how can I help an employee who has no attention to detail?

A reader writes:

I am an attorney and have recently been promoted to the point where I am supervising junior attorneys’ work.

One of the juniors who works with (and for) me, let’s call her Jessie, and I are pretty friendly. She’s a genuinely lovely person — friendly, kind, and we have a good working relationship.

The one thing that Jessie struggles with is attention to detail. She’s aware of this, and our managers have raised it with her (but not put her on a performance improvement plan).

This comes out in two key ways — the first, typos and misspellings in court documents. It’s not a one or two typos in court documents — it’s also getting parties’ names mixed up. Let’s say, on average, two to three mistakes per page.

The second way is with evidence, which is a bit more serious long-term. When she’s been assigned to review and collate evidence, she doesn’t pick up that the client’s evidence doesn’t say what the client says it does. Her lack of attention to detail means that she has failed to pick up holes in client’s evidence — and then our team gets surprised when the other side turns around and says that the evidence doesn’t say what we think it does. An recent example is when a client said that they used all the funds from a sale to pay off a mortgage. Jessie didn’t pick up that the documents they provided showed that $300k of it was used for non-mortgage reasons.

Jessie and I have spoken about it. She says that she’s tried reviewing things a final time before sending them, but still doesn’t pick up on them.

Because of my relationship with her, she’s been really open when I’ve tried to suggest ways to help her get better, and doesn’t get upset when I raise it.

So I feel I am in a position to help her, and I want to. These kind of issues will prevent her from being promoted within the legal field.

However, I am stuck. How can I help her get better? What tips and tricks are there to improve attention to detail when it doesn’t come naturally? How do I help someone’s performance improve? How does she help herself improve?

I … don’t know that you can. In fact, I suspect that you can’t. What you’re describing are really serious mistakes that sound like they may go to her fundamental fit for the role. It’s one thing to have a typo or two in a document — not great, especially in legal documents, but usually fixable. But multiple mistakes on every page? And even more importantly, missing something as key as that evidence doesn’t say what it’s supposed to? That’s very likely to be a sign of a core, fundamental mismatch with the role.

If she were just not paying attention because she was overly cavalier about the work, that would still be pretty problematic. But she says that she’s tried paying more attention and it hasn’t solved the problem. Some people don’t have great attention to detail! But that makes them ill-suited for roles where it really matters.

And missing what the evidence really says is might not just be about attention to detail. It may also be about reading comprehension and/or judgement and/or critical thinking. And those are not things you’re going to be able to teach, and they’re also things she has to have in order to work in law.

You asked what you can do, and honestly the most helpful role you can play here might be helping her figure out pretty quickly whether or not this is a field where she’ll do well.

The things you can do are the things you’ve already done: you’ve highlighted the problems for her, made sure that she sees where she’s making mistakes, and made sure that she understands that these are serious issues in work.

Well, actually, let’s back up for a minute. To what extent have you done that last item? Is it possible that in a quest to be kind, you’ve prioritized sounding supportive over making sure that she understands that these mistakes will prevent her from being successful in her job, and could (will?) lead to her being let go if she doesn’t fix them quickly? Sometimes managers try to be kind and supportive at the expense of giving it to someone straight — when it’s actually far kinder to let someone know if they’re putting their job in jeopardy.

So if you haven’t been very clear with her about that, that will be helpful to do.

But I think you’re looking for tips to improve her attention to detail, and that’s just not something you can do for her. I mean, yes, there are small suggestions you could make that might help around the edges, but the problem is big enough that I don’t think that’ll fix it. But for the sake of being thorough: You can suggest that she set work aside until the next day and then re-read it with fresh eyes, if timelines allow for that. You can suggest she try reading things out loud, which helps some people prevent mistakes. You could also ask how she dealt with these challenges in law school, because this stuff mattered a ton there too. Maybe she had strategies there that she doesn’t realize she still needs to be using now.

Ultimately, though, she may not be right for the job. It really sucks when that happens when someone is trying hard — and especially when they’re a lovely person and you genuinely like them — but it does sometimes happen. The best thing you can do is to make sure she really understands the problem and the stakes, and be as kind as you can if it does turn out she’s not able to do what you need.

{ 665 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Cait

    Those are really serious errors. Errors that will damage your career and performance, not just hers.

    Sorry OP, she might be a super nice person but keeping her on board is hurting yourself and your clients.

    Reply
    1. Viva

      I was thinking the same thing. In this state of mind she even creates double work, as someone has to check/redo/correct everything she does, so that such mistakes will not happen again. Because from what you are writing, there will be more mistakes. And they might jeopardize your cases, your clients and your reputation.

      Reply
      1. AKchic

        All of this.

        Being a lovely person is no substitute for being competent when you’re dealing with matters that need attention to detail. Especially when it could cost you your business and large sums of money.

        Reply
    2. Antilles

      The last part is the most important – it’s not just hurting her career, it’s hurting your clients. And that’s not fair to them. You owe them the best representation you can reasonably provide and if you’re keeping someone on who’s missing key points, that’s not happening.
      Especially the evidence issues. IANAL so take this for whatever you want, but if I was on the jury or was the judge/arbiter, ‘missing’ $300k not being used on the mortgage would be important enough that it would make me seriously question your argument/case because that’s *not* a small error.

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      1. Artemesia

        This. A major evidence mistake like this is catastrophic; once maybe merits forgiveness — we all make errors, but more than once, especially when there is a lot else that is not caught should mean being counseled out and into a different role. There may not be a role she can do at your firm, but she should not be doing this one. She needs to be looking at a career change and the kindest thing to do is to facilitate that if you can.

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        1. God Emperor of Dune

          I don’t understand why Jessie hasn’t been fired yet. The continuous typo mistakes are one thing but overlooking a piece of evidence?! That’s the kind of thing that gets cases thrown out of court, which has a knock on effect for the professional reputation of LW’s firm and the personal circumstances of the client, who may be financially and legally on the hook for the consequences.

          I am stunned Jessie is still in her post.

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      2. Tequila Mockingbird

        A court can issue discovery sanctions if you submit exhibits that falsely/inaccurately represent your argument. It’s a Very Big Deal.

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      3. krysb

        I used to be a legal assistant, and our firm had been fired by clients for having typos, so this letter gives me anxiety flashbacks.

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      4. RUKiddingMe

        Exactly. If I were the judge or a juror I wold have serious reservations. If I were the client, I would be livid.

        INAL but aren’t there laws about representing clients accurately? Or is that only in criminal cases? Or any cases? I don’t really know, and it could be just something from watching law TV shows ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ but somehow I thought that was a thing.

        I would think though that it would be some sort of malpractice, especially since the firm is allowing her to do this work on an ongoing basis.

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      5. JessaB

        On the other hand that kind of thing speaks to a specific skill set toward reading accounting documents and bank statements. Not every person has that set of skills. That sort of evidence should be inspected by someone with a financial background. So that particular example may not be the fault of the worker in question. Going over evidence requires some specialty skills depending on the content. I know that I could go over medical evidence and accounts stuff but if you gave me something to do with engineering or building something I’d immediately tell you “not my field.”

        Is it possible that the employee had no clue what the evidence said and presumed the task was more to make sure it was all there rather than make sure it was what was expected? Also are you the OP sure that the worker knew what the client said the records showed?

        As for typos? There are ways to double check for that, legal dictionary spell checkers, read it backwards, etc.

        But if the critical issue is the evidence error, a sit down to drill into why that error happened might show issues with the way the work is assigned to people.

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    3. Snark

      Yup. Having worked with someone like this – either you got it or you don’t. These are serious, fundamental, once-in-a-blue-moon kinds of errors, ones you learn from and never make again. If she’s making these kinds of errors on a routine, regular basis, she may simply not have the ability to critically evaluate her own work for errors. That’s not a great thing for an attorney, in particular!

      Reply
      1. Mike C.

        Wait, why is this an either/or situation? We develop checklists for astronauts and surgeons after all. Whether someone thinks it’s worth the time to train is another issue, but this doesn’t seem like something that can’t ever be improved upon.

