Scott Rogers’ office isn’t that of a typical law professor. A bookshelf is piled high with books on meditation rather than legal tomes. A round table is surrounded by bamboo chairs, where Rogers invites students to sit for 10 minutes to quiet the mind.
Rogers practices mindfulness, which involves paying attention in a particular way, on purpose and in the present, often through breathing techniques. The practice, which has roots in Buddhism and spiritual growth, is increasingly being studied by scientists and the medical profession as a way to reduce stress and enhance one’s health.
Rogers teaches law students at the University of Miami how to incorporate mindfulness into their lives and future legal practices. It’s a hot topic. Last month’s cover story in the ABA Journal was headlined, “Keeping It Civil.” Later this month, the College of Law at Florida International University is conducting a symposium on professionalism, which includes mindfulness. And Mindful Kids Miami is bringing Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, to the University of Miami on Saturday to discuss his new book, A Mindful Nation. “We not only need to reduce our stress,” Ryan writes in his book, “but we need to become kinder for the sake of our own survival.”
For Rogers, his quest to a more measured life began in law school with his girlfriend Pam.
“One day she walked up to me and said, ‘I signed us up to learn meditation with Marti,’ ” he said. While Rogers stuck with it, Pam quit. “She doesn’t like to quiet down,” he said of his now wife.
After graduating with a J.D. and M.S. in social psychology from the University of Florida, Rogers became a litigator in the Miami office of White & Case, the Park Avenue law firm. Over time, he gradually began adopting mindfulness into his legal practice.
While many of his opposing counsel entered a trial with a battle face on, Rogers would walk up to the opposing counsel and say, “We’re in this together.”
When his opponent was blasting off an argument, Rogers said he would sometimes respond by saying, “I see what your saying.”
“That can also be strategic,” he said, “because it can leave the opposing counsel assuming things they don’t know.”
By the time he left White & Case as a senior associate in 1999, Rogers said he had been practicing mindfulness for about 10 years. By 2007, he started a company called the Institute for Mindfulness Studies, aimed at working with lawyers. The same year, UM’s law school approached him about teaching a pilot mindfulness class. Today, he teaches three courses centered on Mindful Ethics and Mindful Leadership.
“This is all more than I ever expected,” he said.
George Knox, the director for professionalism and ethics at FIU College of Law, has found similar results.
“What we are discovering is that contemplative activities that allow people to focus upon the moment and allow people to release their own internal stress through such things as meditation and relaxation, reduce anger and allow for civil behavior between lawyers, even as adversaries,” he said.
While the law school does not offer separate classes in mindfulness, the concept permeates the curriculum, Knox said.