Be a lawyer, not a liar

Competing priorities, clients and managerial requests can quickly pile up. Take care not to open the door to risk. What do you do if it all goes wrong?

You’ve sent out 15 letters, the phonecalls have been non-stop and you haven’t had lunch. Your supervisor has asked you to carry out some research for an exciting case they are working on and you’re thrilled you were chosen to do it. You take a pause and suddenly realise that a letter you thought you’d sent to the court three days ago didn’t go out. What do you do?

At first glance, this may not seem like the most terrible thing to have happened. We’re not talking about theft of client money or racism. Sitting at your desk and taking a moment out, it could seem obvious what to do in this situation. But some lawyers get it horribly wrong, costing them their careers, as one lawyer found out in May this year.

Principle 3 of the Code of Conduct requires lawyers to behave with honesty and integrity, and is arguably one of the most important principles of the Code. Outcome 3.2 of the Code steers you to reflect on your actions, asking you to not intentionally mislead anyone you deal with.

So, what do you do in the above situation? The letter to the court needs to be sent, but if you send it today the deadline will have passed and you will get into a lot of trouble. To give you a chance of holding on to your career:

  • don’t ignore it; and
  • don’t alter, amend or change anything,

or everything you hold dear about your reputation will shatter before your eyes.

It’s not easy admitting to mistakes, but they can be rectified if you catch them early. Firms and businesses you work for have insurance in place to deal with car-crash situations. Trust is built up over time but if you dip a toe in the pool of dishonesty, the likelihood is you’re going to sink.

What can you do?

  • Speak to your supervisor or manager immediately
  • Apologise and explain what happened
  • Get their advice and offer to do what it takes to resolve the situation in an open and honest way

What to do before mistakes happen

  • Ask your firm what their policy is on dealing with mistakes
  • Ask your firm for a mentor
  • Review your workload regularly

Everyone makes mistakes, but how you deal with them makes the difference.

Read some of our other Related Features or go directly to the Code.


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