Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Making Mistakes

Whilst I decry the poor standards of literacy these days, it also extremely entertaining to see the mistakes that are made. This morning I received two items in the post which caused me to laugh out loud. The first was a letter from the NHS National Blood Service telling me about a venue change for my blood donation sessions. It included the sentence, “In order to make this change as inconvenient as possible we have included with this letter a map detailing the new venue.” The second was a catalogue which had, among the many lovely things advertised, a pair of lighthouse bookends. I considered getting these for my brother-in-law, who is passionate about all things maritime, until I read in the description that “these na├»ve bookends will look delightful in any room in the house”. I’m sure James would not appreciate bookends which are immature and innocent about the ways of the world.

Punctuation is a particular minefield. I still laugh to remember the full-page advert printed many years ago for the Prudential Building Society with the tagline, “Were here to help you.”

You may also have read recently that the Co-op was criticised by the Plain English Campaign for selling a product which the label called an “Ambient Sausage Roll”. They have since admitted that this was an error.

As an English graduate, I believe that correct and intelligent use of the language is vital. That’s not to say I haven’t made some howlers in my time. Whilst working as an estate agent I made a typo that led to property details going out for a house which had a “dully fitted kitchen”. I also had something of a problem understanding my boss’s handwriting when transcribing the notes he had scribbled while visiting a property, with the result that the particulars stated that a lovely country cottage had “river frontage with flashing lights.” I later discovered that should have read “river frontage with fishing rights.”

Fortunately my boss at the time was very understanding – I seem to remember he found it very funny. Unfortunately there are those in authority in legal organisations who don’t seem to understand that to err is human, and that occasionally lawyers – especially trainees, pupils, the newly qualified or the overworked and stressed – will make mistakes. Yes, I know that even a small mistake in drafting a document or contract can make a crucial difference, but it is troubling how often we hear from lawyers who are being berated, belittled and bullied over the consequences of what was often, in reality, a very minor mistake. Many have sleepless nights weeks later over a simple error, not because of its consequences to the related matter, but because of the reaction of their colleagues or superiors. Others make mistakes and then get themselves into terrible trouble trying to cover it up – paying shortfalls from their own money, burying files, even leaving the firm in order to avoid the consequences.

As professional as you try to be, it’s inevitable that occasionally you will get something wrong. Don’t let an oversight or blunder become something that kills your career or mental health and wellbeing. If you’re struggling to come to terms with a mistake, free and completely confidential support is available from the LawCare helplines.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)
1800 303145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)

Thursday, 4 February 2010

How to Have a Holiday without the Horror of coming Home

I’m late posting the blog because I had a day off on Monday. The upshot of this was that on Tuesday I returned to a groaning email inbox with five volunteer updates, two volunteer references, a volunteer enquiry, a questionnaire from a journalist, and several other queries to deal with. I’ve only just caught up, and suspect I’ll be busier than usual until Friday.

At LawCare we advise lawyers to take their full holiday entitlement, but many are reluctant to do so because they fear the pile of work to which they might return. A week’s worth of unanswered phone messages; emails from increasingly irate clients whose deadlines are now that little bit closer. Any benefits gained from a week in the sun evaporate at the sight of the mountain of files, folders and paperwork spilling out of the in-tray and across the desk.

A good firm will, of course, arrange for someone else to cover the your work in your absence, or at the very least field emails and phone calls, but it may be necessary for you to organise this yourself. There are several things you can do to ensure that you have a relaxing holiday and don’t need to worry about what you will return to:

  • Let clients know as early as possible that you are taking some time off, and exactly when you will be away.
  • Tell them who will be dealing with your work in your absence, and give them any necessary phone numbers and email addresses.
  • Two or three days before you go away, contact clients to remind them that you are going on holiday and update them on the progress of their matter.
  • Accept that reasonable clients do not expect their lawyer to be available all the time, and unreasonable clients are welcome to go elsewhere.
  • Out-of-office reply is not recommended because it can be used by spammers to harvest your email address, but set your email to forward to your secretary or a colleague.
  • Even if you are simply going boating on the Norfolk Broads, tell anyone you think may be tempted to pester you that you are going backpacking round Africa and there is no mobile signal.
  • Remind yourself that you are not a heart surgeon, and none of the matters on your desk are so ‘life or death’ that they cannot wait a few days.

I managed to finish painting my kitchen on Monday, and now I’m eagerly looking forward to three weeks in America in April. I may miss that blog date entirely…

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)