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Uh oh . . . You made a mistake

Posted By Paula Steffey, PP, CLP-SC, Tuesday, January 3, 2017

You Made A MistakeAs legal support staff, we should all strive for perfection.  However, sometimes mistakes will happen.  As my current boss has told me several times, everyone makes mistakes.  It is how you handle the mistake that makes the difference. 


What would you do if you discovered a mistake after a document was sent out?  Would you make the corrections, resend it, and not say a word?  From my personal experience, I have found it better to “fess up” that you discovered a mistake and ask your attorney how this situation should be handled.  Chances are that, if it was in a simple cover letter, the attorney will just say do not worry about it.  If it is in a document that will need to be signed, then I can almost say for certain your attorney will want to send a separate letter outlining the correction and provide a revised document.


Was the mistake you made a missed deadline?  In the pit of your stomach you know that it could be thrown out or not be admissible.  Once you realize you missed the deadline, would you file it anyway and not tell your attorney?  If the document was a response to a request for admissions, which must be filed with the court within 28 days or they are deemed admitted, that is a consequence that could make or break the case and the attorney definitely needs to know.


What if your mistake was by omission such as forgetting to attach the document to an email or enclose it in the envelope?  Do you quickly resend the email with the attachment, but not copy your attorney on the email hoping he will not figure it out?  This usually backfires because that new email you sent will likely get forwarded to your attorney with a reply.  He is going to find out and it would be better to have him find out from you personally.  This example may sound ridiculous, but I worked for an attorney who would get very upset when one of his support staff would do that and she did it frequently which irritated him even more.


Also, you should always double-check the attachments and enclosures. Attach them to the email first before you begin writing and add the email address for the recipient last so it does not accidentally get sent before you are ready to hit send.  When processing the outgoing mail, it is always a good idea to reread the letter to make sure you are enclosing all of the attachments.  


It is not just the support staff who can make a mistake.  Attorneys are starting to type and/or edit more of their own work.  Attorneys are human and can make mistakes too.  Do you correct the letter or document before it gets sent out to make your attorney look and sound better?  Do you tell your attorney that you did it?  If it just needs some typos or punctuation corrected, that may be okay with him, but did your corrections change the substance?  It may or may not have so it is important to bring the corrections to the attorney’s attention.


I am sure we have all seen a letter come into the office with grammatical errors and typos.  Is it the legal support staff who made the mistake or possibly the attorney who wants it that way no matter what?  That is hard to say, but I would not criticize too much because you never know when a letter you drafted will come across their desk.  Will yours be perfect?


Obviously, the key to avoiding mistakes is taking your time—even when there is not time—and proofread your work. 


When I was 18 and started my first full-time job, my supervisor had a sign in his office with a very catchy quote.  I have always remembered that quote:  If you do not have time to do it right the first time, when are you going to have time to do it over?



Paula Steffey, PP, CLP-SC, has been a member since 2014.  She is currently the co-chair for the Programs and Reservations committees and the chairperson for the Attorney Directory project on the Ways and Means committee with NALS of Greater Kalamazoo in Michigan.  Paula is also very active at the state level and is currently serving as the Executive Secretary for NALS of Michigan and, for more excitement, is the chairperson for the Finance Committee.  In June she took over as the chairperson for the Marketing Committee.  After attending the national conference in October, she submitted her application for a secondary membership with NALS of Phoenix and hopes to be as active as possible from a distance.  She also joined the Editorial Board.  Outside of NALS she is a full-time legal assistant to attorney Garold A. Goidosik with Goidosik Morse Disability Law Group and has two other part-time jobs.  One of those part-time jobs is her own crafting company where she sells her hand-crocheted items.  Besides work and NALS, she is married with two children of her own, a stepdaughter, and two very spoiled golden retrievers who are retired show dogs. 


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Comments on this post...

September D. Holmblad PP PLS says...
Posted Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Great article, thank you. I've made my fair share of mistakes, especially recently. Always, always, always, "fess up." It's for the best, especially if it is a deadline. My two major mistakes are (1) forgetting the attachment (that’s not so bad) and (2) sending an email to the wrong person (bad!!). I need to slow down, especially when sending emails. I do a lot of "delay" emails. I have found that some clients tend to respond right away and there's no time to move on to a new project. At least with delay messages, I can catch a mistake before it goes, it gives me a chance to double check my outbox.
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Communications Profile says...
Posted Tuesday, January 10, 2017
That's a great idea, September! I like the delayed send messages.
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Brenda Carver says...
Posted Tuesday, January 10, 2017
I especially liked the suggestion of adding the email address last. I tend to click send before adding the attachment. If I don't have time to do it right the first time, I definitely don't have time to do it again! Loved the quote. Where can I get that sign!?!?
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Amylyn Riedling PP PLS-SC2019 NALS Board of Directors
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