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        1. Bibbidy

          Checklists work best when the scope is narrow and the tasks are fairly consistent. In addition, they are best for people who can do the work. Here, the problem is that she can’t. She’s been told to re-read for typos; she does, but she still doesn’t catch them (and not just a few!). There’s no checklist that will help that.

          We had a new employee who we started on a fairly basic part of his intended workload. Literally all he had to do was go down a check list for each item he was working on and flag what was missing or wrong. For whatever reason, he could not do it.

          Reply
          1. Socks

            “There’s no checklist that will help that.”

            Surprisingly, this may not be the case! If you give me a checklist that just says “clean the room”, I could ignore a dumpster’s worth of mess because it doesn’t register for me. If, instead, the list said “pick everything up of the floor, put all the cups in the dishwasher, pile every piece of paper in one spot and then sort them into specific categories X, Y, and Z”… suddenly I can clean like a functional human being. Thinking to myself “I am proofreading this document now” is absolutely useless, but breaking that down into “check every name, check that every paragraph makes sense, check that everything in the conclusion is supported by something in the body” radically transforms my ability to catch stuff. I use that when tutoring kids, too, it works really well.

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            1. President Porpoise

              Well, yeah, but with the unique nature of building and preparing a case or a defense, it may not be practical to say, ok, for each case, make certain to verify that all mortgage moneys were used for the home purchase and not something else. In fact, it looks like she may have been told that explicitly, and missed it anyway. This may not be the career for this lady – which is really rough, given the cost and time investment that is law school etc.

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              1. Say what?

                Yeah, I have a friend who went to law school and did pretty well. She then took the Bar, failed, took it again, failed again… it was heart wrenching but in the end she realized that she had to let go of the time/financial investment and recognize that she was not going to pass that test. (Not because she’s dumb, she’s not, but because it wasn’t written in a way compatible with how she thinks.)

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            2. kitryan

              My experience is that with these issues, it is only a partial fix since the work requires both that regularly occurring and predictable steps need to be taken (for which checklists can help), and that deductive reasoning and observation be used to identify issues (that then may be able to have a checklist applied to them). If the correct issue isn’t identified, nothing is done or the wrong steps are taken.
              To use the room cleaning example, if you apply the mucking out the stable list to a cleaning up the bedroom job, you’re going to have a problem.

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            3. Rusty Shackelford

              But she’s not missing specific tasks every time. “Make sure everything makes sense” isn’t really a checkable task.

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                1. Socks

                  Yeah I was being more general since my proofreading is tailored towards academic writing (especially for HS/lower div college essays, for when I tutor) and I don’t know what specifically differs between that and legal documents, but my actual template for this stuff does break it down more specifically to stuff like “does the content of this paragraph match the topic sentence, does that match the introduction, does everything in the introduction reflect the body of the essay, does the thesis address X, Y and Z parts of the prompt, is there anything in the thesis that isn’t relevant to the prompt”, etc. A lot of that could certainly be chalked up to “critical thinking” skills or a lack thereof, but, to be honest, I think for a lot of people (most? All?), critical thinking is just knowing to ask yourself those questions automatically, without having to think about it. No reason you can’t simulate such thinking with the assistance of tools like lists.

                2. Not a lawyer, but a paralegal

                  Unfortunately, you often can’t break things down to that level in the law. Depending on the kind of cases OP’s firm does, a lot of the time you’re looking for internal consistency and making sure that everything adds up. This time it might be where the money from the sale of the house went, next time it’s that there’s a gap in the closing date and the move-out that isn’t explained by what we see on the paper, the time after that it’s cross referencing the mother’s address to realize that the client was actually living in her house part-time. It’s hard to even come up with examples about what you have to pay attention to with the documents, because really “make sure everything is internally consistent and makes sense” is the only general advice we can give.

                3. Rusty Shackelford

                  Yes, what Not a Lawyer said. Check for internal inconsistencies can be an item on the checklist, but if Jessie’s brain isn’t wired to catch those inconsistencies, it’s pointless to remind her to do that.

                4. BF50

                  Even if you can break it down to that level, you are talking about someone who presumably completed law school and passed the bar.

                  The letter writer should not be teaching this person the skills they should have learned in elementary school, middle school and high school. These are skills a student should already be honing when entering college and should be well developed by the time they complete law school.

                  On some level I disagree with Alison that you can’t teach critical thinking skills and judgement. These are things that can be taught, but the letter writer is not a teacher and there is no way she can devote the time necessary to teach these skills and still do her own job, along with checking everything this person does.

                5. zora

                  On some level I disagree with Alison that you can’t teach critical thinking skills and judgement. These are things that can be taught, but the letter writer is not a teacher and there is no way she can devote the time necessary to teach these skills and still do her own job, along with checking everything this person does.

                  I think Alison is basically saying the same thing you are, she just didn’t spell it out. Not that it is impossible to teach someone those things, but that it is not feasible to teach those things to someone in a skilled position on the job.

            4. NVHEng

              There are actually two issues here – a lack of attention to detail, and a lack of critical thinking skills. For the lack of attention to detail you could recommend checklists, peer reviews, detailed reviews of work by others etc. Critical thinking skills can seem a more difficult issue to overcome, but they are taught to people every day. Certainly most engineers have worked to develop their critical thinking skills over the years – it didn’t come naturally to all of us! We have many tools that we use – for example the 5 whys (why did this happen, then why did that cause that, then why did that happen to cause it …) – to do root cause analysis. In law the questions may be different, but something like “what evidence is my client using to prove her case, and what would the opposing side want to show about that evidence” could be helpful to your colleague.

              Things your colleague should do for every case (that do not require you to help her):
              Make a detailed summary of every case (I believe this would be similar to case briefs and outlines that she probably did in law school for test prep) and review this information every time she works on the case.
              – What do you know?
              – How do you know it?
              – What must you prove / disprove to win your case ?
              – What would an opposing attorney want to take advantage of?
              – What are my assumptions? Prove each one. (The money was used to pay off the mortgage. Oh! It wasn’t!)
              – What case law is affected? What is the jurisdiction? (& Other questions that lawyers know and I do not!)

              The place where I would recommend helping her if you have time is in reviewing this thought process with her. If she has done the work to truly understand and write up the case, then it should be relatively simple to talk through many of the things she should have checked / identified as critical and to identify places where she is missing critical parts of the case. To avoid placing a heavy burden on you, she could also repeat this with more than one person (peer review, other senior attorney, mentor, professor etc). If she repeats this process a couple of times and does not improve then things are much more serious, and you should clearly inform her that not dealing with these performance issues will result in career problems.

              I think it is important that you also ask whether your colleague has been tested for ADHD, because that can manifest itself as these symptoms (lack of attention to detail, inability to concentrate on a topic or think through critical issues even when trying to focus).

              Reply
              1. MassMatt

                A lawyer should know all this already. The OP’s junior colleague probably does too, but skips things, does them poorly, switches names, and makes typos. She would cheerfully say she’s done all these things and her documents would still be a mess.

                Re: ADHD—We are asked not to diagnose. The OP is the one writing in, not the junior colleague. Asking the OP to ask her colleague about ADHD does not help the OP. Whether ADHD is involved is beside the point—she is making drastic errors in her job.

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                1. not a lawyer, but I am a doctor

                  Re: ADHD – I know we’re not supposed to diagnose. However, these are the exact types of errors people with ADHD make. ADHD is treatable, and I have absolutely seen these *exact* types of errors in inattentive type ADHD, and they improve markedly with appropriate treatment. ADHD is under-diagnosed in women.

                  ADHD would be a best-case scenario, here. It’s really the only chance that this is a fixable problem. If she doesn’t have ADHD, then I agree with everyone else that this poor woman is going to need to transition to another job.

                2. IDontRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore

                  And it is not *just* ADHD that can cause these kinds of errors in attention, focus, and detail, though to make it even more confusing the other neurodevelopmental & learning disorders that can cause similar/the same symptoms as ADHD are often comorbid with ADHD and/or each other.
                  Me, for example- I have both ADHD and dyspraxia. Medication for ADHD can only help me a certain amount, because some of those same symptoms are also caused by dyspraxia which NO treatment or medication works for (entirely different neurological mechanisms.)

