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Turning mistakes into learning opportunities

The pressure to deliver flawless work can be overwhelming in the fast-paced world of law. However, Lucy Dickens advocates for a shift in mindset that embraces mistakes as learning opportunities rather than dwelling on them as failures.

user iconGrace Robbie 30 May 2024 Big Law
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Lucy Dickens is a director for Perth-based law firm Curae Law, formerly known as Birman & Ride. She was also a finalist for the Australian Law Awards Innovator of the Year in 2020. In addition to her role in the legal realm, Dickens is a best-selling author and a podcast host.

Speaking on a recent episode of The Boutique Lawyer Show, she advocated for legal professionals to embrace their mistakes, leveraging them as opportunities for learning and catalysts for growth.

Dickens openly acknowledges the frustrating struggles she faces when trying to embrace and accept making mistakes, especially when it comes to more significant errors.


“It’s definitely still a work in progress for me. No one likes to make mistakes. I mean, [a recent] one I shared online wasn’t a big deal … there was no client that was affected. It didn’t actually matter. But when we make mistakes that do matter and have bigger consequences, it’s really hard,” she said.

As a leader in law, one approach she takes to tackle this challenge is fostering open and honest communication among her team members, as it promotes transparency and fosters personal growth.

“One of the things we do with our team is we try to tell each other about the mistakes we make so our team knows that I also make mistakes and helps them to feel a bit better when they do,” she said.

Dickens emphasised the importance of focusing on one’s actions taken to rectify a mistake rather than the mistake itself. She illustrated this by recounting a colleague nominating her for an award as part of the firm’s initiative to recognise lawyers who exemplify core values.

“When I made another mistake, which was I witnessed a document and I got home from work that day, and I realised I’d written the date as 1 May, but it was actually 1 April. So, I drove back to work that night so that I could fix it before I wasn’t in the office the next day.

“But that month, one of my colleagues nominated me for the [firm’s] excellence award, not because I’d made the mistake, but because of how I went about fixing it. I think shifting our focus from the mistake we made to what we learnt from it and how we go about fixing it is going to help us to overcome that,” she said.

She provided practical advice to fellow legal professionals, stressing the importance of being proactive in addressing mistakes and the resulting stress that comes with it.

“Look at how we can fix it: everybody’s going to make a mistake, so what are we going to do to fix it, and then what are we going to change to try to prevent it from happening again?”

Recognising that everyone is prone to errors, Dickens’ law firm has implemented strategies that mitigate errors and foster a culture of continuous improvement and accountability.

“We are big on process improvement here at Curae Law, so we have a lot of templates and workflows and things that are in place to try to catch these types of things before they actually become a problem,” she said.

Rather than viewing mistakes as signs of incompetence, Dickens believes they reflect a dedication to one’s work and a willingness to learn and improve.

“It’s the cliche: we’re human; everybody makes mistakes. It’s all part of the learning curve. Telling yourself is one thing, but actually believing is another. I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” she said.

“I think when we feel that way, or we feel upset with the way we made this mistake or whatever it might be, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it shows that we take our work seriously. It shows that we’re going to learn from it. It’s much better, in my view, to feel that way than it is to just be blase and kind of have a look of care.”

In essence, Dickens advocates for a paradigm shift within the legal profession – one that celebrates mistakes as catalysts for growth rather than sources of shame.