Mistakes. Everyone hates them, but everyone makes them. The thing that separates great client service from lawyers looking for new clients is how you deal with them. Some time ago, I provided a prescription for dealing with mistakes in my post, After The Mistake. Noted blogger Jim Calloway picked up on my post here, which was special for me given Jim’s stature in the blogging community.
Given the importance of dealing with mistakes, I read with great interest Charles Green‘s post, Apologies, Forgiving and Forgiveness, in his Trust Matters blog. Charles obviously is the real deal, so his writing is worthy of your attention. He picks up on an article by Martha Beck, Always Apologize, Always Explain, in Oprah magazine. Green’s post picks up on an important issue–the expectation of forgiveness that frequently accompanies an apology, and how that expectation actually undermines the apology. He writes:
It’s instructive that the ninth step of the Twelve Step program literature (you know, the one that pops up in Seinfeld and other sitcoms—the one about making amends), also doesn’t allude to forgiveness. In fact, none of the 12 steps do.
I think this is because Beck, and the 12-Step program, recognize that life is a messy business. To forgive, one has to have a very clean heart in the first place. And we—I’ll be clean here and just say I—rarely do.
If I’m in a rush to forgive people, I most likely am still judging them for some harm they did to me. If I’m consternated about being forgiven, well, that’s all about me; and apologies don’t come from a good place if they’re all about me.
Apologies should not be tainted by forgiving, or by seeking forgiveness. Those have their place, but it’s elsewhere.
A good apology tries to set aright something that you set awry by impinging on another’s will. It’s only appropriate that the apology itself refrain from further imposition of will. Hence the separation from forgiving or forgiveness.
Thinking about this has made me wonder about whether law firms ever really discuss handling mistakes or, better yet, provide training to their lawyers. Mistakes are such a taboo topic that most firms seem to operate on the premise that they only happen to other firms. Yet every day we read about one firm or another being sued on account of matters that certainly appear like ones that could have been worked out. Time to rethink the issue.