What To Do When You Make a Mistake

An uncomfortable truth of life as a young lawyer is that you will make mistakes. Over time, they will lessen in significance and number.  Whether big or small, the way you address and bounce back from making a mistake will matter a lot to your career. Here’s what you need to do:

Own up to it.

  • I’m assuming here that this is a mistake that needs to be addressed – if you make and correct a mistake with no broader repercussions, there is no need to raise it.
  • When you own up, should you apologize? Some say you should never say you’re sorry at work. I disagree. If you make a big enough mistake or error of judgment, you will look bad if you don’t apologize.
  • For example, let’s say a discovery response was due yesterday and you blew the deadline. When you let your supervisor know, it is appropriate to apologize. There’s no need to make it a long, drawn out show. Keep it short and move on. This shows that you recognize that a deadline was blown and that this was an error – YOUR error. Not apologizing makes you look completely tone deaf.

Propose a solution.

  • Ideally, you will do this at the same time you own up to the mistake. Your supervisor will think better of you if you admit to the mistake and either propose a solution or advise how you already fixed it.
  • In the example above, at the time you alert your supervisor to the missed deadline, you could let them know when you plan to serve the discovery responses. Or you could serve the responses and then own up to the error.
  • If you’re not sure which option to pick, present both to your supervisor and ask how they want to proceed.
  • If you have no idea how to fix an error, tell your supervisor ASAP and offer to come up with a plan together.
  • Whether you propose a solution or not, you should also think about how you can avoid similar mistakes going forward (and tell your supervisor). It does not need to be a complex solution. In our discovery response example, it may be as simple as asking the team’s paralegal to circulate a reminder of upcoming deadlines once a week.

Move On.

  • This is usually easier said than done. Try not to dwell on your mistake. Instead, take a short amount of time to feel bad about it. Then put it out of your mind and focus on doing good work going forward.
  • If you follow the above advice, the people you work with will also get over it – probably faster than you do. Doing good work and getting your relationships back to normal will help that process along.

In sum: fess up, fix it, and explain what you’re doing to ensure it does not happen again. Then forgive yourself and move on. Don’t let one mistake impact the rest of your work.

Pic Credit: Pixabay