Last week, it was front page news about how umpire Jim Joyce blew a call that cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game. After the game, Joyce admitted his mistake and apologized to Galarraga in person. The following day, Galarraga, when asked about Joyce’s apology, responded, “He couldn’t even talk, he was crying. I understand, nobody’s perfect.”
There’s a lesson to be learned from this incident for lawyers. “Nobody’s perfect.” Even the best lawyers make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes can have serious consequences for clients. However, as demonstrated by the “imperfect game,” it is how the people deal with the imperfection, that is most important.
What do you do when you make a mistake? Do you try to cover it up? Do you blame others? Do you admit the error, but attempt to minimize it by not being totally candid with the client? Or do you admit the mistake, accept the responsibility for it, fully explain the consequences to the client, apologize, and then do all that you possibly can to correct the mistake? Needless to say, of the four alternatives, one must do the latter.
As an initial matter, the first three could get you into trouble with your state’s ethics disciplinary officials. However, irrespective of the rules of professional conduct, the last alternative is the “right” and only thing to do. Many lawyers fear the consequences of behaving in that manner. We think we are perfect; we think our clients expect perfection; we fail to put the mistake in perspective.
Back to baseball. Within that world, Joyce mad a huge mistake, but both he and Galarraga handled it with class. The world did not come to an end. There were certainly more important matters on the front page that day such as the BP environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Consequences of Mistakes
Back to practicing law. Human beings make mistakes. Lawyers are human beings (I know there are some lawyer jokes that suggest otherwise). Lawyers make mistakes. The life of a lawyer is stressful enough; there is no need to add to that stress by somehow thinking that you cannot make any mistakes. You can and you will. And while I’m not that naïve to think that there are no clients who expect perfection and will be extremely difficult to deal with when you make a mistake, the reality is that many clients are like Galarraga. They realize that mistakes happen, respect honesty and humility, and place things in perspective. More often than not, clients can be more forgiving than you think.
Today’s lesson. Don’t assume you are perfect. Don’t assume your clients will react unreasonably when you are not. Life goes on.