Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Value of Mistakes

I'm a big believer in learning by making mistakes. In my experience, you learn a hell of a lot more by screwing up. When you screw up, you never make the same mistake again.

So let me set up the scene. I've got a couple of cases with one young associate, who I will call C. About a month ago, I noticed that we had a whole bunch of stuff due in these cases starting around December 1 and going through the end of the month. C is crazy motivated and a good worker, by the way. I informed him then to let me or others on the case know what he wanted us to do as far as everything due. Yes, I'll take assignments from an associate. What does it matter? We are a team. We give motivated associates responsibility around my firm. At that time, C told me he would go through it and let me know.

I asked him a couple more times over the past few weeks, and sort of warned him that I didn't appreciate last minute dumping on. He assured me he had it under control. For a couple of things, he did, the work was good, and all was served smoothly.

However, when it came to our infringement contentions, due tomorrow (all right, it's after midnight, so now today), he did not. He sent them to me this morning, and after I finished the brief I was working on, I looked at them at around noon for the first time.

Infringement contentions are used to lay out our entire case. They are Very Important. I don't like getting a first draft of them from a newer associate the day before they are due. Partially my bad for not asking for it sooner, I'll admit. To be honest, I have so much other stuff going on, I kind of forgot about these. His work was not bad. In fact, many other partners I work with would've given him clearance to serve.

I am not those people. I am a crazy perfectionist. I'm ridiculous, I'll admit. But, don't put a hyperlink in a claim chart you are serving by PDF. Attach an exhibit. Make sure you aren't just putting in bullshit. You have to prove the contentions. Every single claim element. If you are unsure, ask the client. I want detail!

God. I spent about 7 hours redoing them while he was at a deposition. Then I gave them to him and told him, "I don't know what anyone else around here has told you, but this is how you do infringement contentions."

I was nice about it, and he felt horrible. He wanted to prove himself and show us he could do it on his own and totally misjudged the amount of work he had to do. This was like 60 pages of serious technical crap. I don't blame him, and I'm not mad at him at all. He's new, mistakes happen. No big deal. But I told him "This is why I asked you three weeks ago to tell me what you needed me to do. Doing infringement contentions properly is a ton of work." Lesson learned, young associate. He sent me an apology email tonight. I will reassure him tomorrow that I'm not mad, because I'm really not. I saw this coming, but I figured I'd let him sink and learn from it. He will never make this mistake again.


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