NBH017: Making Progress Through Mistakes

Today we're talking about mistakes. This is something that as lawyers, we don't like to discuss. It's kind of behind closed doors and taboo. There's a lot of stigma around mistakes and for some reason lawyers think that we're not allowed to make them, that somehow they make us not good lawyers. There are some ethical concerns. We're concerned that we're going to lose our law license because we didn't do something perfectly or we forgot something. We missed an important part of something that we should have known. In my own legal career, I've let myself become broken when I did something wrong, I felt that not only was I worried about my client, I was worried about what other people would think about me. I was worried about what other lawyers were going to think about me. I was worried about my other clients.

I didn't want to ask for help because of the shame I felt and I was ashamed also that I maybe I wasn't a good lawyer. Maybe I shouldn't have taken the case. Maybe I was being reckless. Maybe I didn't have the knowledge and experience I needed. I shouldn't have taken that risk. And all of those feelings are true. That really is how I felt. And I'll have to say on some level, I may feel that often. However, what's also true and maybe more true, is that I'm a good lawyer, even a great lawyer, and I have high sense of integrity. And I also do like to take risks because I think that's where we can actually serve - in that place of risk. And I feel confident that if I do make what we call a mistake - I didn't know something or something didn't happen the way we planned - I can fix it.

And I know that I've been able to fix my past mistakes in my law practice. And also sometimes actually more often that not that detour from the mistake (that detour from the original case plan) has ended up benefiting my clients somehow. Interesting how that works out. So my point here is that we waste so much time reveling in the mistake and the emotions that we're missing an opportunity. We're missing an opportunity to progress through this mistake to actually go faster. We're slowing ourselves down when we can actually go faster. You know that learning from mistakes is how we move forward. We know this deep down. We know that we're actually progressing when we take risks. If we stay in our comfort zone and do the same thing, we are not going to be going anywhere. We're in a closed loop. And you know that even when we do our best, some things may not go right.

You know things may be forgotten, things may have fallen through the cracks. Maybe you did the best you could and missed something, or misunderstood something, or the law changed so quickly that you couldn't keep up with it. And you know that the lesson that we learned from that experience is a fast track to learning the next thing. I know that I remember my mistakes and they won't be made again because it was something I could change in my law firm procedures. It was something that I could adjust. Now that I know that, I can't un-know how to practice law or how to work with clients, how to get information from clients, how to make sure I know the law well enough to represent a client. I've learned all that and I don't know if I could have learned it otherwise or it might've been a lot slower.

When you get stuck in this self-flagellation of a so-called mistake, putting so much value and so much judgment on it, remember that this is an opportunity to move faster. We tend to waste the time that we gained from this opportunity to move faster with the unnecessary suffering. We're at this zero sum game, right? We could go faster, but we hold ourselves back because it's like, “Hold on, I need to beat myself up and put so much meaning on this mistake before I can move forward.” We think it's a rite of passage or something like that. In order to progress from our mistakes, we need to look more closely. We need to lean in to what's happening. I say this often: pay attention to what happened.

Where in the chain of events did something go wrong? Was there something that you could have done differently? Was there something that could not have been done differently? Was there something that was negligent? Was there something that you can really change in your life and in your law firm? Were you supervising someone else? Really use this as information to make progress, to move forward instead of dwelling on what happened. Just look at it to figure out how to move forward. Have something good come out of it. We say this often: bad things, things that we don't want, not preferred situations happen - so then we can actually not have them happen again. So this is an opportunity to really pay attention to how you are as a lawyer, and what risks you're willing to take.

Maybe you need to step back from certain risks and make some decisions. What could you change in your law practice and also what are you doing really well? Catching the mistake whenever you caught it is a brilliant lawyer and if you can catch it earlier and earlier, then you can more easily fix it. That's brilliant. And often times we can fix it somehow or another. And if not, we learned and we put in our best and we are going to do what we can for that client. We are going to move forward and help the next client and the next client by progressing from that mistake as opposed to holding ourselves back, which is a big waste of time.

And I know all of you are saying that you don't have enough time and you want more time. This is how you will find it. Getting more time is not about some hack or something that you don't know that everybody else knows. You now know that when you are dwelling on something and dwelling in the past, you cannot move forward. Take the time you need. Process the mistake and then move forward and make it an opportunity to move forward faster. Make progress through your mistakes for increased productivity, more time for what's important, and a well-balanced life.

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