In Industry Insights

A couple of recent posts on the r/uklaw forum invited lawyers to share their horror stories of mistakes they had made early in their careers. 

It made me think back to my early days of practice and how many clangers I made – or came close to – on a daily basis. 

There are probably lessons to be learned from these insights: 

  • we all make mistakes; 
  • pressure and inexperience make them more likely; 
  • the importance of proper supervision, and not assuming knowledge; 
  • most mistakes can be rectified; and 
  • the worst thing you can do is try to cover up the mistake. 

The last one is the most important – it can escalate from an oops-moment into a strike off.

For now, just relish the fact that these things didn’t happen to you: 

  • “Put my own bank details into a certificate of title and sent it off to the lender…I’d been setting up online banking at lunch and had my own details stuck in my head.”
  • “As a very fresh trainee one of the partners put a letter on top of a folder and handed it to me saying “make sure this gets out in the post tonight to the other side”. Obviously I wouldn’t put the entire case folder, with the letter attached, in a box, and address that box to the opponent and pop it in the post room …. Would I?”
  • “Accidentally forwarded my summary email for the supervisor to the client. It labelled her as a vulnerable old woman without much hope of success…”
  • “Forwarded clients email query to fee earner stating “I don’t have a scooby do” only to realise replied to client instead.”
  • “…I phoned up the abuser in a DV case accidentally, panicked and told him I was phoning from amazon about a customer survey…”
  • “Misfiled original documents for a fairly large re-structuring for a major bank and a large property development firm. Blind panic for hours…”
  • “Put the client account bank details into RBS “notify us of a death” portal instead of the deceased’s. Froze the firms accounts”
  • “Missed SDLT filing deadlines a couple of times”
  • “I made a summary overview of all the cases I was assisting in for my supervisor (which included client names and case details). Accidentally sent it to a client. Client threatened to inform SRA about the data breach”
  • “Two weeks into my first graduate job in conveyancing I got a call to exchange contracts, no idea what it was or meant…. I said sure and got off the phone all happy of my achievement to the conveyancer having a heart attack because we weren’t ready to exchange.”
  • “Leaving a folder [which included documents with original signatures] on top of a dustbin under a desk overnight. Said dustbin was emptied overnight.”
  • “Losing an original bank power of attorney (one of bloody hundreds), so holding up a mammoth refinancing deal”
  • “The one that sticks out in my mind was posting documents meant for the DX into a normal letterbox.”
  • “My biggest one was making a mistake on the documents to register a specific type of charge over an asset that rendered the charge invalid. Nobody noticed until I realised about a year later what had happened. All that time, the lender had no security at all over the asset.”

Does anything sound familiar? 

It is important to remember that similar oops-moments happen at most law firms day in, day out. 

Somebody in your firm has probably had sleepless nights this week over something that is most likely fixable.

If you are a law firm leader, ask yourself this: am I confident that people can come forward and take ownership of their mistakes?

If the answer is no, what does that say about the firm and the problems that are being stored up? [Aside: Viewers of the BBC comedy ‘The Outlaws’ will be familiar with the concept of the ‘cupboard of chaos’. Seems relevant here.]

This comes down to culture. Primary school children are often encouraged by teachers to embrace their ‘marvellous mistakes’. For good reason – they are a learning opportunity, and people don’t react well to being scolded for unintentional errors. We are all just imperfect humans destined to drop the ball occasionally.

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