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October 30 2020

5 top tips for coping with professional mistakes

Legal Career Tips

James Bosson

James Bosson

5 top tips for coping with professional mistakes

Making mistakes is an unavoidable part of any professional journey - and the legal industry is no exception. Despite this, it can still be difficult to own up to mistakes when they happen, and many junior legal professionals are unsure how to address them. Fortunately, for October’s Junior Lawyer Lunch in collaboration with Crafty Counsel and LexisNexis UK we tackled the difficult topic of ‘Embracing Failure’ head on. The zoom discussion was held between our very own F-LEX CEO Mary Bonsor, Leigh Kirkpatrick - Managing Legal Counsel at RBS, Kate Hawker - Head of Legal at Starbucks UK, Monica Risam - General Counsel at Lombard International, and Victoria Wells - Director of Operations and Interim General Counsel at Entrepreneur First.

Some great themes emerged in the call, which I have summarised into 5 top tips below:

1) Think of mistakes as learning opportunities

The foremost point our panel kept referring back to was to think of mistakes as learning opportunities. If making mistakes is inevitable - make the most of them! Instead of beating yourself up over something that went wrong, try to find a positive take away and learn what you can do better next time. It’s not constantly growing and improving, not about nailing it the first time round. Remember: you’ve got to do it wrong to do it right!

2) Keep an open dialogue about mistakes

In an ideal working environment, mistakes and learning opportunities could be discussed head-on without anyone feeling attacked - but this is often easier said than done. To help achieve this, it’s important to remember that feedback doesn’t have to be negative. Framing is key here. Instead of having a discussion about things being done wrong, try having a discussion about how they can be done differently. This turns the discussion into a collaborative team effort to improve, instead of a hard reflective analysis of specific things going wrong.

3) Be a supportive team player

If you want your team to feel comfortable talking through their mistakes, having a healthy team dynamic is essential. This is everyone’s responsibility - from the most senior to the most junior people in a team. There’s never a point where everyone knows everything - so make sure everyone is treated as professional adults solving problems together, instead of in a parent / child dynamic. Listen, learn, and collaborate. This leads us neatly onto our final two points.

4) Lead by example

Senior figures in a workplace have a responsibility to chart a course and steer the ship. If they want juniors to feel comfortable owning up to mistakes then it’s important to lead by example. A senior figure on a team openly admitting to something they’ve done wrong and facilitating a discussion around it can be really powerful. A team can, and should, work through things together. It’s up to workplace seniors to make sure everyone is on the same page, and knows that working together when things go wrong is a positive and healthy way to approach mistakes.

5) Take the time to double check

As a junior figure in a workplace, it’s okay to not always understand how things work. If you’re not perfectly clear on how something works or what you’re being asked to do - ask! It can be tricky sometimes, especially if working remotely, but taking a little bit of extra time to make sure you fully understand something is always time well spent. You might be surprised at how generous people can be with their time! It’s also well worth discussing mistakes as learning opportunities with other colleagues of a similar level. A good working culture is supported by smaller subcultures, and engaging in these discussions in smaller groups really helps.

So there we have it; 5 simple tips that can help you cope with the daunting and unavoidable obstacle of making mistakes in a professional setting. There’s infinitely more that could be exploring on this topic, so we’ve included some handy extra resources at the bottom of this post. If you’re interested in taking part in the next Junior Lawyer Lunch, you can register your interest by using the eventbrite link here.

Additional resources: