Skip to content
Sponsored Content

Catherine Shearer “The Happy Lawyer”

Putting a spotlight on the issues of mental health, attrition, and the advancement of women in law

Catherine Shearer is a mom, wife, dog mom, wellness enthusiast, personal injury lawyer, and partner at McKenzie Lake Lawyers in Guelph. This is a woman who has it all together. But Shearer insists it wasn’t always that way. “I can recall waking up one morning and having a full breakdown because I had to make coffee. I was so tired and overwhelmed that the mere thought of making a pot of coffee launched me into an anxiety attack. Just one more thing I had to get done that day.”

As she tells it, following graduation from law school and trying to do it all she was suffering with debilitating stress. As an articling student she was putting in long hours, on a poor diet, with little exercise, minimal sleep, and a lack of mentorship. Shearer says she was stressed and miserable all the time, and surrounded by colleagues who were also miserable.

When she returned to Guelph, Shearer was assigned as a general litigation lawyer. She was buried under files and feeling pressured to keep her billings up. She had invested so much money and energy into becoming a lawyer and was now questioning whether the practise of law was right for her. “My anxiety was through the roof. I had so much to do, and nothing left in the tank to do it.”

Shearer felt she was missing out on life. Her health started to suffer. She was always freezing, and her hair was coming out in clumps. Shearer was eventually diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease, an auto-immune disorder, triggered by stress. She says, “It explained so much about how I was feeling. I was miserable and my health was being affected.” But Shearer was relieved to find out that she wasn’t alone.

A trail of broken spirits

Compared to the general population, lawyers are at a higher risk for depression, suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and anxiety. The suicide rate for lawyers is now higher than it is for dentists. The statistics are alarming.

  • 58% of lawyers in Canada have experienced significant stress and burnout.
  • 48% have experienced anxiety.
  • 26% have experienced depression.

The legal profession also suffers from an attrition problem. About half of lawyers quit the profession five years into their career.

In the past 30 years, women have made up 50% of law school graduates, yet only 10% are equity partners in the firm. There are fewer female-owned law firms, and fewer females and people of diversity at the top.

Shearer says, “I knew the statistics were dismal, but I felt that wasn’t going to be me. Around my fifth year of call, I almost quit being a lawyer. I was thinking about how I was going to become one of these statistics because there was so much stress, so much pressure. I was going deeper and deeper into a black hole, so I decided to make a change.”

Slowed down to speed up

There have been ups and down in Shearer’s journey in being a lawyer. “After taking a long deep look at why I felt the way I did, I came to the realization that it wasn’t being a lawyer and the business of law that was making me unhappy, I was unhappy because of the way I was practising.”

Shearer joined McKenzie Lake Lawyers and changed the way she did things. Even though she was building her personal injury practise she decided to slow down and ask for the help that she needed. “There was a sense of calm. I was very happy with the decision. I had found a firm that was finally the right fit. They saw my practice as an investment.”

She was given the staff support she needed while being able to work from home and manage her own schedule. “Slowly and surely everything kind of aligned and worked very well for me and my practice. Taking care of myself, made me more successful in my business. I fell in love with law all over again.”

Launched The Happy Lawyer Podcast

The period of stress and anxiety was very lonely for Shearer. She says, “You don’t want to talk to your colleagues for fear it will impact your partner track and you don’t know who else to turn to who has gone through it.”

When she began sharing her experiences with other lawyers Shearer found that one of the biggest issues facing the legal profession is happiness. “I realized so many other people had gone through the same experience. They were unhappy and dealing with stresses and considering leaving the profession. If we don’t start talking about it and relying on each other to get through it, then more people are going to continue leaving the profession.”

That’s what inspired Shearer to create a podcast called The Happy Lawyer.

“I created the podcast and a blog at to get the discussion started. I wanted to let others know that they are not alone in their struggles, be it mental health or simply questioning if they can do it all.”.

Shearer interviews people who’ve had an interesting journey and have made law work for them. She also talks with executive coaches, mental health workers, lawyers, and other professionals who offer advice on how to make life easier. One subscriber told her that after listening to The Happy Lawyer podcast it gave her the courage to leave a toxic work environment and start her own law firm.

Shearer believes it was important to get the discussion started. “A lot of it applies to any profession. It’s not unique to lawyers. Other people need to know that we don’t have to subscribe to a mentality that work has to be miserable to be successful.”

Catherine Shearer’s podcast can be found on the Apple App Store, Spotify, and Stitcher. Her blog is on her website.

Shearer hopes that the information in The Happy Lawyer podcast can help you deal with the challenges you face in your life.