Tips for avoiding burnout in law

Gain knowledge of helpful strategies

If you are a young lawyer, you have probably already heard about the issues of stress and burnout in the legal profession. According to some sources, lawyers experience higher rates of divorce, illness, depression and suicide than other professionals.

Some sources of legal workplace stress include:

  • There is a certain amount of conflict that is inherent in any legal dispute. Many are framed as zero-sum games, where one party’s “win” is the other party’s “loss”;
  • Clients whose expectations about the outcome are not reasonable;
  • Competition for jobs/promotions;
  • Unpredictable schedules;
  • Pressure to perform well; or
  • The difficulty of the work

Prolonged periods of stress are linked to such health concerns as diabetes and mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

This problem of an expected high-stress level which uniquely faces lawyers has been attributed to:

  • Long hours – which limits our time with sources of social support;
  • The emphasis on billable hours; and
  • A work/life imbalance – An inability to establish healthy boundaries between ourselves and clients, the law firm and expectations, which can be ameliorated by learning how to say ‘no’ when those boundaries are crossed (assertiveness).

Here is a list of fundamental considerations. If you are experiencing work-related exhaustion, one of these might catch your attention as something to focus on:

  • Healthy diet and exercise;
  • Keeping up friendships and a social network;
  • Take vacations;
  • Making time for family;
  • Seeking mentorship from a trustworthy source;
  • Maintaining spirituality/mindfulness/meditation; or
  • Avoiding alcohol/drugs.

Other useful approaches include:

  • Update your work habits (e.g. on a long-term basis, devising a business plan that maps out where you want to be going, and, on a short-term basis, writing daily ‘to do’ lists) – helps you manage your time better, which can take off stress.
  • Take up a pastime (e.g. learning a new language or skill) – This can help get your mind onto things other than work and thereby can give you a break.
  • Develop resilience – In law, it is common to face rejection or failure at some point; recalibrating your expectations to view that as a natural part of the process can make those times easier to accept, learn from and move on.
  • Cultivate a more optimistic attitude, since being a lawyer involves evaluating different outcomes including worst-case scenarios which can lead to pessimism.
  • Focusing on self-improvement or development as opposed to comparing oneself to others.


Ehman, Amy Jo. ‘“Healthy Boundaries”: The essential formula for attacking stress and burnout’ (Ottawa: CBA, undated):

Kelly, Owen. “Coping with stress and avoiding burnout: techniques for lawyers” (Ottawa: CBA, October 13, 2009):

Macaulay, Ann. “Got Stress? What to do before the burnout hits” (Ottawa: CBA, June 22, 2017):