If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you will know that I am a big fan of what I call “overwhelming positivity”. From that vantage point I find that life is more enjoyable, opportunities (both professional and personal) abound more, I have more energy, and the people around me are generally a bit more pleasant.
But Some Days Simply Suck
The reality of any professional practice (lawyers are hardly unique here) is that some days, weeks or even months are just terrible. They task even the most positive of us with stress beyond belief, and desperately clinging to some kind of false happiness in the face of such events ultimately causes more harm than good.
If you still live in a world where you think that bad things don’t happen to good people, then I’ll help you out with a list of just a few things that can stuff up your day as a lawyer (yes – all of these are from personal experience):
- Clients decide not to pay a big bill, leaving you up the proverbial creek without the required instrument when you try to explain it to your boss;
- You find out that you stuffed something up, or that somebody else stuffed something up and you have to fix it;
- A client complains about your conduct to your boss;
- A judge threatens to make a personal costs order against you;
- Someone quits that you didn’t want to quit;
- Office politics or HR issues get in the way of accomplishing things;
- You can’t find an answer to a question that you know must have an answer;
- You realise that, despite your own ego, other people are smarter than you (this can be quite confronting).
Of particular concern are those issues where our personal pride is battered about. These are the ones where we have done something wrong, missed something, forgotten something or had it pointed out to us that there is a problem in our work product. As a notoriously self-confident profession we can be particularly affected by these issues as it becomes apparent that we are not infallible.
What’s the Point?
The point is this: bad days are useful too.
Sure, those days won’t make you feel good. That sinking sensation in the pit of your stomach as your failure gradually dawns upon you can be quite painful.
However, except for the most egregious breaches, those days are also unlikely to be career-ending.
So, What to Do?
In a sense the suggestions I’m about to make could be a little trite. I don’t claim any great wisdom in this area, but what I have I offer to you:
- Don’t sit on the stuff up – go and tell someone who needs to know immediately. Firstly, there’s a good chance they will be able to assist with the client (if a client is involved) but somebody else needs to know. This is not a time to stew on the issue. However – don’t just go with a problem – make sure you have taken a few rational minutes to consider the solution that you suggest.
- Roll with the punches. Trying to create a battle here will only result in frustration and somebody (probably you) looking stupid. Instead, take the hit and roll with it – get to the best solution possible as fast as possible.
- Don’t let your personal pride take station over your client’s interests. You’ve still got a job to do, and the fact that somebody on the other side is irrational is not relevant. Your duty to your client is not affected by them complaining, nor does it take second chair just because the Judge fires up at you (or whatever the case may be). Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgment (yes I’m sounding a little Yoda-esque about now)
- If it’s your fault, then it’s your fault. Blaming other people for your own mistake is a massive character flaw, and will have a longer term detriment on your career than most mistakes would in the first place. If you signed it, produced it, submitted it, relied upon it – then it’s yours. It’s not your secretaries, nor the law clerks, nor anybody else.
- Tomorrow is another day. Take some time, work through the issue, learn from it, and then get on with your life. Sure some things take longer to work through than others, but you’ve got to get over them, even if you don’t forget them.
- Enjoy your good days even more, once you’ve had a few bad ones. When you have a good win, a big matter, an effective presentation – take some time to enjoy the feeling and use it to encourage you.
The obvious thing (and so often repeated that I nearly didn’t write it here) is to learn from the issue and find a way of avoiding it in the future. Not everything can be avoided, but many can. For example, most client issues come back to poor communication. Don’t just get lost in the complaint, but find a strategy (if possible) to make the next time a lower risk experience.
If you’ve got any help for the rest of us about getting through the rough patches, then please let me know – I know I could use some more, and I’m sure everyone else could too!
Happy Lawyering (even on the bad days!)