The Serenity of Court: A Lesson for a Busy World
We promise ourselves that we will check social media less, switch off our phones and ignore emails, and be present in the moment. Then we get a new notification, a client calls, or several people talk to you at once and our mind starts whirring again with a multitude of distractions. In my view there is a serenity and quietness to be had in the retrograde environment of Court and this presents an opportunity for us that we can take into the remainder of our lives.
Problems with Distraction
We all are generally aware of the problems of distraction in today’s life. It is one of the top resolutions that people make, after losing weight, to spend less time on “social media” or “work emails”. There is a constant slew of articles imploring us to switch off and not respond to work out of hours or questioning whether we should be paid for overtime for being on call. Meditation is now mainstream, such as the app “Headspace”, or corporate yoga. You can buy apps to switch off your other apps such that you’re not distracted. But there is hard evidence that this a world of distraction causes problems for us. Our brains have a plasticity to them that moulds to our environment. Children struggle to focus on longer concepts and extended books. Office workers have their productivity decreased because of changing from task to task. It takes on average five minutes to fully focus and get back in the zone after distraction. When one email or call can cause such a distraction the time to focus can be destroyed. Even worse, our brains will mould to that new environment and become less competent at focussing. In a world punctuated by 140 character messages it is difficult to maintain focus for 140 pages of a book or 140 minutes with a friend.
The Serenity of Court
I often joke that I’m not a real lawyer. That is, I would joke that real lawyers are ones who go to Court, and as I very rarely go to Court I must not be a real lawyer. Instead, I merely shuffle paper. But I do get to Court on occasion and the novelty of it gave opportunity for reflection on the peacefulness of the environment. Further opportunity was given graciously by an unexpected delay in proceedings. I noticed, while sitting at the bar table, that neither myself nor the other counsel had our phones on. I had my laptop open for taking notes and reading material but my emails were switched off. My tags on social media went unanswered. It was much more important obviously to be present and focussed on the matter at hand. And it would also be a breach of Court etiquette to do otherwise. For the time that I was in Court I was incommunicado. It was wonderful! Even better is that it was a perfect excuse. Because it is known that you must be out of contact in Court it is an unassailable defence to not responding to emails or phone calls. Clients who had urgent requests were totally understanding when I said “I haven’t seen your email I’ve been in Court all day”. Those same clients would be unlikely to accept with equanimity the alternative of “I didn’t see your email, I was working on another client’s matter”. Even though functionally both answers are the same the expectation that clients have that you are readily available for them is gazumped by the external rules of the Court. That is to say, the reason that you didn’t respond to them in accordance with the norms in this busy age is because of a higher set of norms we’re bound to. It’s the perfect excuse!
What we can learn from this archaic environment is the benefit for one’s mind of focus, and the importance of avoiding distractions. Given that most of us have our success determined by how well we can use our brains, anything that we can do to improve our faculty for thinking is cherished both from a business, and personal, perspective. Our lives can be much richer and more pleasant if we are focussed and present in the moment. I’ve been trying to adopt these lessons to my broader practice to give greater ability for focus. For example, when I have meetings or times when I like to focus not only do I switch off my emails, but I give my phone to my secretary for her to monitor. That way messages can be taken without interrupting a flow state for work, and in the event of the (unlikely) urgent matter that requires an immediate ceasing of the present task then that could be brought to my attention. Otherwise, I can get a couple of hours to quietly get things done.
It’s almost as fun as being in Court.