Monday Practice Tip for Young Lawyers- How to Handle Mistakes

Hope everyone had a great weekend!  On Mondays of course we try to help our newer attorneys with a practice tip.  Today we will focus on a situation we ALL are familiar with — a mistake.  In this profession, mistakes are inevitable and we all make them, I promise.  They come in a variety of fashions — missed deadlines, tardy to a meeting, poor strategy decisions, or just flat out poor execution on a project.  While there is a wide disparity between the amount of mistakes good lawyers make from poor ones, there is an equally wide disparity between the way good lawyers react to their mistakes to the way poor ones do.  Today we will help keep you on the good list!

Here are some tips for handling your mistakes:

DO’S

1) Own it!!!-   Call it the 12-step program theorem.  Whether you are dealing with a partner, a judge or directly with the client, the first step in correcting or moving on from any error is admitting that you made one.  This displays a lot of things to your partner or client — 1) that you are accountable; 2) that you realize what you did was wrong, giving them more confidence that you will not commit the same error twice; 3) that you are strong enough to face the fire.

2) You caused a problem, so what are we going to do about it?- Don’t just drop a problem in someone’s lap.  In advance of reporting your error, examine potential solutions and propose them at the same time as you report your error.  This will keep the ball focused on the result you want to achieve, rather than leaving your error as the most recent event for your superior(s) to consider.

3) Be judicious with your time.  This should be self-explanatory, but the client is not paying you to screw up.  Whether it be to correct your error on your own time, or to delete your time for the incorrect path and to just bill the right one, the extra time is on you.  It’s a mere drop in the bucket of all the time you bill over the course of the year, just accept it and move on.

Don’ts

1) No one likes the blame game.  This is the clear opposite of accountability.  We keep returning to the theme that partners, judges and clients are all human beings.  They would much rather focus on how to move on from a mistake and to advance toward a solution then spend time yelling at you, so don’t dwell on the mistake by blaming a secretary or paralegal for whose work you are responsible anyway and don’t play the CYA game (cover your a**) of “You asked me to do this, and then I asked you about this and you said not to worry about it, I have the email!”

2) Don’t run from  your error.  This is perhaps the largest source of stress for a young lawyer.  Wishing away your mistake by working on other things, not reporting it, hoping it won’t creep up, literally anything other than walking into the partner’s office and facing the music.  Almost ANY error can be corrected . . . if you address it.

By the way, if you enjoy these practice tips, my law partner Frank Ramos has an entire daily blog devoted to them, you can find it at http://tipsforyounglawyers.wordpress.com.

DISCLOSURE:

THE COMMENTS ON THIS BLOG DO NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.  NOR DO THEY CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.  They are provided for informational purposes only.  Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation with an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.
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