to navigate challenging clients, opposing counsel, and courtroom dynamics. When we are active operators of our own nervous system, we have more control over our emotional responses, which can both prevent impulsive reactions and promote clear headed decision making. Stephanie Irvine noted, “I have taken this course for three years now and enjoyed every minute of it. I can read about the new laws, but this course teaches new skills. I learned the importance of taking the time to connect my brain, my body, and my emotions. I realized that I could do it and I enjoyed it, and I could see immediate results. The fact that I really enjoyed it was meaningful because now I am more likely to practice and use what I learned.” These tools also cultivate the kind of focused concentration necessary to be effective at legal work. As Katherine Langley from Partner, Burt Langley, PC, explained, “The information covered in this course helps increase awareness by learning how to stay in your window of tolerance. If you can be aware of what you are feeling and how to calm stressful feelings, you can devote your brain power to the work in front of you and function on a higher plane.” David Irvine remarked, “Learning about the two-way street that is the mind-body connection has been important for me. I am now using my body to regulate my mind and using my mind to regulate my body. Courses like this should be a required part of the legal education of young lawyers and law students.”

Theme #3: Somatic Tools are Effective for Managing Stress Associated with Practicing Law

While many of us are getting accustomed to living in a world of compounded stress, it takes a toll on our energy and enthusiasm for life and the practice of law. One participant shared how helpful it was to learn “a diverse range of new tools for managing the stressors inherent in law practice.” Another participant noted, “Practicing law is a stressful occupation, and not all attorneys have been exposed to the methods contained in the course that address stress management techniques through developing somatic intelligence. It is most meaningful to have the opportunity to learn and develop new skills that have daily applications. We’re so steeped in our brains that we’re missing the forest for the trees in terms of being well-functioning human beings (with the concomitant loss in effectiveness in our profession).”

Attorney and author Bill Auman said, “It’s important for attorneys to learn about somatic intelligence because attorneys have a relatively high level of stress and generally an overactive mindset that can be tempered and managed beneficially through the tools and concepts learned in this training.” He added that one of the most meaningful things about participating in the course was “learning about neuroplasticity and how practicing mindfulness can serve as a means to raise my level of consciousness in how I respond to adversity and function on a daily basis.”

Theme #4: Somatic Tools are Effective for Creating Opportunities for Healthy Interactions and Connections with Other Attorneys

Connection with other attorneys is beneficial for lawyers; connecting in healthy ways helps to build collegiality, professionalism, and resilience. In our day-to-day profession as attorneys, we are often across the table from each other in adversarial positions. Interacting through opposition puts us at odds with our peers: instead of seeing each other as a collegial community of professionals who support each other, we may see each other as rivals. This is very taxing on our emotional well-being and challenging for our professional resilience. On the other hand, resilience increases if we have high caliber professional relationships. Matt Lee shared that one of the most meaningful things about participating in the course was “Meditating with others and sharing personal experiences and insights.” Attorney Scott Lamb echoed Matt’s reflection, sharing that “Connecting with other attorneys in the course” was the most meaningful aspect to class for him. “We are all humans with bodies, nervous systems, feelings, and needs,” he said, “Deepening our awareness of ourselves and each other can only help us serve others better.” For me as the instructor, the opportunity to provide a forum where many kinds of attorneys can put their minds together for the united purpose of building resilience is particularly gratifying and is one of my favorite reasons for teaching these courses.

I have been teaching multi-week mindfulness and neuroscience based mental health CLE courses for the BCB since 2017. Each year I appreciate the depth of the participants’ interest in the subject matter and their willingness to try cutting-edge, science-based practices to improve their professional skills. The BCB and its membership is on the mark in understanding that building resilient nervous systems—and resilient bar associations—takes time…multiple weeks at a time over numerous years. One participant commented in the course evaluation, “I’ve attended these sessions with Laura Mahr for six years running; I do that because this is very much a ‘practice’ and not something you hear once and retain. I appreciate the nuances and welcome more variations on the general theme of mindfulness vis-à-vis neuroscience.” This participant’s keen observation mimics the findings of neuroscience on cultivating resilience: repetition grows new neural pathways that allow us to form new, more resilient habits. Over time, and with practice, we can all learn to respond to stress as active operators of our own nervous system.

Thank you once again to the course participants and the BCB leadership for the willingness to experiment with new course material year after year. The success of the course is a testament to the courage and trust it takes to blaze a trail locally so that others can follow nationally. A deep bow of gratitude to each of you for leading the way to a more successful, self-regulated future in law. 

Laura Mahr is a North Carolina and Oregon lawyer and the founder of Conscious Legal Minds LLC, providing well-being consulting, training, and resilience coaching for attorneys and law offices nationwide. Through the lens of neurobiology, Laura helps build strong leaders, happy lawyers, and effective teams. Her work is informed by 13 years of practice as a civil sexual assault attorney, 25 years as a teacher and student of mindfulness and yoga, and eight years studying neurobiology and neuropsychology with clinical pioneers. If you are interested in learning more about burnout and how to upgrade burnout beliefs and positively transform your personal or organizational experience, contact Laura through


1. See Deb Dana, Become an Active Operator of Your Nervous System, Ten Percent Happier podcast November 23, 2023; 8Z8LSLCM.

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