              2. RUKiddingMe

                This seems like stuff she should have learned in college/law school. It strikes me as waaayyy too much work on OP’s part to try to hand hold her junior colleague through whatever issues there are. For reason(s) this person can not do the job, and has proven it over and over again.

                Re: “I think it is important that you also ask whether your colleague has been tested for ADHD…”
                —I don’t think OP (or anyone else at the company) should ask her if she has been, or suggest that she get evaluated. I see that as a hardno” boundary violation. Aren’t we not supposed to inquire into employees’ medical conditions? I thought that was the rule/law. Maybe it’s just me that observes not doing it on principle?

                Even if ADD/ADHD is the case, or as Alison suggested possibly a issue with reading comprehension and/or critical thinking, it may be just too late to ‘fix’ this for this particular job/employer. On a fundamental level the employee can’t do this job properly.

                If they can transition her into another position with the firm, one that she could excel in, that would be great. However, if not … then the best thing to do is let her go. The kind thing to do is to be crystal clear about the issues so that she knows why and has the information going forward in her job search(es).

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                1. Maggie

                  I am an English teacher and once had a student teacher who couldn’t see/catch typos, and that’s not acceptable. I strongly suspected he had a learning disability, but he said he didn’t want to get tested now, because what was the point since he was almost done with school? I was dismayed. He was very defensive about it and had been counseled repeatedly it wasn’t the right career for him, but that just made him more determined. My husband has great spatial thinking but can’t spell. I’m a spelling champ but can’t parallel park. It’s very challenging when aspirations and natural talents don’t align.

                2. Maggie

                  What I’m trying to say is I agree, it’s not the employer’s job to ask about potential learning disability. It’s an essential skill for this job, and Jessie isn’t asking for any kind of accommodations.

                3. RUKiddingMe

                  @ Maggie Agreed.

                  She fundamentally is unable to do the job correctly. She’s not asking for any accommodation which is probably a good thing. Given the specifics of the job and the type of issues she has, what kind of possible “reasonable accommodation” they could offer anyway. Would they have to accommodate her by having someone else do her tasks? That strikes me as not at all reasonable.

              3. e271828

                As a potential client of this or any law firm, I am not paying for Jessie to learn how to be a lawyer on the job. Presumably her time is billable.

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                1. SouthernElle

                  It’s certainly true that you’re not paying Jessie to learn to proofread, but law firms are basically long apprenticeships where you learn to practice. If you can’t bill for associates learning on the job, you couldn’t bill much work for associates in their first year (two years even?) of practice. That’s just the way firms are structured – people at the bottom are learning, and their rates are lower; people at the top of the pyramid are knowledgeable and expensive, and you don’t want them spending too much time/attention on your matters.

                  That said – I’m not sure you can teach what she’s missing here.

              4. SimonTheGreyWarden

                It sounds to me like there may also be a processing issue going on, if the missing funds issue was an egregious one where it did not require a forensic accountant or likewise, just someone noticing that numbers don’t add up. I work with people as a tutor who have processing disorders, and my husband also has what we suspect is one. Someone can be very smart and still have issues processing. If this is what is happening with this person, then I would agree that this may not be the place for her.

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              1. DanniellaBee

                I am surprised that someone that needs this level of help made it through law school at all because it is specifically designed to weed through people who lack attention to detail and critical thinking skills. I also wonder if this firm uses paralegals at all because at least some of these mistakes would be caught by a good paralegal before it was ever reviewed by a senior attorney.

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                1. Buffay the Vampire Layer

                  It seems like there are no paralegals at all if documents are getting filed with major typos and attorneys are doing all doc review. This firm could save a good amount of money if they replaced Jessie the Liability with a competent paralegal.

            5. mrs__peel

              It’s not normal for *attorneys* to need things broken down like that, though. Even in a junior position, there’s a reasonable expectation that you can use your own judgment and complete your work without too much hand-holding.

              (In my experience, this goes double if you work in the non-profit sector or for Legal Aid, etc. There’s no money for extra staff and they just throw cases at you when you start without a lot of onboarding or training. You’re also generally expected to do a lot of your own admin work, so you have to be very organized and aware of details like typos, filing deadlines, etc.)

              I’ve occasionally had to go over steps like this with a new legal assistant, but I would expect even a new attorney to have those kinds of skills already.

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            6. MassMatt

              But this is not a child the OP is tutoring, it is AN ATTORNEY! Having to micromanage their documents to make sure names are correct and paragraphs make sense, does not make sense.

              How did this person make it through law school, and pass the bar exam?

              Perhaps she could fit in some other role but honestly an inability to pay attention to basic detail seems like a deal breaker in any area of law.

              Think about your clients, and your obligation to them. Would you want this person working on a case for a family member? I think you should tell her this is not the right job and probably not the right field for her.

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            7. RUKiddingMe

              That seems like an awful lot of handholding for the manager to need to do, particularly for a professional attorney. How did she manage law school?

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        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          The problem is that she doesn’t seem to be learning or improving. Some of that is on OP’s firm, but the lion’s share is on Jessie. Checklists are helpful, but they can’t teach you how to apply evidence to a claim or how to keep the parties names straight. It sounds like there’s been no improvement, and the severity of the mistakes suggest Jessie is out of chances.

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          1. Cordelia Vorkosigan

            I’m not convinced that the OP has been explicit enough that her job is at stake. I can easily seem someone new to the job thinking that, yes, they’re making mistakes but they’re trying and starting to figure it out and do better (even if the “doing better” isn’t visible to anyone outside of the junior attorney’s head), and thinking they have plenty of time to learn. If the OP hasn’t directly said, “This is the kind of thing people get fired over and you are on the verge of being fired,” then he needs to right away. The junior attorney needs a wake-up call.

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            1. Someone Else

              I don’t disagree it’s possible the OP hasn’t been explicit enough that the job is at stake, but I am also of the mind that it’s really bizarre Jesse managed to get through law school and pass the bar, and wouldn’t already know that these mistakes are a Very Big Deal. The time she was supposed to have learned this was years ago. Yes, OP should absolutely make the situation more clear, especially if the kindness approach taken so far may have unintentionally made it seem less serious than it is, but barring that having created a misunderstanding, if Jesse does not already understand that she is doing a very bad job, that’s frankly another tick against her ability to do this one.

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            2. Jesmlet

              The crazy thing to me is that even in OP’s letter, she has not made it clear that Jessie’s job is at stake, she just said it would hold her back from being promoted. How she’s not on a PIP or fired yet is baffling.

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              1. RUKiddingMe

                Honestly the whole thing is making me hope this law office is far away from me so that I never accidentally end up hiring them. The fact that they let this go on for any measurable amount of time…that mistakes “keep” happening, means they aren’t taking it as seriously as I as a client would expect, ergo it casts doubt on the entire firm’s judgement IMO.

                —First time: Ok, new/first job. Show them, verbal warning…etc.
                —Second time: “This can’t happen again, period, your job depends on it.”
                —Third time: “We’re letting you go, effective five minutes ago.”

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        3. Cordelia Vorkosigan

          Definitely agree. I think this kind of thinking is something that can be learned. The question is if it is worth it to the firm to take the time that will likely be necessary to teach it. Developing checklists of the types of things to look for is a great place to start. I also really liked the suggestion downthread from Princess Consuela Banana Hammock to have her do document reviews and proofread other junior attorneys’ work. And then give her timely feedback on her reviews/proofreading. I think she will start to learn if you do this…but it will most likely take a few months at least. If that kind of time investment isn’t worth it to the firm, then I think the kindest thing to do would be to encourage her to start job searching before she gets fired.

          Reply
          1. RUKiddingMe

            “The question is if it is worth it to the firm to take the time that will likely be necessary to teach it.”

            As an employer I wold expect it to be something they already know, not something I had to teach. That’s what law school was for.

