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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 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.

Table of Contents

8.1 Introduction

The talent and knowledge of individual lawyers may be among a firm’s most valuable business assets. Lawyers determine the quantity and quality of legal services. 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

Lawyers should be aware of and recognize common sources of stress in the legal professions generally, and particularly, in their own lives. Sources of stress may include:iii 

  • 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
  • low decision latitude for junior lawyers
  • isolation from supportive colleagues
  • taking on work outside area of expertise
  • taking on too much work
  • putting off difficult tasks
  • excessive work hours
  • difficulties achieving work-life balance.

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 particular 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 his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her 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

The stigma associated with mental illness and addiction can have a devastating impact.x  Concerns that legal careers will be permanently and negatively affected by disclosure of a mental health or addiction issue can effect a lawyer’s willingness to openly discuss these issues and seek help, treatment and support.xi   In some cases, lawyers whose mental illness and substance abuse issues remain unaddressed may have difficulty meeting their professional responsibilities, which can lead to disciplinary action or a negligence claim.   

Lawyers and others working in legal workplaces can help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and addiction, and reduce or eliminate the barriers to seeking help by: 

  • creating an organizational culture which encourages and celebrates a balanced life and personal and professional fulfillment
  • maintaining a respectful and considerate workplace where individuals are supported and offered mentorship
  • educating leadership and staff about mental illness and addiction, including signs, symptoms and ways they can help and support other colleagues, associates and staff 
  • encouraging open dialogue about mental health and addiction issues. xii

8.8 Accommodation and Discrimination and Harassment Counsel

Rule 6.3-1.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct provides that 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 (DRC) 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

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 the issues. These physical, mental health or addiction issues may impact a lawyer or paralegal’s capacity to provide professional services or on their competency. Rules 7.1-3(d) and (e) of the Rules of Professional Conduct require that lawyers report to the Law Society conduct that raises substantial questions about another lawyer or paralegal’s capacity to provide professional services or competency, unless to do so would be unlawful or would involve a breach of solicitor-client privilege.

For assistance interpreting the duty to report obligations under the Rules, lawyers should consider contacting the Law Society at 416-947-3315 or 1-800-668-7380, ext. 3315, Monday to Friday 9:00 am – 5:00 pm EST and asking to be connected to the Practice Management Helpline.

8.10 Programs, Supports and Resources Available to the Legal Professions

Those who are experiencing physical, mental health, addiction or wellness issues should be encouraged to seek assistance as early as possible or should do so. This section of the Guideline highlights some of the programs, supports and resources available to the legal professions. 

(a) Members’ Assistance Program (MAP)

MAP is available to all lawyers, paralegals, law students and judges in Ontario, as well as their family members. It is funded by the Law Society.

MAP provides secure, single sign-on access to counselling, coaching, online resources and peer volunteers. Members can obtain professional help with issues including, but not limited to, mental or physical health, addiction, stress, work-life balance, career, family, marital/relationship challenges and separation/divorce. Members also have access to a comprehensive Health Risk Assessment, can take a number of self-directed e-Courses and may download a wealth of wellness-related MP3s from the Health-e Multimedia Centre.

The counselling services provided by MAP are confidential. This means that information shared by a lawyer will not be disclosed to anyone, including the Law Society. 

A full description of the program can be found on the MAP website. Lawyers can contact MAP via the website or by phone at 1-855-403-8922.

(b) Other programs, supports and resources

Lawyers may wish to participate in the following online Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programs relating to mental health, all of which have been accredited by the Law Society for CPD professionalism hours:

  • Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal Profession – Online national self-learning program designed to provide Canadian lawyers, judges and law students with education, supports and resources to assist them in understanding mental health and addiction issues. The program was developed in partnership with the Canadian Bar Association, the Mood Disorders Society of Canada and Bell Let’s Talk
  • Opening Minds to Mental Health – Law Society webcast program that discusses how legal professionals can respond to the mental health challenges of justice system users and establish self-care habits in ethically challenging and emotionally demanding work environments 
  • Fostering Wellness - A Discussion of Mental Health in the Legal Profession – Law Society webcast program that discusses mental health issues and how to foster wellness in the legal profession.

 Lawyers may wish to consult the following supports to enhance their professional competence, which may, in turn, assist with personal management:

  • The Practice Management Helpline – The Law Society’s Helpline answers questions about the Rules of Professional Conduct, the Paralegal Rules of Conduct, and other professionalism and practice management topics, including paralegal scope of practice under By-Law 4, client identification and verification obligations of By-Law 7.1 as well as the trust account and record keeping requirements of By-Law 9. The Helpline is a service for Ontario lawyers and paralegals that is strictly confidential, even from other divisions or departments of the Law Society.
  • The Coach and Advisor Network – The Law Society’s Coach and Advisor Network provides lawyers and paralegals with access to shorter-term, outcome-oriented relationships with Coaches and Advisors drawn from the professions. Coaches support the implementation of best practices and Advisors assist with substantive and procedural law inquiries on client files. Engagements between Coaches or Advisors and Participants are confidential.

Additional information and supports relating to physical or mental health and wellness issues can be found through the following organizations:


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

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

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


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