I have lost count of the number of posts that I have written which concern solicitors who have seen their careers brought to an end through misguided efforts to cover up a mistake. Today’s case is unusual because it involves an experienced solicitor who might have been expected to know better. Michael Maoileoin had simply recorded the wrong date for a court hearing. He had diarised the 14th and not the 4th August. Who hasn’t done that? Rather than admit what had happened he filed a statement with the court asserting that a document had been filed in error. The truth eventually came out – it always does. The unfortunate Mr Maoileoin has been struck off at just 50.
His explanation to the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal was that he had been under stress at the time. The SRA told the Tribunal that stress and pressure were occupational hazards.
Harsh as it sounds, that must be right. Lying to the court is only ever going to end badly. I have said this over and over again – an early acknowledgment of a mistake can save a lot of worry and in some cases can save a career. It is so sad that a professional person can get into such a state that rational thinking goes out of the window.
So how do we manage the pressure?
Here are five tips from a blog that I posted a long time ago on how to practice law and sleep at night.
It is not a comprehensive list but might be helpful –
1. In the famous words of Michael Jackson - You are not alone. Find someone that you can talk to – it is so easy to be isolated in your little cell. Surrounded by files, emails, deadlines, telephone messages, meetings. To get into that mindset that says ‘I have no time to speak to anyone’. You have. And if you haven’t then make it. 20 mins speaking to someone will get you hours of payback in avoiding sleepless nights. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a problem is never anywhere near as bad when you talk to someone about it. Especially someone who has been there, which if we are honest is all of us! Speak to someone. Right away. Turn your computer off and go and do it now.
2. Be generous in giving files away. That file that you are scared to look at. The one that has been festering by the side of your desk so long that even the spiders won’t go near it. Give it to someone. It won’t go away on its own. If you can’t look at it, find someone who can. Many solicitors have a file swapping arrangement. I’ll give you mine; you give me yours. Don’t hog matters to protect your bills. You can be far more productive by liberating yourself. Don’t be scared of being criticised. You won’t be. You are more likely to be told – ‘Leave it with me and while you’re there can you look at this one of mine.’
3. See the wood for the trees. It is never as bad as you think it is at 3.00am. The world will not end. I’ve been a lawyer since 1st April 1980. I have had more 3.00am moments than I like to admit – especially in the early days. Guess what? I’m still here. I’m still alive. I have got to an age where I can say. ‘Phew oblivion never happened.’ It was never going to and never will.
4. If you need to – confess. If you think the worst has happened – you've missed a deadline and can’t think of a way out. Then tell someone. Today’s is just the next in line of those nightmare cases where lawyers have tried to cover up and been struck off because they were scared to own up. No one was ever struck off for admitting a mistake. Partners, supervisors, insurers will never bite your head off for coming clean. And if they do they shouldn’t be in the job. It also means that it is no longer just your problem. Get it out there and do it as soon as possible. The consequences are less scary than you think and much less stressful than waking up at night or even jeopardising your hard earned career.
5. Get a life. Don’t get sucked into that bubble where your legal world becomes all consuming. Being a lawyer is what you do. It is not who you are. See your work as part of your life but not everything. Develop interests and friends outside the pressure cooker. I support Everton. That can very stressful and cause sleepless nights. But it is something different. I love music and photography. I also waste far too much time on social media!
Don’t ever be silent or isolated. Speak to me if you have no-one else!