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          1. The New Wanderer

            Exactly. I worked with pilot checklists and they are very, very specific because they can be.
            Flip the X switch to ON position. (there is only one X switch with clearly labeled positions)
            Check the Y levels for the Z system. (the names are explicit and unique, there really can be no confusion)

            And even if the checklist had items like : “check client’s names against witness list” or “check status of evidence against client claims”, those are the things she would check off as completed, because she *is* double-checking these things, but she’d still be getting it wrong.

            As the client, I would be outraged if my fate was in the hands of someone who is making what sound like very basic but significant mistakes. I don’t think this is fixable.

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          2. Artemesia

            This. It sounds like a thinking, comprehension, problem not a paying attention to the checklist problem. Someone who doesn’t get the evidence right doesn’t understand the material.

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            1. Cat Herder

              I’ve helped college students learn how to write better argumentative essays by essentially breaking it down into steps that the student can use as a checklist. Some of that is easy-checklist stuff (grammar, spelling), medium checklist stuff (essay structured well, paragraphs structured well, sentences structured well, and so on). The hardest part is the thinking part, of course — not just, do I have evidence for this claim, but is this evidence pertinent, is it reliable, is it accurate, is it enough (do I need more evidence/different evidence) and so on. But most college students can in fact learn how to do this reasonably competently, if they spend enough time and effort on it, and you can make a checklist out of a sequence of questions to test the evidence. I would think that someone who has a college degree and a law degree, and has passed a bar exam has the potential at least to be able to do this. But it may take more time than the OP wants to allow to see if Jessie can get up to speed on it.

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              1. TootsNYC

                “I’ve helped college students learn”

                Jessie is not a college student, and the OP’s role is not to teach her.

                There are people who can do this job without the level of coaching you are talking about.

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                1. Anonymeece

                  Yes, but the OP did say s/he wanted to help her. It might be a case that s/he can try this approach, emphasize how important this is and that she might lose her job, and that this is a viable method to try.

                  If it still doesn’t work, then yes, I’m afraid she might be in the wrong position. But the OP specifically said s/he DOES want to help this person, so might not be averse to extra coaching.

        4. It's Pronounced Bruce

          If your comprehension of the existence of an error is the issue, though, the types of checklists you’re talking about aren’t gonna bridge the gap enough. Those lists are generic ones that can be used in every case, and it seems like general items (for ex, “does x document support the client’s statement?”) wouldn’t be enough for her to catch the issue if double-checking already doesn’t help.

          In the OR, you’re also relying on everyone in the room being aware of what’s happening and being able to catch if someone else is asserting something inconsistent. That’s a level of oversight that doesn’t seem possible in this case.

          It *would* be doable for her to do sort of the reading strategy outlining that they teach high schoolers to do for standardized testing, make a matrix of the key point’s of the client statements and then substantiate them as she reads the supporting documents. I do think it’s true that she should be able to improve on these skills generally by using study and test techniques like that over time. But I also think that oh my god these are skills she already needs to have for this job and these skills already existing should absolutely be a prerequisite for her having any of these responsibilities.

          Reply
        5. media monkey

          if you need a checklist item for “have you got the client’s name correct” that’s not a small issue, and points to a fundamental bad fit with the role. if you have pointed it out and there’s been no improvement, it might be kind to suggest she looks for something else.

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          1. Tequila Mockingbird

            +1

            Why on earth should any professional need a “checklist” for basic details like names? And how would a “checklist” correct mistakes, such as a person’s spelling?

            Reply
        6. Snark

          Checklists are good for tracking routine, stepwise tasks like starting a deorbit burn or not leaving your forceps inside Mrs. Smith. They’re not really for “does this evidence say what we’re saying it says.” And it’s not really useful for typos and name errors, because being able to notice those errors is the first step to fixing them, and if she already has been told to recheck and is missing them, we’re past the point where task tracking is going to be useful.

          At some point, you do just have to be able to critically evaluate your own work and spot errors in your own analysis and reasoning, and some people are just blind to that.

          Reply
          1. Cat Herder

            Checklist could be: Make a list of names and roles (?word? IANAL), confirm that each name in the document correctly matches with role.
            Make a list of place names (etc) and check that each one in the document is spelled correctly.
            Run spell checker.
            Run grammar checker.

            For missing the evidence, that’s a bigger one. Checklist could be:
            List client statements.
            Check accuracy of client statements.
            List all mismatches between client statements and fact.
            And so on.

            Writing it all out is slow, of course, but it’s concrete and can give you and Jessie information about how well she actually is doing the job. And it can develop the habits of attention you want Jessie to have and, hopefully, she gets faster and needs to write out less and less.

            I wonder if these are things law students learn, or are these on-the-job skills? How long is it reasonable to take for a junior lawyer to get up to speed? That’s something you need to let Jessie know.

            Reply
            1. kitryan

              The missing the evidence list you gave is similar to what I’ve worked up with my colleague (who has similar issues) to analyze documents. He can’t just use his list though, he misses too much or draws incorrect conclusions. He has to write what he thinks/finds on each step and then I review and correct. This has lead to gradual improvement. However, it’s incredibly tedious and there’s sometimes backsliding and always there’s difficulty with unusual versions of the documents. He has trouble adapting and identifying that sometimes it’s the same thing in a different outfit.

              Reply
            2. Snark

              And I guess my question is….if Jessie needs all these laboriously constructed checklists to be minimally effective in the role, and needs to spend (billable) time working through them, and her peers do not need as much effort and time to do stuff because they’re more effective at automatically self-checking…..does that really change my conclusion that Jessie is not appropriate for this role? Nope.

              Reply
              1. AMPG

                Yes, this, absolutely. I used to work in a role that was extremely detail-oriented. Now, almost all of the important details could be integrated into a process document or checklist of some kind, and we did have those available as customizeable tools (there were no safety issues involved, so the checklists were optional). But the people who couldn’t function at all without those tools were always scrambling a bit in the role, especially compared to the people who could get used to the rhythm and requirements of a project and just use the tools as a final checklist to make sure they hadn’t missed anything. We found people in the first category would self-select out after a year or so because it was just too hard to try to think in a way that never came naturally. In the OP’s case, they’d probably be doing Jessie a favor in the long run by suggesting she might not be a good fit in this role.

                Reply
              2. Jesmlet

                Yes, exactly. This is the type of checklist that would be appropriate to a middle school language arts class in essay writing, not for a lawyer. This is not the right position for her and you’re hurting your firm and your clients by allowing her to stay on in her current capacity.

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            3. LeRainDrop

              Most of the time, lawyers bill hourly. If you were a client, would you really want to be paying $200+/hour for Jessie to create these lists and review such basic details? Honestly, as a lawyer myself, Jessie is under-skilled to do this job. She would be transitioned out within 6 months for these types of mistakes at my last firm. Lawyer workloads are generally too high to be spending such an inordinate amount of time to fix basic comprehension. Lawyers are expected to have most of these basic skills already pretty well set when they start their work.

              Reply
            4. paralegal beagle

              Those are things that paralegals know coming out of school. I only have experience in a handful of firms, but a jr associate or paralegal would be fired for those errors.

              And if they’re billing the client for fixing her mistakes, that’s not quite ethical (although if they’re working on contingency this obviously wouldn’t be an issue).

              I guess if her cases all follow a general pattern, OP could create a checklist *with* her and make sure she knows her job depends on those improvements.

              Reply
          2. Portia

            I think a checklist could possibly be helpful for proofreading. But it’s not going to help with the critical thinking problem. If Jessie were brilliant at the second part, then the proofreading issues might not be such a big deal – if she couldn’t fix it herself, maybe someone junior to her could always proof her documents. But if she is missing these more nuanced details within the evidence, she’s never going to advance to a point where it’s worth expending extra manpower to proof her work.

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        7. Cat Herder

          That is what I was thinking. People who get this sort of thing easily often have a kind of mental checklist, one that they’re not aware of using, but if you ask them to slow down and verbalize what they’re doing, you can see that it’s a big part of what they’re doing.

          Reply
        8. The Other Geyn

          Speaking as an attorney who does go through discovery on a fairly regularly basis — a check list works can be helpful for the typos and proofreading issues, but it doesn’t work for discovery. Discovery is looking for information that helps your client’s case. You don’t know what information you’ll find a head of time to be able to create a check list.

