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What To Do When Things Go Really Wrong

There will be moments in your legal career when things go wrong. Maybe even the devastatingly, “the sky is falling” sort of wrong. It may be that a judge made an awful decision that kills your big case; it may be that a client just dropped a bombshell on you; maybe opposing counsel just sunk your battleship with an insane legal maneuver; or it may be that you just made a really, really bad mistake. Whatever the case, when things go wrong you need to be ready to handle the issue head on. Clearly, ignoring the problem is not an option.

1. Take a Deep Breath

First things first, get your head straight before you do anything else. The worst thing you can do is make things worse by reacting without fully thinking out what you are doing and why you are doing it. Take a deep breath and step away from the problem long enough to center yourself. In the meantime, don’t DO anything. You don’t want to dig yourself a deeper hole.

2. Evaluate The Situation

Once you’re operating on a cool head, it’s time to evaluate your situation. Of course, it’s sometimes impossible to completely disassociate yourself from the problem you’re facing. For that reason, it’s beneficial to discuss the problem with a disinterested and reliable colleague (so long as you don’t violate any attorney-client confidentiality in doing so). They’ll probably be better able to provide you with an unbiased perspective of the issue.

Either way, start by evaluating the real severity of the issue. Is it as bad as you think? There is a very good chance that no matter how bad things seem right now, they aren’t quite as bad as they appear. On many cases, your disinterested colleague will tell you as much.

While evaluating your situation, it’s also worth considering the possibility that you have misread the situation. After all, in many cases our initial impressions of a situation are not particularly accurate. If necessary, gather more information. Seek clarification where necessary or possible. Make sure you are seeing the “big picture” and not making a mountain out of a mole hill.

And remember, at the end of the day it’s not the end of the world. Over the course of your career you will lose clients, you will lose cases, and you will face setbacks of all shapes and sizes. However, in the end, you’ll almost certainly get through this and be able to look back upon everything as nothing more than a bad memory.

3. Evaluate Your Options

Once you are certain you understand your situation, it’s time to evaluate all of your options. Is there anything you can do to address the situation? Is an appeal possible? Is there a motion you can file for reconsideration (such as a motion for reconsideration due to surprise, neglect, or excusable mistake)? Don’t hurry this step, it’s important that you’ve truly considered all of your options before you act.

Once you’ve determined a course of action, consider how you want to approach this course of action. Remember to keep a cool head and think strategically and thoughtfully about your actions. It’s not just important to decide what you’re going to do, it’s equally important to decide how you are going to do it.

Ultimately, dealing with these sorts of bombshells is part of your job description as an attorney. While it may feel good to lash out at the source of the problem (especially when the problem is an opposing counsel, a judge, or even a difficult client), it’s never a good idea to do so. In the end, you’ll find more satisfaction knowing that you made the best out of a difficult situation.

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