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Personal Management

COVID-19 UPDATE: Lawyers seeking supports to address personal management in the context of COVID-19 should consult the Law Society’s Frequently Asked Practice Management Questions regarding COVID-19.


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 ("Rules") requirements, a decision not to follow the Guideline will not, in and of itself, indicate that a lawyer 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.

  • 8.1 Introduction

    Mental illness and addiction are serious issues which may impact the provision of legal services. Lawyers may face certain challenges or stressors unique to their work that enhance their vulnerability for mental health or wellness issues.i These issues have the potential to result in significant impairment that can compromise professional conduct, client interests and the administration of justice. Preserving, enhancing and investing in the lawyers’ well-being are therefore necessary components of a risk management plan and key factors in the business success of a law practice.

    The Personal Management Guideline assists lawyers in

    • recognizing indicia of mental illness and addictions as well as sources of stress in the legal profession
    • acknowledging the stigma related to mental health and addiction issues in the legal professions, and
    • understanding lawyers’ special obligations with respect to Ontario’s human rights laws.
     

    The Guideline also provides basic suggestions, strategies, supports and resources to manage personal well-being. While paralegals may experience certain stressors that are unique to the paralegal profession, this Guideline is also applicable to paralegals.

  • 8.2 Risks of Mental Illness and Addiction

    It is important that lawyers recognize that members of the legal professions may be at greater risk than the general population for:

    • alcoholism
    • drug abuse or addiction
    • depression
    • anxiety
    • suicide
     

    and that professional conduct issues may arise from such mental illness and substance abuse.ii  

  • 8.3 Recognizing Sources of Stress in the Legal Professions
  • 8.4 Recognizing Signs of Mental Illness, Addiction and Wellness Issues

    It is important that lawyers recognize the signs of mental illness, addiction or wellness issues. The following listiv is intended to increase awareness of some of the signs of mental health, addiction or wellness issues to enable lawyers to take steps to address them:

    • lack of energy/interest
    • sleep disturbances, difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping
    • nightmares or intrusive thoughts
    • feeling physically exhausted
    • having a negative attitude toward work, self, other people or life in general
    • feeling discouraged
    • experiencing progressive loss of idealism
    • feelings of guilt and/or shame
    • feeling overly suspicious
    • feelings of losing control
    • feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
    • feelings of sadness, tearfulness or worthlessness
    • feeling emotionally drained
    • feeling anxious
    • sudden feelings of extreme anxiety or intense fear without a clear cause, especially when combined with physical symptoms such as sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, chest pain or dizziness
    • feeling irritable or angry
    • overreacting or having angry outbursts
    • treating colleagues, staff, clients and adversaries in a detached way
    • experiencing problems with concentration
    • putting off work, frequently delaying meetings with others and/or missing deadlines
    • being frequently absent from and/or late for work
    • deteriorating quality of work
    • experiencing increased rigidity
    • having a sense of omnipotence or indispensability, making it difficult to cut back on workload or responsibilities
    • changes in appetite, diet or eating habits
    • experiencing ulcers, headaches, backaches and/or high blood pressure
    • withdrawing from normal activities
    • withdrawing socially by distancing oneself from family, friends and colleagues
    • experiencing increased marital or family conflicts or conflicts with close friends
    • engaging in compulsive behaviours such as overeating or overspending
    • engaging in substance abuse.
     

    The list is non-exhaustive, and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis of any condition.

  • 8.5 Managing Physical Health and Well-Being

    Activities that promote physical health and well-being may reduce the risk of mental health issues in some cases.v  Lawyers may wish to consider adopting lifestyle habits and strategies to enhance physical health and well-being, such as:vi 

    • eating a well-balanced diet
    • keeping hydrated
    • not skipping meals
    • maintaining a healthy weight
    • engaging in regular aerobic activity
    • getting sufficient sleep and rest to allow the body to recuperate. This may include
      • avoiding stimulants
      • creating a comfortable sleep environment
      • following a regular sleep schedule
    • maintaining social outlets
    • having a support structure in place, such as family and friends
    • having interests and/or hobbies outside of the law
    • incorporating daily mindfulness practices, including practising relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep diaphragmatic breathing
    • reducing or eliminating the use or abuse of alcohol, tobacco/nicotine or caffeine
    • monitoring the use of prescribed drugs to guard against either dependence or addiction.
  • 8.6 Managing Mental Health and Wellness

    Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to their community.vii  Lawyers can achieve better mental health by building resilience through the practise of wellness habits and/or adopting strategies that help reduce, eliminate or manage physical and mental health and emotional wellness issues.viii

    The following habits and strategies may contribute positively to lawyers’ mental health and wellness:ix 

    • organizing their workspaces
    • delegating to assistants, students or more junior lawyers at the firm, as appropriate, to ease workload
    • considering the use of contract lawyers (e.g., through the Law Society’s contract lawyer list or other professional networks) if workload becomes too heavy
    • taking regular breaks from work
    • eating lunch every day and preferably away from their desk/office
    • connecting with colleagues
    • interacting with families and friends so that strong social supports may be maintained or developed
    • pursuing hobbies or other activities that reflect interests, values and goals
    • pursuing activities to enhance physical well-being
    • engaging in religious or spiritual practice, if religious or spiritual
    • taking regular vacations.

