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Ask Ash

17 May 10

How can I switch off from the highly emotional situations in which some clients find themselves?

Dear Ash,

I started a job last year in an area of law that I really enjoy: it involves helping people with predominantly family law issues. However, my work frequently involves having to advise clients who have had to cope with some harrowing situations of abuse. I always try to maintain a professional demeanour at work but I often find I am bursting into tears when I return home and I am finding it difficult to relax and switch off from work. How can I try not to let work affect me so much?

ASH replies:

Human nature is such that sometimes we cannot but help feeling emotional after hearing about tragic circumstances.

I don’t think you should punish yourself for feeling emotional in such circumstances as it would to some extent seem odd if you did not feel anything after listening to such details.

You have to learn to adapt in order to cope with stressful situations. One way you could do this is by talking things through with colleagues who are also going through similar situations. You may not be the only one experiencing stress at work, as your colleagues may be just as good at hiding their emotions in the workplace as you seemingly are. Colleagues may also have more experience of learning to cope with stressful situations and may be able to pass on helpful advice.

Another good way of learning to switch off from stressful situations is to take up some form of exercise or sporting activity, as this should provide you with an avenue for relieving any stress or anxiety. Your chosen activity does not need to be too energetic: it could be quite gentle exercise like yoga or Pilates.

Alternatively, if you do not feel able to approach colleagues at work you could contact LawCare, which is an independent advisory and support service to help lawyers. It is funded by the Law Society and is intended to help lawyers, their staff and their immediate families to deal with health problems such as stress, depression and addiction, and related emotional difficulties. There is a free, confidential helpline (0800 279 6869).

You do need to be able to switch off after a difficult day at work as otherwise you could end up in a spiral of depression. Frequent stressful situations can sometimes lead to a person suffering from clinical depression unless they are able to identify and deal with issues appropriately. Recent research has also identified the legal profession as being particularly plagued by a culture of long hours and stress, which are driving numbers of lawyers to drink and drugs.

You need to learn to put yourself first when it comes to looking out for your mental wellbeing, otherwise you will be in no fit state to assist others. Keep in mind a wise saying: “One has to find a balance between what people need from you and what you need for yourself.”

  • “Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor:, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Registrar’s Department. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Meanley, Manager in the Registrar’s Department on 0131 476 8105/8200, or

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