Interesting post on Ed Poll’s LawBiz Blog about how lawyers respond after the inevitable mistake.  Other than just noting the value of making recompense, the article doesn’t offer much real advice.  Perhaps because I have such great experience making mistakes, let me offer some thoughts on how to deal with he mistake when it arises:

1.   Call the client immediately.  There is nothing worse for you or the client than the client hearing bad news from someone other than you.

2.   Take ownership of the mistake.  There is nothing so bad as a lawyer looking to blame his associate, the secretary, the client’s assistant, etc.  You’re the leader.  You’re responsible.  Own up to it.  And apologize for it.  Remorse is an undervalued trait.

3.   Focus first on how to work around, avoid, limit or otherwise address the substantive problem.  Fix the problem first.

4.    Think about how to avoid similar problems in the future and make sure you share your thoughts with your client.  Make equally sure you ask for her input and suggestions on changes that can be made too.

5.  Figure out how to make the client whole.  If your mistake cost the client money, if only in extra fees, make sure you suggest to them an adjustment.  Preferably an adjustment that makes it clear that you are not profiting by having made the mistake.  And if you truly believe in the client relationship, I suggest making an even larger adjustment “for the client’s time and trouble.”

Why do I think these five steps work?  The next time someone screws up your reservation, see if you would have responded positively had the clerk followed these five steps.

  • Everyone has made mistakes or missed and issue in their practice. When I was a young attorney, my inclination was to see if I could fix it without telling a client. When a mistake was made by someone else in my firm, my instincts told me to protect the other member of my firm. I quickly learned that these were the wrong instincts to act on. They preferred the firm over the client. Many clients appreciate an attorney who is up front and takes responsibility for a mistake. Done properly, the handling of a mistake by counsel can actually strengthen a relationship. Enrico Schaefer