The following is a guest blog post by Benjamin Scott. Ben is a solo estate planning attorney, a graduate of Concord Law School, a former high school physics teacher, and a father of three.
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” -General George S. Patton.
What would have happened if General Patton sat down in the North African desert and refused to move because he was afraid of making mistakes? Although good lawyers should always try to avoid mistakes, a lawyer who is constantly paralyzed by the fear of mistakes will never become competent.
Making mistakes and overcoming them is an important part of becoming a competent attorney. Here are some tips that will help you face your fears and overcome mistakes:
1. Don’t hide from mistakes. Accept the fact that you will make mistakes every day. Each time you make a mistake and learn from it, you are becoming a better lawyer. Nobody wants to admit to screwing up, and no lawyer is happy about having to tell a client about it, but you can only learn from your mistakes if you’re willing to fix them. Don’t tell clients every minor screw up that you make, but be sure to tell them things that affect their interests and how you will fix the problem. If you don’t know how to fix it, get on the phone with your malpractice insurance provider or a more experienced attorney for advice.
2. Be upfront and realistic with clients. When your clients know that you’re not perfect, they will be more understanding when you make a mistake. When they know that they are not guaranteed to win, they will not be so disappointed when things don’t work out their way. When they come to you with a type of case that you haven’t seen before, don’t take the case right away. A potential client who walks out the door when you don’t take the case immediately is probably the type of client who causes trouble down the road.
3. Don’t be so full of yourself. You’re not God’s gift to the world. Deal with it. You’re frequently going to feel like an idiot because you have to ask someone a dumb question. To become a better lawyer, you’ll have to swallow your pride and be willing to make an error. In my first year of practice, my ego has been shattered several times. If you realize that you’re human and that you can make mistakes, you’ll be willing to admit mistakes, ask for help, and fix those mistakes.
4. Team up. Finally, you don’t have to do everything alone. Team up with other attorneys. Ask someone to point you in the right direction or to be co-counsel on a case. Every time I’ve asked seasoned lawyers for help, they’ve been gracious and generous with their time.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but be cautious. Know your limits and don’t be afraid to refer a case out if it’s more than you can handle. You don’t have to be perfect to take action, but you have to start taking action before you can approach perfection.
Ready to take action? CEB has practice-oriented books and step-by-step action guides to help you stay on top of procedures and developments in all major law areas. A great book for all new attorneys is CEB’s California Basic Practice Handbook, which will help you handle cases in a wide array of practice areas.
For attorneys in their first five years of practice in CA, CEB offers a free year of OnLAW and other discounts!
Other CEB blog posts you may find useful:
- Don’t Quit Your Day Job: 5 Reasons to Keep Another Job While Starting Your Law Practice
- Attorney-Client E-Communications
- The Secret to Better Legal Writing
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