          I suspect Jessie is in the wrong area of practice. While attention to detail idealy applies to all areas of law, judging from the letter it sounds like OP and Jessie might be in an area of law that particularly requires attention to detail.

          Reply
          1. JB (not in Houston)

            Yes, this is what I was thinking. A checklist could certainly help–I use them myself in my practice. But there are some things that a checklist isn’t going to help with. A checklist isn’t going to help Jessie understand that what a document says is the opposite of what she thinks it says.

            Reply
    4. Typical Lurker

      Exactly. You deal with it by firing her. In the field of law a person who is sloppy with the details will never succeed. It doesn’t matter that she’s nice.

      Reply
      1. Mr. Bob Dobalina

        Sounds like a bad fit. Put her on a PIP, then she will understand the seriousness of her mistakes. If she doesn’t show significant improvement (or choose to leave voluntarily), then terminate her employment.

        Before you go investing lots of time and effort and hand-holding attempting to improve her performance, ask yourself if it’s worth it. Does she have other qualities that bring direct value to your firm and clients? Since she lacks the most basic skills/competencies, what does she bring to the table? Would an inexperienced junior be difficult to replace? It’s not enough to be friendly. Lots of people are friendly. If she’s a burden on you and your firm, and is making serious errors with consequences, and other employees have to spend time correcting her many mistakes, I question whether you should spend any further time on training, checklists, etc. Make the good business decision. I know this sounds cold, but someone who is a bad fit and can’t do the core work has the potential to lower morale, drag down the team, negatively impact clients, lose business, etc.

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    5. Lady Blerd

      I am a Jessie, at least WRT typos and mistakes type and as I was reading the letter, I was thinking that OP has to consider letting her go because of the level of precision required for her job. I am great at analysing and finding mistakes in other people’s work but for my own critical or long documents, I have a colleague double check mine because as long as I understand what I’m reading, my brain will gloss over my own mistakes.

      Analysing texts for arguments is a strength of mine and that is something either I learned in high school/junior college. When I would take part in debates, I was good at arguing against my own positions and finding flaws, she has to know how to do this in her own work. She can’t have a checklist for that because as others have said, she won’t always know what she’s looking for. Either she gets it or she doesn’t. If the first time didn’t open her eyes, in my experience it just means she doesn’t have that skill or an interest in learning that.

      Reply
  2. paralegal

    ugh, that sucks. i can’t offer advice unfortunately, but i’m surprised it’s been going on this long, i am a paralegal and i would have been fired long ago for making those types of mistakes more than a few times.

    Reply
    1. I Love Thrawn

      I’m an admin assistant, not in the legal field, and attention to detail is CRITICAL. And the stakes are a whole lot lower for my field than law.

      Reply
    2. Sevenrider

      Same here, mistakes of this nature are very serious. I would have been fired a long time ago if I mixed up client names. A high aptitude in proofreading and content checking is a must in the legal field at all levels, not just attorneys. How did this person get through law school without paying attention to detail? My professors were very demanding and did not tolerate ANY typos.

      Reply
      1. Lilo

        Yeah I’m wondering how she was able to submit papers with errors. I’m almost wondering if she perhaps had a friend (possibly parent…) that proofread EVERYTHING for her and now the incapability is coming to light now that she can’t hide. Regardless, it’s an awful situation to be in for both LW and Jessie.

        The only other thing I can think of is that she struggles with reading comprehension, but I can’t imagine someone being able to pass the bar with low reading comprehension.

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    3. AJK

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. (I’m also a paralegal) The evidence mistakes sound like basic comprehension issues. I wouldn’t expect a properly educated paralegal to make those sorts of mistakes, let alone an attorney. I have only a limited idea of what goes on in law school, but reviewing and summarizing documents was certainly part of the curriculum when I got my paralegal certificate. If I’d made basic errors like that I wouldn’t have made it through school, let alone the past six years.

      Reply
      1. Paralegal, Part Deux

        I have an attorney that has issues with getting names wrong, but he’s always done it, even in college working on his Ph.D. in linguistics. He just does the best he can and gives it to me for a final look over.

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      2. Me

        proofreading is a skill that not everyone can develop well — especially with their own work. For the most part, though, young lawyers cannot survive unless their attention to detail of this nature is strong. It was easier for older lawyers, whose work was typically typed up by their assistant, so some people like this still remain. But for new lawyers, it’s a pretty quick career killer if you want to work for somebody else, and not great if you’re going to hang out a shingle.

        Reply
    4. paralegal beagle

      Exactly. I shudder to recall the firm where memos were issued stating that anyone using a font other than 12-point Times New Roman would be fired. Law firms can be odd ducks and Jessie is really fortunate that she’s landed somewhere where her supervisor is willing to invest time in her.

      Reply
    5. cncx

      i was a paralegal, got threatened with a PIP once for a comma instead of a period on a fax. On a fax. So when i first saw the letter i was like “oh so OP is nitpicky about typos”…then i read on and wow mixing up parties is not cool. OP is being really really kind here. Just one of the mistakes mentioned would have easily gotten me fired.

      Reply
  3. JB (not in Houston)

    Oh, no. No no no. She cannot make those kinds of mistakes and succeed in the legal field. She’s also opening herself up to a malpractice suit on down the line. And more importantly, OP you have an obligation to look after your clients’ interests, and you’re not doing that properly if she’s making these kinds of big mistakes and you’re relying on her to work on cases. I’m not talking about typos, I’m talking about things like the evidence errors you described. Not only is this going to cause your firm to lose credibility in the legal community and with judges, it could cost your clients their cases. You need to make sure she really understands that she can’t make these kinds of mistakes and be a lawyer. She can’t succeed at the work, and she can’t meet her ethical obligations to her clients.

    Reply
    1. Amber T

      “Attention to detail” to me seems like spelling “Kathy” instead of “Cathy” or 5+8=14… small, silly things that are don’t have a huge impact individually, but added up could show a problem over all. 1) That’s different in the legal field, where the stakes are different, and 2) these aren’t “attention to detail” problems… as Alison suggested, they sound like comprehension problems, which is… very not good. You’re going to end up doubling all of her work to make sure it’s right (which is going to be a waste of resources), or continue to get things wrong.

      Reply
      1. AvonLady Barksdale

        Exactly. I struggle with attention to detail, but that means I sometimes make typos or I forget to put a legend under a chart that needs it. I’m not costing my company large amounts of money when I do this, even if it makes it into the final product. I also benefit from asking other people to proof my work and have learned to never, ever let something leave the building without two sets of eyes on it. THAT is a problem with detail. Jessie’s problem is a big issue with her chosen profession.

        Reply
        1. SimonTheGreyWarden

          This. My husband has attention to detail issues sometimes…it means he rushes through things or forgets to double check time for things. This goes beyond that issue.

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      2. Typical Lurker

        Attention to detail is extremely important. A misspelled name could have dire consequences, esp in medicine and law. As can a simple math error.

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    2. Jessie the First (or second)

      First, I’m not the Jessie the LW is talking about. :-D

      But I agree, this…. this is so much more than “attention to detail,” and seems to be a fundamental a mismatch between skills/ability needed for the role, and skills/ability that Jessie has.

      Understanding and evaluating evidence isn’t a “checklist” task, it isn’t just an issue of a typo (bad in a court document, but it happens), or misspelled word. Understanding the evidence you have is at the core of a case. And if you cannot do it, you should not be in litigation.

      Reply
    3. mrs__peel

      “Not only is this going to cause your firm to lose credibility in the legal community and with judges”

      Absolutely. If you’re up before the same judges frequently, many of them pay close attention to written submissions and they *definitely* do make a note and remember if they see a pattern of something that they don’t find professional.

      I participate in hearings with administrative law judges, which are far more informal than (say) federal or state court. Even so, I’ve heard judges comment negatively on things like typographical and grammatical errors in briefs. Maintaining your professional reputation is important in all areas of the law.

