Stress in the Legal Profession

Advocate samantha martin, afsa, arbitration south africa, arbitration foundation south africa, association of arbitrators, construction law, environmental law, procurement law, water law, energy law, mining law, construction agreements, construction adjudication, tender disputes, water disputes, water tribunal, stormwater management, disaster management law, JBCC, NEC, FIDIC, GBCC, advocate south africa, advocate africa

Stress in the Legal Profession

There are a myriad of factors leading to stress in the legal profession.

The legal profession is adversarial. Despite the growing trend towards Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and constructive dispute resolution – the reality is that there will always be a need for a judicial umpire to give oversight when a dispute remains unresolved.

In South Africa, there are various factors that are cumulative, which compound stress: –

  • The matter itself may be complex

  • There are expectations of a legal team by the client and sometimes, competing duties towards a client and a court

  • Litigants and especially counsel, have to manage a range of dramatist persona in the litigation lifecycle – clients, attorneys, Judicial Officers and opponents

  • The legal setting is stressful, for example in Johannesburg one has to traverse the inner city and there is ongoing report of crime and violence

  • Due to the fact that lawyers “sell time” many are under pressure to “make time” and hence the 9 to 5 working day is almost unheard of with many high flying layers. Weekends, public holidays and evenings become fair game for “burning the midnight oil”

The Bellwether Report in the UK reported that 76% of solicitors in the UK felt that stress in the legal profession is a major issue and link this with mental health.

“There is more to life, than increasing its speed…” Mahatma Gandhi


Stress and burnout are leading causes of long term illness. The Mayo Clinic indicates that stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can help you manage them. Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

A bigger problem in the legal profession is the refusal to seek help. Acknowledging burnout and its symptoms seems to be a sign of defeat. Somehow gladiators are meant to be invincible. However, the consequences can be permanent and even, fatal. Across various Law Societies, it is reported that lawyers express ongoing symptoms of chronic burnout. These include poor muscle movement, headaches, outbursts of rage, feelings of hopelessness and exhaustion, forgetfulness and depression.

Chronic and ongoing stress, causes the body to release hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline.These hormones help prepare the body to take action, for example by increasing the heart and breath rates.

Taking steps to manage your stress can have many health benefits. Stress management strategies can include:

  • Getting regular physical activity

  • Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, exercise or massage

  • Keeping a sense of humor

  • Spending time with family and friends (in my case my fur-children)

  • Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music

Have any questions? Get in touch with me.