May 3, 2022
Letter from the Law Society: We Don’t Talk About Burnout – No No No!
For those with kids under 10 (or in my case a niece and nephew in that age bracket) you will catch the reference to the hit song from the Disney movie Encanto. Actually, whether or not you have children in your life you may have heard (or been forced to listen on repeat) to the ubiquitous song, "We Don't Talk About Bruno". In the film, there is a family secret about Bruno that no one wants to talk about. Of course, when they finally do talk about Bruno much is revealed and there is overall family healing.

In this wellness eBulletin, we want to talk about burnout. It isn’t necessarily something lawyers are willing to openly discuss or admit. It is one of many mental health challenges that we often just don’t want to talk about. But until we do talk about it, healing is difficult.

Burnout symptoms can range from things like low productivity and loss of motivation to the more serious extreme of feeling of hopelessness. We know that burnout is endemic. A recent survey found that 84 per cent of workers and Canadian organizations with 100 or more employees are feeling this way with 34 per cent reporting high or extreme levels of burnout. The pandemic has intensified this situation by adding stress, increasing responsibilities and encouraging around-the-clock availability. For lawyers, an already intense career has become that much more challenging during this unique time...

All the best,


Cori Ghitter
Deputy Executive Director and Director, Policy and Education
Law Society of Alberta
Letter from Assist: “I am feeling burned out. Can you help me?”
I regularly receive emails from lawyers who write that they feel burned out and depressed, and perhaps are drinking too much, a trifecta of issues. I try to connect the lawyer with professional counselling services, and perhaps peer support, quickly. But when I get an email like this at the beginning of a long weekend, when both offices are closed, I worry about how we can ensure the safety of the lawyer until our offices reopen, and that momentum is not lost since reaching out for help takes energy.

Admitting that you need help is hard especially for lawyers who are used to being problem solvers. Assist believes in acting promptly when a lawyer or student reaches out for assistance. Recently, a lawyer emailed asking for help at the start of a holiday weekend, and voluntarily provided an email address, so I wrote back immediately to outline the ways that Assist could help, including:
  • booking a session through our counselling services office when our counselling office reopens; 
  • connecting the lawyer with peer support, meaning a lawyer who has walked a similar path, or if appropriate, with the local 12-step community, when our office reopens; or 
  • speaking with a registered psychologist right away through Assist’s 24/7 crisis counselling service.  

Self-assessing whether you are in crisis can pose an extra barrier. Many people are reluctant to “bother” the psychologists after hours, but it is important for lawyers and students to know that Assist does not screen for crisis situations or judge callers who may not be in full-blown crisis — we would rather just help them...

Wishing you well-being,


Loraine Champion
Executive Director
Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

Psychological First Aid
Stress and Burnout
with Brian Forbes, PhD, R.Psych.
Forbes Psychological Services

Do you feel helpless, disillusioned and completely exhausted due to constant stress? If so, you may be on the road to burnout.

Psychologists use the term “burnout” in work world contexts to define a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of exhaustion; 
  • increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism related to one’s job; and 
  • reduced professional efficiency. 

To find out if you are you suffering from burnout, answer yes or no to the questions contained in the Mayo Clinic’s Job Burnout Symptoms Questionnaire (2021):

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work? 
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started? 
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with coworkers, customers or clients? 
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistency productive? 
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate? 
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements? 
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job? 
  • Are you using food, alcohol, or drugs to make you feel better or to simply not feel? 
  • Have your sleep habits changed? 
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems or other physical complaints? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions you may be experiencing job burnout.

Ethically Speaking
Civility and Burnout
"No more meetings, no more discussions, no more Sollozzo tricks. You give 'em one message: I want Sollozzo. If not, it's all-out war: we go to the mattresses.” ― The Godfather

Daily, lawyers of all practice areas advocate resolutely for clients. We place ourselves between parties to help them manage or resolve high-stakes situations. Increasingly, lawyers approach their role with undue aggression, “going to the mattresses” against the other lawyer, the opposing client and even the court.

Civility is a concrete tenet of practice. In R v Felderhof, the Ontario Court of Appeal notes that civility is not merely an adornment. It holds the legal profession together and contributes to a just society. Uncivil conduct, conduct that is abrasive, hostile or obstructive, impedes the court’s ability to resolve conflict in a fair, efficient and effective manner.

The adversarial system requires resolute advocacy, but resolute advocacy should also be civil. As the Court notes in Felderhof, “Professionalism is not inconsistent with vigorous and forceful advocacy on behalf of a client” (at para 83). But forceful advocacy does not include personal or unreasonable attacks against the opposing lawyer, their client or the court. Intimidation or bullying is uncivil and may be sanctioned by the court or the regulator, or both.

For lawyers, success ultimately means resolving clients’ conflict and (hopefully) getting paid at the end of the day. When clients are happy with the outcome of their files, they will retain the lawyer again or will recommend the lawyer to other potential clients.

A Word on Wellness
Empathy in Practice
Empathy is a critical skill to help effectively meet clients’ needs. The notion that a lawyer’s role is to dispassionately focus on the facts ignores the reality that for most clients, emotions cannot be separated from the issues at hand. Regardless of your practice area or the legal services you provide, clients may come to you with a variety of emotions for a variety of reasons. They not only care about the outcome in their legal matter but how they are treated. Clients want to be heard and understood.

It is important to remember that being empathetic does not mean you need to agree with everything your client says or become emotionally invested in their circumstances. Nor should empathy be equated with attempting to be a counsellor for your client.

Empathy is also very different from sympathy. See Brené Brown’s short Empathy video to learn about the difference and the four qualities of empathy.

With practice, empathy can be learned and strengthened at any age. Here are three basic tips to build your empathy skills:

  • Consider other people’s perspectives. To truly put yourself “in their shoes” you need to keep an open mind, examine your own assumptions and biases, and ask questions to understand where the person is coming from.
  • Engage in active listening. Give your undivided attention to the person speaking and seek to understand what they are saying, rather than what you want to say in response.
  • Express yourself. There is no right way to express empathy and be forewarned it can make you feel vulnerable. But being vulnerable helps us connect with others and strengthen relationships. If you do not yet feel comfortable expressing empathy, consider how you are otherwise communicating through your body language and choice of words.

Being empathetic will not only help with your client relationships but will help with being a supportive colleague and working with others through difficult situations.

Check out this resource for other useful tips on how to be more empathetic.

Brain Break
Mindful Breathing
Sometimes you just need to stop and take a deep breath.

Taking breathing breaks several times a day can help you calm yourself, refresh your energy, minimize distractions and increase your focus.

Check out this guide from UC Berkeley or this video series from Mayo Clinic to learn more about how to breathe mindfully and some of the benefits of taking a 'breather'.