Mistakes happen …

I’ve just read an excellent post by Gordon Exall on his Civil Litigation Brief blog. You can read it here. You should read it – but in a minute, after you’ve finished mine 🙂

It talks about what can happen “when it all gets too much” and a litigator goes off the rails, addressing what law firms can do to avoid this and how to deal with it when it happens.

It talks about how firms can try to pitch their  fee earners’ caseloads at the right level, gives lots of ideas about what to do when things start to go wrong and emphasises how the right culture can catch mistakes as they begin to happen, before someone goes off the rails and tries to cover up.


Numbers 8 and 9 really resonated with me – “learn from experience” and “encouraging candour will save much time and money in the long term”.

Failure imprints learning better than success and recognising, analysing and solving mistakes helps to create an efficient, effective and profitable organisation.

There is still a great temptation within law firms to put mistakes down to individuals failings – failure of *that* lawyer to try hard enough, work hard enough, keep up with current law, ask for help when needed – when in fact senior managers should step back and see all near misses and mistakes in their organisations as opportunities for learning, to help them to create a better, more resilient law firm.

Many law firms would benefit from:

  • improving their culture around mistakes
    • they should be easy to admit, and
    • they should be seen as learning opportunities
  • improving their root cause analysis
    • when I studied my MBA we were never allowed to blame “lack of time” or “poor communication” when looking for causes of mistakes
  • having on-going KM projects to facilitate the trusting networks between their fee earners, so that everyone has someone to talk to about tricky problems
    • fee earners need to know who is a true expert in what, and
    • they need to trust those they approach.

So, in practical terms, what can you do? A few thoughts …

Improve access to experts by

  • having a White Pages/internal directory of *true* experts available – a directory which lists senior-juniors as well as partners (someone in trouble may be unwilling to admit lack of knowledge/mistakes to them);
  • mapping knowledge experts in a way that is easily accessible. More here;
  • improving access to experts – the “ask-an-expert coffee morning” is a great project – simple and the conversations are often chargeable.

Improve connections and networks by

  • breaking silos and crossing department lines where possible (Why is that training on procedure just for clinical negligence litigators? Would it benefit commercial litigators and PI too?);
  • add serendipity, using projects such as the RCT. More info here and a free e-book here.

Improve trust through conversation

  • using knowledge cafes, talk rooms, knowledge fairs, ask-an-expert coffee mornings.

Improve reflective learning by

I hope this post helps somewhat and adds some practical ideas to Gordon’s own practical post, from a different viewpoint.

To learn more about Knowledge Management in law firms (including learning and development and process management), read a textbook, come on a training day, follow the blog (top right button) or sign up to the busy-person’s monthly summary.

About knowledge4lawyers

I am a lawyer and a Knowledge Management expert. Through The Knowledge Business I help law firms improve their efficiency and profitability through knowledge services - consultancy, training and implementation help.
This entry was posted in KM, Training and learning and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Mistakes happen …

  1. An interesting and related post by Nick Milton on blame and the substitution test.

    ‘Given the circumstances that prevailed at the time, could you be sure that you would not have committed the same or a similar type of unsafe act?’
    If the answer is ‘probably not’, then blame is inappropriate.  

    Read more: http://www.nickmilton.com/2017/02/the-substitution-test-for-learning-from.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s