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Professor Thomas Telfer leaning on a wood rail with a forest background

The importance of Mindfulness and Lawyer Well-Being

Western University’s Thomas Telfer shares important lessons with Manitoba’s legal community

January 19, 2022 — 

The University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law is opening Robson Hall’s virtual doors to the entire legal community to attend a special session on Mindfulness on Monday, January 24 at 12:00 p.m. (CT). Western University’s Professor Thomas G.W. Telfer will speak to law students, faculty, staff, alumni and practicing legal professionals on the topic of “Mindfulness and Lawyer Well-Being.” This event is one of many mental health-oriented events on Robson Hall’s calendar throughout this second pandemic year.

With such business-like areas of research and teaching specialty as bankruptcy, insolvency law, and legal history on his faculty bio, an interesting twist to his profile is: mindfulness. A co-author with Robson Hall’s Associate Dean (Juris Doctor program), Dr. Virginia Torrie, on the recently-published UBC Press study, Debt and Federalism: Landmark Cases in Canadian Bankruptcy and Insolvency Law, 1894-1937, Professor Telfer has also done a lot of teaching and research in the area of mental health and mindfulness, to say the least.

Speaking frequently on the subject, he has facilitated workshops for lawyers, doctors, judges, professors and students. He has led mindfulness seminars for the Law Societies of Ontario, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador and the Legal Education Society of Alberta. Stories about his work have appeared in Canadian Lawyer magazine, on podcasts, CBC Radio, and now in UM Today.

Professor Telfer kindly took some time to have a candid conversation with Robson Hall about his experiences with mindfulness, and to explain the importance for law students and lawyers to pay attention to mental health.

Robson Hall: What drew you to start researching mindfulness?

Thomas Telfer: I first discovered mindfulness when I was hospitalized for depression. After being discharged, I was motivated to bring mindfulness and mental health education to Western University Law students.  In 2017, I introduced a non-credit optional course on Mindfulness for 1Ls and in 2019 I introduced an upper year credit course called Mindfulness and the Legal Profession. This credit course has now been offered for three years.

RH: What are the most key things you’ve learned?

TT: Mindfulness is not just about meditation. We practice mediation to connect with the present moment, but we can connect with the present moment in anything that we do. Mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful reading, mindful studying, mindful preparation of a case brief. By focusing on the present moment, we are less distracted. We miss so much of life while on auto pilot.

RH: How have your students responded or benefitted after taking your course at Western?

TT: Students report that they are less distracted while studying. In other words, they spend less time on a reading or class preparation because they are more focused. Have you ever sat down to read something and noticed that after five minutes you realize that you have not read a thing as your mind is worrying about a to do list? Mindfulness can help with this. Students have also reported that my course has helped with mental health issues. Some students now in practice have told me that the mindfulness course has made them better lawyers.

RH: What do you hope Manitoban practitioners and students might take away from Monday’s talk?

TT: I’d like participants to be given mindfulness tools in order to spend less time on autopilot, so as to bring more present moment awareness to anything that they do. Further, part of my talk is about mental health and the legal profession. I’d like to break down the stigma that is associated with mental health by opening up a conversation about mental health issues. Mindfulness can also help with the stress and anxiety caused by COVID-19.

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Students enrolled at the Faculty of Law, professors, staff, alumni and members of the legal profession are invited to register for this event using this registration form. A link to the Zoom meeting will be shared prior to the start of the event.

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