(Interview conducted on January 10, 2023)
Q: Thank you so much for joining the OBA civil litigation section. Could you tell me a little bit about your path through the legal profession?
A: I summered and articled at a national law firm in Ottawa, and then I practised for about three years at a litigation boutique in Barrie before returning back to the firm where I had started. I stayed there for about five years, and became partner in 2020, right before the pandemic. Then I left a year and a half later to start my own firm.
Q: That’s an impressive career. Perhaps even more impressive has been the way your book, It Burned Me All Down, helped spark a conversation about burnout in the legal profession. You and other leaders shared your experiences, and in so doing gave many of us permission to do the same. Could you summarize your experience, and what burnout means to you?
A: I underwent my experience with burnout in early 2021. Before that, I didn’t know that burnout was a recognized thing. I just saw it as what people said when they were working too hard. But the World Health Organisation categorizes it as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. There are three hallmarks: cynicism, exhaustion, and reduced efficiency. But I didn’t know any of that when I went through it. It was only after I was off work, learning about it, and reading about it that I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s me. That’s definitely me. All three things.” Everybody experiences it differently. For me, the symptoms came in that order: cynicism, then exhaustion, then reduced efficiency. But those things can pop up in different orders for different people.
Q: Thank you again for sharing your experience. Let’s move deeper on to burnout in the legal profession generally. Are there aspects of lawyering, or litigation, that cause burnout?
A: A lot of lawyers work very hard for very long without taking the structured, real breaks that we need to recharge. That was certainly my experience. I was always bad at taking vacations, bad at not looking at my phone, bad at setting boundaries.
There’s also the stress of being there for our clients. For a lot of lawyers, it’s not natural to be the ones who need to go to someone else for help when we’re the ones always solving other people’s problems. For litigators, there’s the added layer of stress of advocacy. Most people don’t go to a litigator because they’re having a good day. As opposed to our corporate friends who get to create the magic, we’re dealing with the chaos that erupts after.