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How to Discuss Mistakes with Clients


Mistakes are an unavoidable part of life, but they can be particularly difficult to handle when they involve your client’s case. Whether you’re an attorney, paralegal, or legal support staff – there may be occasions where you have to relay news of an internal error. Client communication is always critical for the legal industry, but it is especially important when mistakes are involved.

In this article, we’re going to provide tips you can use to discuss mistakes with your clients.

Let’s get started!

#1 – Refer to the Supervising Attorney

The difficult task of delivering bad news always falls to the supervising attorney. This is because the attorney in charge is ultimately responsible for the mistakes of their team. For that reason, support staff should not attempt to discuss mistakes with the client without first consulting the supervising attorney.

Under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the supervising attorney has a duty to inform clients of the lawyer’s material error. While support staff should not go so far as to conceal mistakes from the client, the supervising attorney should be given enough time to determine how they’d like to inform the client of the situation.

#2 – Personalize Your Approach

As the supervising attorney, it’s a good idea to personalize your approach for communicating mistakes based on previous experience with the client. While many attorneys prefer in-person meetings for sharing bad news, social distancing measures and COVID-safety procedures may necessitate a phone call or video conference. Consider whether the client has expressed a preference for a specific method of communication and build from there.

#3 – Offer Empathy and Sincerity

Attorneys and other legal professionals can be notoriously slow to apologize because it is seen as an expression of liability. However, when you’ve made a mistake, a sincere apology is one of the best ways to show your clients that you understand their feelings and frustrations. At the same time, you must refrain from making conversation about yourself. The client might be scared and angry, but they won’t feel confident in their representation if you tell them that you’re feeling the same way. This is where step #4 comes in!

#4 – Be Prepared to Rectify the Error

Some mistakes can’t be fixed immediately, but in many cases, lawyers can try to fix the error before disclosing it. Rule 1.4 states that “a lawyer may not withhold information to serve the lawyer’s own interest or convenience or the interests or convenience of another person.” Under this rule, temporarily withholding the information may be justified. If you can resolve the issue before bringing it up to the client, you’ll set yourself up for a much better outcome.

If you cannot resolve the issue in a timely manner, be prepared to fall on your sword with the court. After learning about the mistake, your client will want to know how it will impact their case moving forward. Be ready to submit a sworn declaration to the court admitting to the mistake if necessary.

Final Thoughts

Thanks for reading! We hope this article has given you some strategies you can use to discuss mistakes with your legal clients. While mistakes are probably an infrequent occurrence, taking responsibility for them is the best way to repair the attorney-client relationship. If you enjoyed this article, let us know on social media!

Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns. At First Legal, we’re here for you from File Thru Trial™!

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