      Reply
      1. JB (not in Houston)

        Yes! And *especially* if she’s saying the evidence says something it doesn’t. They will notice that. They will attribute to sloppiness, incompetence, or lying. You do not want them thinking any of those things about you because they will not trust anything you tell them going forward. They might let it go once as an accident, but if it happens again, there goes your credibility (and you better hope they don’t sanction you).

        Reply
    4. Me

      none of these things open the firm up to a malpractice suit (assuming she’s at a firm, which she likely isn’t based on the language of this letter). They would open a firm up to losing clients, though.

      Reply
  4. Sara without an H

    OP, this is painful. But it sometimes happens that perfectly lovely people are just wrong for certain roles. It doesn’t make “Jessie” a bad person, it just means she’s miscast.

    I agree with Alison — have you made sure that she understands just how serious this is? From your description, it sounds as though her errors have already come back to bite you in court. I suspect that in other law firms, this would be a career-killer.

    I know you were hoping for some “tips & tricks,” but I think this problem goes beyond that. Maybe the best thing you can do for her is lead her to think seriously about her career goals. Law just may not be the right field for her.

    Reply
    1. carrie

      …So what would be the right type of position for her? She must have some strengths. Are there law-related positions that don’t require this type of skill? Fields where knowledge of law is very useful, but ability to practice it isn’t? Could she be a good manager, motivator, visionary?

      Reply
      1. mrs__peel

        To be honest, I can’t think of many law-adjacent fields where attention to detail and critical thinking aren’t important.

        I’ve seen many people use a law degree as a springboard to other careers (e.g., teaching, publishing, editing, etc.) But they’ve usually been successful because they already have sharp critical thinking and reading/writing skills. Those are the things that are valuable and transferable.

        Reply
      2. Paralegal, Part Deux

        I’ve been in the legal field almost 12 years, and there isn’t any part of it that doesn’t require an attention to detail. I’ve caught things before that the attorneys missed, but it’s not everything they do.

        Reply
    2. The OP

      Hi Sara

      Thanks for your comment.

      You are correct – I haven’t made it clear that her job is on the line. I probably should have mentioned it in my letter, I don’t have hiring / firing powers over her. I had assumed that the partners had made it clear to her – but I have nothing to base that assumption on! I think I will need to make it explicit how damaging this is for her career.

      Reply
  5. amanda_cake

    It scares me to death that one could get so far in their career–to junior attorney–then discover it’s a terrible fit. Especially after spending so much money to become an attorney.

    I have worried about this with myself. I’m a librarian and I was terrified I wouldn’t get a job or that I wouldn’t actually like my position. I have friends who have done 5 year bachelor/masters programs for education and then they hated teaching.

    Reply
    1. Quickbeam

      That happens in nursing too. A lot. And everyone feels bad but if the job is not you, it’s not you….like this letter.

      Reply
      1. Oxford Comma

        Years ago when I was a baby librarian, I had the misfortune to end up working with a nursing student, who to put it kindly, should never ever have been allowed to be near patients. She was very motivated and desperately wanted to be an OR nurse, but she could not focus for more than a few seconds, not just when it came to research, but basically with anything. She graduated, but if I ever saw her in a health-care setting I would run in the opposite direction.

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        1. CMart

          I feel this way about a lot of the people in the accounting graduate program I was in, though this profession is obviously much lower stakes than healthcare.

          Lots of extremely dedicated, determined and motivated people who were incredibly hard workers who just struggled like hell to think critically, understand the material, or apply concepts across subjects. Most graduated with me. Many are now CPAs after putting in an unimaginable amount of time and effort into taking (and re-taking) the exams, but I wouldn’t be able to recommend them for a real-life job in good conscience.

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      2. Lora

        It’s one of the major down sides to going to a big university (state or otherwise >10,000 students) for undergrad: your advising is just about guaranteed to suck, and if the major you choose is a bad fit career-wise, it will be very difficult for you to find out before you’re stuck in the job.

        Used to teach a lot of pre-med students who were clearly not going to be good doctors, heck-bent on becoming a doctor somehow – but the big state schools don’t clearly guide students into internships and volunteer / paid experiences working with actual sick people, so they don’t quite understand that it isn’t actually about getting a 98% on your Organic Chemistry exam, it’s mostly about dealing with grumpy people in pain who aren’t happy to see you and don’t want to do what you tell them, plus a great deal of paperwork.

        Reply
        1. Former Help Desk Peon

          “it’s mostly about dealing with grumpy people in pain who aren’t happy to see you and don’t want to do what you tell them, plus a great deal of paperwork.” OMG I laughed. So true! (Not a doctor, just been one of the grumpy people often enough)

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        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

          There was a girl in my class back in middle/high school who was on a track to go to med school and become a doctor; for no other reason than both her parents were doctors and had enough connections and inside knowledge of the field to get her through the entire process. Our last year of high school, the entire class went on a field trip to a local hospital. We were told that those of us that wanted to, could go into the operating room and watch a surgery being done (?? hopefully from afar and from behind a glass or something for sanitary reasons – I don’t know for sure – I said no). Out of the couple dozen kids that did go, one person fainted at the sight of blood. Guess who. She went on to become a foreign language teacher, iirc. Looking back now, I think she was extremely lucky to get this warning before she even started college, so that she didn’t waste any of her time studying something she was not suited for.

          Reply
          1. Courageous cat

            To add to that, though, tons of med/nursing/etc students faint in the beginning at the sight of blood and then go on to be great at their job. Totally normal.

            Reply
            1. Julia

              This might be a know yourself kind of thing. I’ve never fainted at the sight of anything (I’ve never fainted period), but I’m still extremely squeamish and usually can’t look when there’s an operating scene on TV. Since I assume I couldn’t practice medicine with my eyes closed, it’s not a good fit for me.

              Reply
        3. Falling Diphthong

          I really don’t think size of school correlates much to the quality of advising, including as to whether you are in the right field or not.

          Reply
          1. KayEss

            It does and it doesn’t… I went to a mid-size private university (around 10,000 students), but I was in a very focused and close-knit arts program. We took a lot of classes with the same faculty and classmates and formed close relationships with them–our main teachers were intimately familiar with each student’s work and goals, and (as working professionals rather than research academics) were able to give practical and considered career advice to us. I graduated with a totally different and much more solid idea of what I was going to do with my life than when I enrolled, thanks to their guidance.

            At the same school, I knew a girl in the large and prestigious biomedical engineering program who dropped out halfway through her second year after, it turned out, having not gone to class for multiple months. No one had noticed. Another girl, a good friend of mine, dropped out of the engineering school one semester shy of degree completion, in part because after almost four years she still had no idea what kind of engineering she wanted to do or where she was going to go with her career.

            Part of the problem was definitely that these were extraordinarily bright kids who had never needed help with anything academic before in their lives, so when they started floundering they didn’t know how to reach out–but another part is that they were allowed to slip through the cracks of a system unable to give them the attention and assistance they needed.

            Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Junior attorney just means you’re newly graduated. Most attorneys don’t have the opportunity to practice in law school (although this is changing in legal ed), and so their first few years are kind of like an apprenticeship. But I hear you—I have several friends who realized they didn’t want to be lawyers halfway through law school but had accrued so much debt that they went ahead and did it, worked at a firm to pay their loans, and then abandoned law practice. On average, about 50% of lawyers leave the profession after 5 years.

      Jessie may not be a horrible fit for other legal employment. But if she can’t address the problems OP has described, then she absolutely cannot be left unsupervised in litigation. There’s no way I would rely on her conclusions based on her inability to understand the field. She’s currently opening OP’s firm up to malpractice claims, and she’s costing herself and her firm their reputation with clients and the legal community.

      Reply
      1. MtnLaurel

        That’s what I was thinking. Can she use her legal training in another area of law that isn’t litigation? Otherwise, in order to be successful she will need to find some tricks to help her (cheat sheets on the cases defining the parties and checking them religiously? actively trying to make the evidence say the opposite of what the client says?) .

        Reply
        1. Thornus67

          If you’re not a litigator, you’re a transactional, to use the term very broadly, attorney of some sort (wills, M&A, etc). Those probably require an even higher attention to detail. At the very least a more constant attention to detail since those roles are drafting heavy.

