Mistakes Happen: Dealing with the Fallout

“Mistakes happen.” We hear this all the time and yet when we make a mistake we feel terrible and sometimes beat ourselves up over it. I am here to tell you that mistakes are expected. We are all human and we all make mistakes. It’s what you do with those mistakes, after the mistake is made, that matters.
When you make a mistake you should give yourself a few minutes to feel sorry for yourself and beat yourself up if that’s what you want to do.  However, you should not dwell on it and after a short time you MUST spring into action.
  1. Figure out why  – Why did this mistake happen?  Was it because you are understaffed? Sometimes when we get really busy and there are a lot of deadlines on our plates we tend to rush through our everyday work and mistakes usually happen.  If you notice, most mistakes happen in the simplest tasks; making copies, counting days for a response, missing a deadline on discovery etc. Make sure you understand why you made the mistake.
  2. Make a plan – come up with a plan to solve the mistake or at least correct it. Sometimes we get so caught up in the mistake and how badly we feel that we forget that the mistake still needs to be remedied. Don’t dwell on what’s been done. Think about going forward.
  3. Going forward  come up with a few ideas to implement that will ensure the mistake won’t happen again. Could you get another paralegal or secretary to look at your documents to make sure that all the copies are there and the Bate Stamp numbers are in order?  Could you implement some check points to make sure the deadlines are not missed?  Maybe recording the dates on two different calendars, one that you carry with you at all times.  I use my smart phone and have a calendar dedicated to “work.” could you set your email to send you reminders?
  4. Report your mistake – this one, I have to admit, is the most difficult one. I don’t like letting people down and I really like my attorneys so when I make a mistake I feel I let them down. Of course this is not the right thinking, I am, after all human, and am bound to make mistakes. However, letting them know you made a mistake is the most important step.
The last one is, in fact the most important step to remember.  Even if you think you can correct the mistake you made, and for most of us, this is the case. It is always important to let your manager know about it. Who knows there may be other issues of which you are not aware that may be involved if something went wrong.
If you want your manager to take you seriously as a professional you need to demonstrate that you are working on improving your skills. Making mistakes, is a part of the growing process of a good paralegal, of a good professional, for that matter.
“I’ve learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success.” Jack Welch.
When you walk into your manager’s office, armed with the reason as to why the mistake happened and a plan of attack to improve the process and remediate the mistake, you demonstrate that, although you missed something you have taken the time to think about what happened and thought of ideas to fix the problem. On top of it all, you were not afraid of admitting your error which shows maturity and professionalism on your part. In my book, that counts for a lot.
What was one mistake that you made and how did you handle it?

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