Personal Management Practice Management Guideline

The Guideline is not intended to replace a lawyer's professional judgment or to establish a one-size-fits-all approach to the practice of law. Subject to Guideline provisions that incorporate legal, By-Law or Rules of Professional Conduct requirements, a decision not to follow the Guideline will not, in and of itself, indicate that a member has failed to provide quality service. Conversely, use of the Guideline may not ensure that a lawyer has delivered quality service. Whether a lawyer has provided quality service will depend upon the circumstances of each case.

Table of Contents


 8.1 Introduction

The talent and knowledge of individual lawyers may be among a firm’s most valuable business asset(s). Lawyers determine the quantity and quality of legal services. Preserving, enhancing, and investing in the lawyers’ well being is a necessary component of a risk management plan and a key factor in the business success of a law practice.

In the current legal environment, some lawyers are particularly vulnerable to stress related ailments which compromise their performance and service to clients. The Personal Management Guideline assists lawyers in recognizing the sources and indicia of emotional or mental dysfunction and provides basic suggestions, strategies and resources to manage personal well being.

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8.2 Risks of Emotional or Mental Disturbances or Substance Abuse

It is important that the lawyer recognize that members of the legal profession may be at greater risk than the general population for

  • alcoholism
  • drug addiction
  • depression
  • suicide

and that improper conduct may arise from emotional, mental or family disturbances, or substance abuse.

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8.3 Recognizing Sources of Stress in Legal Profession

Lawyers should be aware of and recognize common sources of stress in the legal profession generally, and particularly, in their own lives. Sources of may stress include[1] 

  • excessive work hours
  • the burden of responsibility for other people, their money, family, or freedom
  • high public expectation of performance and standards coupled with lower public tolerance or understanding
  • increased adversarial nature of the practice and of other lawyers
  • increased competition among lawyers for clients or legal work
  • increased complexity of law
  • undertaking work that may be uninteresting or monotonous to survive financially
  • isolation from supportive colleagues
  • taking on work outside area of expertise
  • taking on too much work
  • putting off difficult tasks.

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8.4 Recognizing Symptoms of Dysfunction

It is important that the lawyer recognize the symptoms or signs of emotional or mental dysfunction[2]

  • physical exhaustion
  • feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • being emotionally drained
  • having a negative attitude toward work, other people or life in general
  • having a negative self image
  • feelings of guilt and or shame
  • feeling overly suspicious
  • having a sense of omnipotence or indispensability, making it difficult to cut back on workload or responsibilities
  • experiencing progressive loss of idealism
  • treating colleagues, staff, clients and adversaries in a detached, dehumanizing way
  • being frequently absent from and/or late for work
  • frequently delaying meetings with others and/or missing deadlines
  • experiencing increased rigidity
  • deteriorating quality of work
  • feeling anxious
  • feeling irritable or angry, overreacting or angry outbursts
  • experiencing ulcers, headaches, backaches and or high blood pressure
  • experiencing increased marital or family conflicts or conflicts with close friends
  • engaging in compulsive behaviours such as overeating or overspending
  • engaging in substance abuse
  • difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping.

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8.5 Reducing or Managing Stress

Lawyers should attempt to adopt strategies, attitudes and skills to reduce, eliminate, or manage dysfunctional stress, by managing their physical health and well-being and managing their personal and emotional lives.

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8.6 Managing Physical Health and Well Being

Lawyers may wish to consider adopting lifestyle habits and strategies to enhance physical well being, such as

  • eating a well balanced diet
  • not skipping meals
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • engaging in regular aerobic activity
  • having an interest and/or hobby outside of the law
  • practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep diaphragmatic breathing
  • reducing or eliminating the use of abuse of alcohol, tobacco/nicotine or caffeine
  • monitoring the use of prescribed drugs to guard against either physical or psychological dependence or addiction. Three main classes or types of drugs that potentially cause dependency or addiction are
    • narcotics, used to control pain
    • stimulants, prescribed to control behaviour
    • depressants, to treat insomnia, minor pain and convulsions
  • getting sufficient sleep and rest to allow the body to recuperate
  • having a support structure in place, such as family and friends.

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8.7 Managing Personal and Emotional Life

Lawyers should attempt to organize their work and professional life in an effort to allow time to

  • take regular vacations
  • interact with families and friends so that strong social supports may be developed
  • pursue hobbies
  • pursue activities to enhance physical well being.

If necessary, lawyers may wish to consider pursuing skills training to assist in achieving balance in their personal and professional lives. Depending on the individual, lawyers may consider training in

  • time management
  • goal setting
  • overcoming procrastination.

To assist in establishing a balanced lifestyle lawyers may consider developing and maintaining support groups within their law firm. Lawyers in sole practice should consider establishing connections with other lawyers as a means of recognizing and dealing with stress and dysfunction. Support groups should be geared to reducing isolation and providing a forum for sharing concerns with other members of the profession or co-workers. The lawyer may wish to consider

  • scheduling regular partnership or firm meetings
  • scheduling social gatherings for all members of the firm, professional and non-professional
  • maintaining membership in, and participating in, local law association social activities and events

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8.8 Seeking Assistance

Lawyers suffering from emotional, mental, or family disturbances or substance abuse should seek assistance as early as possible.

Lawyers who are aware of colleagues suffering from similar disturbances and substance abuse should encourage their colleagues to seek assistance as early as possible.

Sources of assistance for Ontario lawyers

  • Members Assistance Program (MAP) 1-855-403-8922 or
  • Legal Profession Assistance Conference (LPAC) 1-800-667-5722

In accordance with Rule 7.1-3(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers must report to The Law Society of Upper Canada, unless to do so would be unlawful or would involve a breach of solicitor-client privilege, the mental instability of a lawyer or paralegal of such a serious nature that the lawyer or paralegal’s clients are likely to be severely prejudiced.

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[1]       Taken from D. Kozich, “Stress: What Is It?”, in J. Tamminen, ed., Living With the Law, Strategies to Avoid Burnout and Create Balance, (Chicago: American Bar Association, 1997)1 at 2.

[2]       List is taken in part from S. Gilmore, “Balance or Burnout: Which Way are You Headed?”, in J. Simmons, ed., Life, Law and the Pursuit of Balance, (U.S.A.: Maricopa County Bar Association, 1997) 16.