Know thyself

Simon Myerson Q.C., who writes at Pupillage and how to get it, has been talking about self-criticism.

Although he’s speaking mostly in the context of interviews for pupillage (the final stage of a barrister’s training), his advice is good and much more widely applicable.

This is an issue I used to force under my own pupils’ noses. If you lose a case, the temptation is to blame your client, your opponent, the witnesses and the Judge. It may all be true. But 99.9% of the time there is something which you could have done to make a difference. People who are going to be good barristers cannot afford to be frightened of the process of self-criticism which identifies what that is.

This is a very good habit to get into. You’re not perfect, and you’re never going to be – because no-one is – but the way to improve is to identify some of your imperfections and do your best to fix them. This will not make you perfect, but it will make you better.

As Simon acknowledges, this is not a comfortable process. The best way of dealing with that is to make it a routine. At the end of every case, just spend five minutes thinking about whether you made any mistakes and whether you should do anything differently next time.

How you do this is a very personal thing. You might want to keep a diary, or talk about it with someone you trust, or just make a mental note on the train home. You might even start a blog.

There are a few warnings about this.

First, remember that you can only do one thing at a time. Trying to analyse your performance during a hearing is rarely a good idea. You will be far too close to it to draw sensible conclusions, much less implement them. You will just end up making yourself more stressed.

This is subtly different to seeing how a case is going and adjusting accordingly. Broadly, if you are planning what to do next, you’re okay. If you are beating yourself up about what you have already done, you need to get your head back in the game.

Secondly, remember the making mistakes or being less than perfect is not the same as professional negligence. Negligence – in very broad terms – is making a serious and stupid mistake, which means you have failed in your duty to your client. There is sometimes a tendency, both in clients and lawyers, to regard all imperfections as negligent. This is just not the case.

Of course, this post is aimed at people who are, or who want to be, professional representatives, and can be assumed to want to get as good at the job as it is in them to be. If you are a litigant in person you want to win your case. If you catch yourself wanting to become a better litigant long-term, find another hobby – fast.

One Reply to “Know thyself”

  1. Thanks for the link and the general approval. I agree with your comments too – I tend to do my thinking on the walk back from Court to Chambers. This can involve some fairly large detours…

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