          Reply
            1. It's Pronounced Bruce

              In a general sense, I imagine that literally every attorney’s job boils down in some way or another to “knowing a lot of details and critically matching those details to situations.”

              Reply
              1. mrs__peel

                Well, a lot of it is knowing where/how to research when you don’t know the answer off the top of your head!

                But being able to write accurately and concisely is a fundamental part of the job, and you need critical thinking skills and attention to detail in order to do that. You have to be able to pull out the relevant facts of a situation and craft that into a narrative that’s understandable and easy to follow.

                Reply
            2. Thornus67

              Maybe teaching 1Ls an introductory subject like torts? But not a writing class or statute/rule heavy class like civpro.

              Reply
              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                As someone who recently transitioned to law teaching, the number of folks suggesting that she teach law freaks me out. Someone making the kind of errors that Jessie is making should not be teaching law to anyone!

                Reply
                1. mrs__peel

                  I completely agree. If anything, you need reading/writing and critical thinking skills that are *far above average* to be a professor!

                2. Jesmlet

                  100% – this is not a field where the phrase “those who can’t do, teach” is even remotely applicable.

              1. SarahTheEntwife

                There are plenty of professions where lack of attention to detail isn’t great, but the consequences are much lower and someone can get by ok as “Bob, who is great with needy clients but needs someone to double-check his reports”.

                Reply
            3. Thornus67

              Oh I thought of one. Document review for the review mills like Beacon Hill and EPIQ. I’ve done that work before, and it’s fairly mindless. Just read docs and click a button whether they’re relevant or not. Details like privilege and key words even get highlighted so you can’t miss them. QC is even built into the process.

              Reply
                1. krysb

                  But now a lot of that work is done by programs with algorithms. I work in e-discovery, and the platforms we use only require a person to review a handful of documents before it is able to logically determine what documents are pertinent to the case.

            4. Snark

              Even law-adjacent jobs – I do environmental regulatory compliance work, and shining details is so very not a thing in this role. Screwing up could cause thousands of dollars in fines, a lawsuit, or having to completely redo a plan or documentation. Nooope.

              Reply
              1. Ellex

                I’m not a lawyer, or even a paralegal, but I do abstracting and title work (researching real estate ownership). It’s nothing but details, even if you’re reviewing oil and gas leases. Sure, they’re all written on a basic template (because the purpose is the same), but the details…oh lord, the details! The details are super important.

                A lot of newly graduated lawyers who live in oil and gas territory spend some time abstracting because it’s good experience and often good money (for as long as a particular project lasts). If you can’t pay attention to details or think/read critically, you can’t do the job. Having been in the position of training/inducting new employees several times, and reviewing other peoples’ work, you don’t last long if you make a lot of mistakes. You’ll be thanked for your time and let go, and not asked to come back when a new project pops up. And word really does get around.

                Reply
          1. Barbara Lander

            Very good point, and I am a transactional attorney. Some firms have excellent proofreaders who would catch the typos and even possibly the confusion about the parties’ names. But you simply cannot go to court, or do anything, relying only on your client’s word. You simply can’t. Did she just not check the math? Some people become attorneys because they cannot do math. I once worked for a guy who literally couldn’t add or subtract. I’ve read decisions by judges in which the arithmetic is wrong.

            Reply
        2. irritable vowel

          Sure, although it’s possible she might need another degree as well. She could become a law librarian, or a social worker, or a patient advocate – anything in an area where knowledge of the law is important or even required.

          Reply
      2. Decima Dewey

        I’m not a lawyer, but it occurs to me that law is all about details. It matters if a client is Stacy Yeobright or Eustacia Yeobright, or Eustacia Vye-Yeobright. The a misinterpretation of the way a clause in a contract is worded can land a client in legal jeopardy.

        Super nice or not, Jessie has to get better at details, or find other employment.

        Reply
        1. Detective Amy Santiago

          I remember a story a few months back about a lawsuit that hinged on the lack of using an oxford comma. So, yeah, I think this is where I fall too.

          Reply
          1. Bigglesworth

            This is the case that you’re thinking about –

            https://www-m.cnn.com/2017/03/15/health/oxford-comma-maine-court-case-trnd/index.html

            It seems like this one was more about statutory/legal interpretation rather than missing a crucial detail. Including or not including an Oxford comma is a debate within the legal community and just because Maine’s laws are now interpreted that way does not mean that Texas or California laws must be interpreted that way. The fact that reasonable lawyers can disagree on this doesn’t make it seem like this one was about attention to detail (or the lack of it).

            Reply
            1. DJ Roomba

              On Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History there was an entire episode about the importance of a semicolon in the constitution and how it could effect the number of states in the US (ie Texas could legally be 3 or 4 new and different states), politics, etc. (Season 3, episode 1)

              Reply
          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            There are literally Supreme Court cases that hinge on the placement of a comma or the ordering of a statute. Law is all about nuanced details, and unfortunately most law practice requires a level of meticulousness that Jessie does not appear to exhibit.

            Reply
          3. Astrid

            The Mayer Brown paralegal’s filing error that cancelled J.P. Morgan’s security interest in a $1.5 billion loan to General Motors has been in the news over the past few years.

            Reply
      3. Laura the Librarian

        I agree. I mentioned this elsewhere but I was a Law Librarian and attention to detail is important when doing research. I would have been fired for mistakes like these.

        Reply
      4. PizzaSquared

        I’ve often thought that I dodged a bullet by deciding (at nearly the last minute) not to go to law school, based on how many lawyers and ex-lawyers I talked to who hated their jobs, and how few I talked to who loved their jobs……

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        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I suspect a lot of it is that many people go to law school not realizing that they don’t actually want to be lawyers. And then there’s finding a good home in practice, which can be difficult if you feel economic pressure (e.g., debt) or the pressure to perform. There’s a lot of hierarchy and keeping-up-with-the-joneses, as well as a good ol’ boys culture, among lawyers, and it can be difficult for folks to forge their own path and stay centered in those environments. My class is unusual in that most of us are still lawyers and enjoy being lawyers, but for other classes, at least one-third+ seem to really hate the practice or the profession.

          Reply
      5. Buffay the Vampire Layer

        “Most attorneys don’t have the opportunity to practice in law school ”

        What do you call 1L and 2L summers, then? Just about everyone gets a job in a government law office or firm or whatever in that time frame. Jessie should be able to do doc review as a brand new baby attorney. Or she should have realized in her summer jobs that law is not the place for her.

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      6. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool

        In my law school experience nearly everyone had summer associate jobs or intern/externships. In many law schools these type of work placements during school (or summer) are required. I learned a lot about working/practicing in a few months. It is not the same as years on the job, obviously, but in my experience nearly every law student practice in some way outside of school.

        Reply
    3. Fiennes

      This is so true. A friend teaches architecture, and last year, a student—who’s already put years in the program, apparently—explained to her that extra time was needed for tests, because her learning disability makes it difficult to follow instructions. My friend accommodated this, but kept thinking, “architecture is ALL ABOUT following instructions!” Safety codes, zoning, client needs, etc—it’s at the nucleus of the job. But the college has let this student spend six figures getting a degree that seems highly likely to be a terrible fit.

      My friend tried talking to this student some, but could only go so far without being called out for not accommodating a disability, which ironically means she’s failing to *help* the student with a disability.

      We need to be better, culturally, at helping people understand what careers would fit.

      Reply
      1. Elle

        I have a hard time with the concept of learning accommodations during college. I’m an engineer and a large percentage of my class had extra time on tests because of issues with math, dyslexia, ADHD, etc. I’m all for giving everyone reasonable opportunities to succeed… but employers can’t just be giving my coworkers double the time to complete the same tasks as me, for the same money as me, because they picked a field they were fundamentally a bad fit for. Its not fair to anyone.

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        1. BeautifulVoid

          I had this conversation with my best friend, who is now an emergency veterinarian, over a decade ago when he was in school. On the one hand, it’s great that students with learning disabilities are given so many tools to help them succeed. On the other, as my friend put it, you don’t get extended time to figure out what to do and go over, for example, numbers for dosing when someone rushes in to your ER with their dog who has just been hit by a car and is bleeding all over the place.

