When Marc asked me to take care of sending a waiver of service to counsel for PeerViews lawyer in the trademark lawsuit we filed, I figured it would be easy. Then I went ahead and screwed it up. It was a valuable reminder that, in law practice, you must sweat the small stuff, especially if you haven’t done it before.

How to send a waiver of service improperly

I checked Rule 4, downloaded the form and filled it out, put it in an envelope with the summons and complaint, and put the package in the mail. Here was the response:

This letter is to inform you that the Waiver of the Service of Summons is deficient and we are thus unable to accept service of such Waiver . . . .

Since opposing counsel did not explain how I screwed up, I asked. Her reponse was not much help:

Please provide complete and accurate service pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 4.

So I re-read the rule, took a look at what I sent, and decided I forgot to send a second copy of the waiver and a self-addressed, stamped envelope. I added those to the same stack of paper I sent before and tried again. And got this response:

The form we received yesterday is again incorrect as I am not “plaintiffs attorney.”

In short, her quibble was with a typo in a document that is available as a fillable PDF form on every federal court’s website. But whatever, I definitely screwed up. It was my typo. I emailed the fillable PDF version and finally got back the signed waiver. I breathed a sigh of relief and called it a lesson learned.

Lessons learned

First. Sweat the small stuff. In law practice, the details matter. Even seemingly simple tasks can be deceptively complicated. (Seriously, who knew it would be so easy to screw up a waiver of service?) it pays to double—or triple—check everything. The best attorneys I know approach every legal question as if it were a new one, even if they probably know the answer already. If you do this, you will often find the question was not as simple as it first appeared—but you won’t miss much.

Second. When you are doing something for the first time, you might as well be a first-year attorney, no matter how experienced you are otherwise. I have been a full-time civil litigator for about eight years, mostly in federal court. But even though I have handled plenty of federal cases, I had never done a waiver of service.

Mistakes happen. As long as you do learn, and as long as the mistakes can be corrected, that is how you learn—especially as a solo practitioner. But many mistakes can be avoided (or fixed) if you have a solid mentor and colleagues to consult.

Perhaps most important, do not try to hide your mistakes. Own them.

Third. Sometimes, cut opposing counsel some slack. There was no good reason—and nothing to be gained—by opposing counsel’s refusal to point out my errors when I asked. It was not a mistake that could help PeerViews win; it just resulted in unnecessary work on both sides.

When you can move things along by giving opposing counsel a little help, do it.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fuschia_foot/1137365267/)