In this site I generally try and keep things positive, as hopefully you have noticed. However, it’s important to sometimes take a look at where things can go wrong, and hopefully use that as a lesson of what to avoid.
With that in mind, we’re going to look at some ways where I think your legal career can really go off the rails.
1. Have No Integrity
This is first and foremost, and some people think it’s obvious. But it’s not.
Losing your integrity (or not having any in the first place) can be subtle thing, because the lines of integrity are sometimes unclear, and sometimes people haven’t been confronted with a situation to test it yet.
Think of these situations and the tension that exists in your options:
- A person has left the firm you work at and you are now involved in one of their files. You make an error, but the the opportunity arises to plausibly say that it was the previous person’s fault. There is no chance anybody will find out or disagree with you. Do you blame your predecessor?
- A client telephones you and puts you on the spot about doing something that you haven’t started yet. Do you tell them “it’s nearly done” or “I’m just finalising a draft”, or do you tell them you haven’t started yet? Bear in mind they won’t know either way.
- There is a typographical error in a letter that goes to a client which they mention to you. You signed the letter, but it was typed by your secretary. Do you take responsibility to the client for the mistake, or say it was the secretary?
These events happen every day and they can be extremely confronting in the blur of the moment. Your natural self-preservation will shriek at you to blame the other person, but is that what somebody of integrity should do?
Integrity is not just about honesty. It’s about doing the right thing even when the consequences might be bad. My best advice is not to even start inching down that path – draw the line right at the start, and don’t go past it.
2. Being a Jerk
This may shock some of you, but not all lawyers are nice. In fact, some are complete jerks. My view is that ultimately it’s going to damage them on both a professional and personal level. I’m not talking about bad days where you feel grumpy – we all have them. I’m talking about where it’s becoming a character trait.
Being a jerk pervades everything in your life. You might think that for a “hard hitting” litigator being a jerk could be a good thing? Well you’re wrong.
The problem is not simply that being a jerk isn’t very nice, but that it’s impossible to limit your behaviour. The more time you spend being awful to people in one context, the more likely you will be awful to other people in other contexts.
That means if you are habitually mean and disagreeable with your colleagues, you’re going to gradually creep towards being horrible to your clients, the Court, other practitioners, and possibly worst – your family.
Keep your character in check. Have somebody you trust tell you if you’re going over a line, and make sure you keep a grip on your behaviour around other people.
3. Letting Go of your Personal Life
There is sometimes an expectation that we’ll be able to compartmentalize our personal and professional lives. However it can’t happen for long.
Time and time again I read about lawyers who have let their personal lives turn into a disaster, which in turn has ruined their professional lives.
Sometimes it’s affairs. Sometimes it’s money problems, disorganisation, personal stress, trauma or other issues.
If you are facing personal issues don’t pretend they don’t affect you as a lawyer – they do, and you are running a high risk of stuffing up your whole career if you don’t take the necessary time to address those issues.
Off we go then.
Just 3 issues today, I’m sure there are many more. If you’ve got any other ways you’ve seen people ruin their careers, let us know in the comments!