Management Assistance Program

How to Handle a Mistake as a Young Lawyer

By Jim Calloway

One challenge of practicing law is that it often seems there are only two standards of conduct: absolute perfection and malpractice. Those of us who have worked in law firms know that perfection isn’t possible with fallible humans doing the work. But one can design systems to hopefully catch most errors before they leave the office.

Many of us can recall the first time we made a significant mistake on a client matter. No matter how “fixable” the mistake is, the idea of making a professional error can lead to an emotional reaction that can cause us to linger on negative questions like “Am I worthy to be a lawyer? What if that had been a missed statute of limitation?” In fact, many law firms already have a policy that any fixable mistake will be fixed at no charge to the client. You are not the first lawyer who erred.

How to Handle a Mistake as a Young Lawyer by Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz outlines the steps that a young lawyer should follow upon discovering a mistake. But these steps generally apply to lawyers at all stages in their careers. (In serious situations, solos should notify their professional liability carriers for advice instead of telling a non-existent partner.)

This post begins “Almost everything is fixable — if you catch it early enough. The key to preventing unrecoverable errors is accepting your mistakes and disclosing them in time.” I like that it starts with words of comfort and the first step to properly deal with the situation.