Be Wrong, Confidently!

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By Murray Gottheil | May 7, 2024

I came across a lawyer the other day who makes mistakes in his communications with clients and the other side. None of the errors will likely land him in too much trouble. They may even be excusable based on the theory that spending too much time trying to be ‘perfect’ is unhealthy and expensive for clients who are being billed based on the amount of time spent on the matter. But they are mistakes nonetheless, and they could all be caught with a bit more thought and proof-reading.

This post is not about whether lawyers should be perfect. Instead, I want to address how lawyers react when their mistakes are pointed out to them. The lawyer I came across had his mistakes pointed out by his client and was defensive. He tried to justify why the mistakes had been made and said that he had also caught them and would have corrected them before the document was delivered to opposing counsel. Frankly, it was a bad look on him.

I might have done the same in my first few years of practice. At the time, my self-confidence was not stellar and it was important to me that everyone thought I was perfect.

By the end of my career, I would have thanked the client for catching the error and maybe said that I was embarrassed but grateful that they had caught it.

The same goes for clients asking questions that the lawyer does not know the answer to off the top of their head. In my early days, I would have been shy about admitting that I did not have the answer and perhaps said something about wanting to check a final detail before responding. By the end of my career I would say, “Let me ask someone smarter than me and get back to you.”

Self-confidence is key to success in the legal profession. It may be counter-intuitive, but the more confident that you are, the more willing you are to admit your mistakes or your lack of knowledge.

All that being said, proof-read your damn emails. Your clients may not be able to judge your legal acumen, but they can and will judge you on things that they do understand, such as your ability to spell and use proper grammar. And when they find that lacking, they will question your legal advice as well.

Murray is a happily retired lawyer who lives in the country, drives a pick-up truck, writes, teaches and mentors. You can reach him at [email protected] or see what he is up to at


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1 Comment

  1. I might add that constantly striving to bring value to the table leads to self-confidence. But your point is so well-taken. Clients read your emails. If they’re poorly done it screams carelessness and they will ascribe that lack of care to other things that you do. You are always on display.

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