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 naïve 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)