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What to Do When You Make a Mistake in Law Practice

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on
At some point, you will be wrong. It's as universally true as the Earth is the center of the universe. Which, by the way, everybody except Copernicus used to believe. Of course, they were wrong, too. So unless you are Copernicus, it's a good idea to admit that you are wrong -- at least sometimes. In life and in law practice, it is the beginning of understanding.

Take Responsibility

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Deborah Grayson Riegel says it's about taking responsibility, addressing the mistake, and doing things differently next time. It's a recipe that should be on every lawyer's mini-fridge. "Acknowledge that your error had a negative impact on others, and be willing to really listen, without defensiveness, to others' recounting of that impact," she says. Some clients may not accept an apology and then fire you, but they are less likely to file a state bar complaint or sue if you accept responsibility.

Address It Right Away

Like a wound, an error can fester over time. So address it now. Right now. Even if it's not your mistake but a colleague's, it's better to deal with it promptly. By taking care of the problem sooner, you can help mitigate damages that may come later. The worst thing to do is to ignore it and hope it goes away. That's a mistake in itself.

Do It Differently Next Time

Here's the beauty of being wrong. Once you acknowledge a mistake and address it, you can improve. It is an equation with endless possibilities -- unless you don't learn from your mistakes. It's like Albert Einstein said: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." And while we're acknowledging errors, we should probably note that statement from Einstein is apparently a misquote.

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