     Lawyers may wish to consider pursuing skills training or coaching to assist in achieving balance in their personal and professional lives. Depending on the individual, lawyers may consider training in:

    • time management
    • goal setting
    • managing client expectations
    • mindfulness
    • using technology
    • organizing workspaces
    • effective delegation
    • 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. Support groups should be geared to reducing isolation and providing a forum for sharing concerns with co-workers or other members of the profession. Lawyers 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 and other law associations’ or legal organizations’ social activities and events.
  • 8.7 Reducing Stigma in the Legal Workplace
  • 8.8 Accommodation and Discrimination and Harassment Counsel

    Lawyers have a special responsibility to respect the requirements of human rights laws in force in Ontario and, specifically, to honour the obligation not to discriminate in professional dealings with other lawyers, paralegals or any other person based on prohibited grounds, including disability. Disability is broadly defined in s. 10 of the Human Rights Code as including both physical and mental disabilities. Where lawyers are employers, they are required to accommodate an employee’s physical or mental disability up to the point of undue hardship.

    The Discrimination and Harassment Counsel (DHRC) provides assistance to anyone who experiences discrimination and/or harassment from lawyers or paralegals. The DHC can be reached at 1-877-790-2200 or assistance@dhcounsel.on.ca

  • 8.9 Duty to Report Substantial Questions of Capacity and Competency
    Despite efforts to reduce the stigma associated with mental health or addiction issues in legal workplaces and offers of support or resources from colleagues, family, or friends, in some cases, lawyers or paralegals may be unable to effectively address these issues. These physical, mental health or addiction issues may impact a lawyer or paralegal’s capacity to provide competent professional services.  Lawyers are required to report to the Law Society conduct that raises substantial questions about another lawyer or paralegal’s competency as a licensee or capacity to provide professional services, unless to do so would be unlawful or would involve a breach of solicitor-client privilege.

    For assistance interpreting the duty to report obligations, lawyers should consider contacting the Law Society's Practice Management Helpline at 416-947-3315 or 1-800-668-7380, ext. 3315, Monday to Friday 9:00 am – 5:00 pm EST and select the option to connect with the Helpline.
  • 8.10 Programs, Supports and Resources Available to the Legal Professions

i CBA Wellness, “Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal Profession” (CPD: MDcme.ca, 2017).

ii Law Society of Upper Canada, Mental Health Strategy Task Force Final Report to Convocation (Toronto: LSUC, 28 April 2016) at 9.

iii 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; and M.E.P. Seligman, “Why are Lawyers so Unhappy?” from Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment (New York: Atria, 2004).

iv List 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; and CBA Wellness, “Mental Health and Wellness for the Legal Profession” (CPD: MDcme.ca, 2017).

v CBA Wellness, “Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal Profession” (CPD: MDcme.ca, 2017).

vi Ibid.

vii World Health Organization, Mental health: strengthening our response (March 2018).

viii CBA Wellness, “Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal Profession” (CPD: MDcme.ca, 2017).

ix CBA Wellness, “Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal Profession” (CPD: MDcme.ca, 2017) and J. Cho, 5 ways mindfulness helps lawyers (August 20, 2014).

x Thomas Telfer G.W. “The Wellness Doctrine for Law Students & Young Lawyers, by Jerome Doraisamy” (2017) 54(2) OHLJ 645.

xi Law Society of Upper Canada, Mental Health Strategy Task Force Final Report to Convocation (Toronto: LSUC, 28 April 2016) at 9, and Laura Rothstein, “Law Students and Lawyers with Mental Health and Substance Abuse Problems: Protecting the Public and the Individual” (2008) 69 University of Pittsburgh Law Review 531 at 533.

xii CBA Wellness, “Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal Profession” (CPD: MDcme.ca, 2017), and M. Seto, “Killing Ourselves: Depression as an Institutional Workplace and Professionalism Problem” (2012) 2:2 UWOJ Leg. Stud. 5.

Last updated: February 23, 2022
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