Mistakes Will Happen, and That’s Okay! Here’s How to Learn and Move On

Being a lawyer can be stressful. You’re normally held to a higher standard than most other professions, and making a mistake can be a career-changer—or can it?

Although there’s a lot of pressure on lawyers to be perfect, anyone can make a mistake, and doing so doesn’t have to harm your relationship with clients and colleagues. This article outlines how you can learn from your mistakes and use them to become an even better lawyer.

Own Up to It

Most mistakes are easy to fix if you catch them early enough. Don’t wait to see if anyone will notice or try to cover it up or deny it. Instead, let your supervising attorney know what happened, ideally as soon as possible. The matter may be time-sensitive: if you accidentally shared privileged documents, the sooner you let someone know, the sooner damage control measures can start.

Additionally, you don’t want to compound your mistakes by not disclosing them quickly. Bar journals frequently publish disciplinary actions, so you likely know that lawyers aren’t disbarred for making only one mistake. It’s when they do not address their mistakes or be transparent with their clients that they lose their license.

Get a Second Opinion If You’re Not Sure

When you’re facing a new dilemma, it’s easy to wonder whether you’ve done something wrong in the first place. If there’s a senior attorney you trust, consider talking to them and getting a second opinion on whether you have actually made a mistake. They can also help you come up with ways to solve the problem, especially if the matter is time-sensitive and you don’t have time to research a solution yourself.

Consider Whether the Mistake Was Preventable

Having disclosed your error and come up with possible solutions, you should reflect on it, consider whether it was preventable, and implement countermeasures to avoid repeating it in the future.

For example, if you missed a filing deadline, consider setting up a calendar alert to remind you of upcoming responsibilities like court dates and filings, or sync the different calendars you may be using so that you have access to all of your obligations at once.

Apply Lessons Learned

All mistakes are a learning experience. For example, if you forgot or failed to schedule a court reporter for a deposition, you can use it as an opportunity to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The managing partner who oversees your work will be a lot less likely to hold it against you if you use the incident as a teaching moment.

Although you may not always work with an understanding supervisor or make mistakes that are easily fixable, responding to setbacks with integrity and a determination to learn from them will strengthen your reputation as a dedicated lawyer everyone can trust.

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