Legal Career First Aid: What to Do When Things Go Wrong

Legal Career First Aid

Few successful legal careers can claim a flawless record. Even the best and brightest make mistakes, fall short or experience failure. One measure of success, then, is how you deal with and learn from a low point. Here's some advice on turning a setback into a springboard to success.

Deal with how you feel.

Maybe an important case or client was lost because of your mistake, or you didn’t get the promotion you had expected. Whatever the cause of your setback, it’s natural to feel hurt and disappointed immediately afterward. Don’t bottle up how you feel. Give yourself some time to talk about things with somebody you trust.

Self-examination is essential as you sort through your feelings. If your own lack of effort played a role, accept that and resolve to do better next time. If you tried hard and still missed the mark, don’t blame yourself. You gave it your all, so there is nothing to regret. And if others impeded your progress, don’t point fingers or wallow in a victim mentality. Lingering resentment and self-pity will only drag you down. Instead, look ahead.

Improve yourself.

Bounce back from your disappointment with a solid understanding of and appreciation for the lessons learned.

Enroll in appropriate CLE or other courses to bring your skills up to speed, if that’s what caused the setback. Or find a mentor to help guide you through this situation and the next stage of your career. Some legal workplaces have mentorship programs in place. If not, ask a colleague or somebody from your networking group whom you trust. It’s important they understand you as an individual as well as the type of work you do.

Repair relationships.

Major mistakes can affect your clients, your colleagues and your firm or company, too. If you need to rebuild bridges, it’s best to act quickly. Call face-to-face meetings with anyone directly affected by your actions and take responsibility. Discuss what you hope to do to improve the situation, and explain what you plan to do in the future to avoid a repeat. The good news is relationships that have survived turbulent times can often emerge even stronger than before.

Change your scenery.

Some setbacks are such humdingers that, while they may not spell the end of your legal career, they may bring a close to the current chapter. Whether you’re being forced out of your current role or choosing to move on to a new legal job, changing your environment doesn’t signal a black mark on your career. Think of it as an opportunity to put a low point behind you and start afresh.

Recovering from setbacks shows maturity, and many recruiters will appreciate that. But don’t burn bridges when you move on. Leaving in anger may feel good in the moment, but the elation will be short-lived. Look to the future as you say goodbye to the past, and any residual anger or regret will transform into excitement about what comes next as you rise once more to advance your legal career.

Nobody enjoys major setbacks, but successful professionals learn how to handle them in a positive, proactive manner.  Move on from your disappointments, show those you’ve let down that you’re a problem solver, and begin acting on the lessons you’ve learned.

Have you recovered from a setback in your legal career? Share your advice in the comments section below.