          Reply
          1. MakesThings

            There are a ton of vets and doctors with ADHD. In fact, emergency situations are where ADHD gifts are best manifested. Maybe don’t let your lack of knowledge dictate your opinions?

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            1. Coffeelover

              ADHD isn’t the only learning disability a person can have. Also you’re missing the point of what was said to nitpick.

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            2. fdsifyhwei

              The comment you are replying to does not reference ADHD. Maybe don’t let your emotional baggage dictate your perceptions?

              Reply
              1. MakesThings

                Honestly, it’s your site and your rules, but people are being extremely assholish in this thread. Maybe “do people with learning disabilities deserve accommodations” shouldn’t be a viable topic for debate?

                Reply
        2. Steve

          I am an engineer and I needed extra time in uni tests. The difference is that workplaces are required to accommodate me with software and tools, whereas the uni tests were all on paper so the only accommodation was extra time.

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        3. Socks

          Maybe your school experience was closer to your work experience than mine, but, at least for me, there are a lot of skills that I needed in school, that I have never needed since- skills directly impacted by most learning disabilities. I don’t take twice as long to finish work tasks, because I’m not trying to do them in a silent classroom where I can’t get up, check my phone, Google reference information, or even possibly switch between tasks, as time allows (and often you’ve gotta write by hand, which is its own torture). Testing environments are hell for ADHD and other disorders, in a way that most working conditions (in my experience) are not. That’s obviously not true for all fields, and of course there can be new challenges in the work environment, but needing accommodations in school does not necessarily translate to needing them at work, or that such a person is inherently unsuited for that field. They might still be a bad fit, but it’s usually not because they’re bad at writing essays or sitting perfectly still for hours at a time, which are not usually a part of most jobs.

          Reply
          1. MakesThings

            For me it was lectures (100% pointless because I can’t learn by listening). Work is not lectures, so work is fine.

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          2. Elle

            That’s a good point. I hadn’t really thought about the test environment or hand written nature impacting performance. Certainly not every learning disability should disqualify you from every job, even if you need the extra time in college to get to the job. Particularly within engineering, there are a lot of paths you can take after college that may be less math-intensive and lower pressure. But there are many that aren’t, and technically your college degree qualifies you for all of them.
            There are many paths that aren’t a good fit for people with certain learning challenges, or other strengths and weaknesses (for example, attention to detail or my unreasonable fear of talking on the phone). I still think allowing accommodations without talking through coping mechanism and career choices for the ‘real world’ is a huge disservice, and colleges should do a better job of that. Because its going to really stink if you’re dyslexic and take a job transposing numbers and end up getting fired for making mistakes.

            Reply
            1. JB (not in Houston)

              You are assuming that the people asking for accommodations aren’t already aware of these issues.

              As for whether “There are many paths that aren’t a good fit for people with certain learning challenges,” that’s true also of people without disabilities needing accommodations in school. Plenty of people don’t find out they are not suited for and will not succeed in their chosen career path until they start working. There’s no real reason to single out people with disabilities.

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          3. SarahTheEntwife

            Agree so hard. I have a hard time keeping track of a lot of information in my head, the way you often have to do in college tests, and I have some maybe-dyscalculia difficulty with arithmetic. At my job I’m allowed to use a calculator (and I will cheerfully agree that being, say, an accountant would have been a bad career choice) and I’m allowed to look up information rather than keeping it memorized. Heck, as a librarian, *my job* is basically to keep information effectively organized so people can find it when they need it and not have to keep track of it all in their heads.

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        4. Dust Bunny

          I have a diagnosed learning disability.

          The level of stress I experience at work is nothing like the level of stress I experienced taking exams in college so, no, I don’t need the same accommodations (also, my job focuses more on things that come more easily to me than, say, calculus, which I had to take despite have a math-related disability. But I don’t use calculus in my job so it’s no longer an issue. I was offered extra time for my history and anthro classes but never used it because those weren’t as taxing). College is where you’re learning to do all these things so by definition you’re new at them and, yes, I think it’s reasonable to provide some accommodations.

          However, if you’re fundamentally a bad fit, now and forever, that’s another issue. It would have been a bad idea for me to try to become a theoretical mathematician because, frankly, there probably isn’t enough accommodation in the world for me to succeed at that.

          Reply
        5. MakesThings

          College is nothing, NOTHING like real life at all. Plenty of people with learning disabilities succeed at work. Maybe try to let go of the idea that fairness = everyone needs to be treated in the exact same way?

          Reply
          1. Gotta be anon

            There is a huge difference between “equal” and “fair.” If two people are standing in front of a 7.5 foot fence, giving a two foot ladder to each of them is providing equal treatment to allow them to see; it’s not fair to the person who’s only 5′ 3″, though.

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        6. Koala dreams

          Well, if the only accomodation is giving people more time to complete tasks, then that’s one thing. However, many accomodations are quite possible, or even valuable, at work. In high school I had a class mate that was allowed to write in a separate room on the computer, while the others students took the test together in a classroom by hand. At work it’s much more common to write on the computer. As to writing in a separate room or a big room, that’s a hotly debated topic, but not all jobs fall on the same side.

          If accomodations are in the shape of specific computer programs or apps, a set-up with a mentor, a color-coded schedule, or similar, then it’s quite possible to find work places that accomodate that.

          Reply
          1. SimonTheGreyWarden

            Also…I mean, how many times after I got my undergrad degree have I sat for a test? Precisely none. My MA program did not have any and my career has not had any. I didn’t have accommodations in college because I didn’t know how to ask about them, but I would have qualified. I can think very fast on my feet and often come to solutions intuitively, but ask me to show my work and I am stymied.

            Reply
        7. Anon Accountant

          And most of all it’s a disservice to the person entering that field. School debt, not succeeding in their chosen field, trying to break into another field.

          Reply
      2. alice

        100% agree. I got to the final semester of a marketing undergrad, and then a professor had us all take a little empathy test (an online one) to see where we stood. The class was on understanding customers. Everyone discussed their results the next day, and I learned I had scored about 60 points lower and was actually potentially on the spectrum. A year later, as I struggled day in and out in a marketing role, I realised I was a horrible fit for marketing, where empathy and people skills were necessary. If I’d taken that little test at the beginning, I would have saved so much money.

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      3. Denise

        What’s more worrisome is that if the state is helping pay the student’s tuition, they have already had what’s called a vocational evaluation., a series of tests designed to help someone find the best vocational fit. So many potential failures.

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        1. Doug Judy

          The problem is that some people answer those the way they think they should answer because they really want it to come back and say they should be a lawyer, doctor, or whatever else they are hoping to do. It really only works the best if people answer authentically, even if the result is a different career than they have been dreaming of.

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        2. Stan

          I got a lot of state and federal aid to attend college and never had any kind of vocational evaluation. Maybe that’s something that varies state to state?

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        3. mrs__peel

          I live in New York State and I’ve never heard of a vocational evaluation being mandatory for financial aid– it’s definitely not an automatic thing in every state.

          Reply
      4. Triplestep

        I am trained as an architect and I work in the field. There is plenty this student could eventually do given extra time. She is not saying “I can’t pay attention”. She is saying “I need more time”. Its not really comparable to today’s letter.

        That said, she might run into problems with deadlines and billable hours. (But plenty of architects without a learning disability run into problems with those. I have met few architects who are both gifted creatively AND good at business, estimating how long it will take to do something, etc. So this student will have plenty of company!)

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        1. It's Pronounced Bruce

          Yeah, I really can’t imagine that needing to take your time with instructions is going to sink someone’s ability to do… Most things, really. The academic setting is often the only setting in which you have a tight time constraint around such a thing.

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        2. Dust Bunny

          I don’t think it’s fair to assume that because somebody needs some extra time *while they are learning* that they a) will never really learn the material, and b) will continue to need extra time even after they’ve learned it.

          Even if you don’t have a learning disability, I would bet good money that whatever you do, you do it better and faster now than you did when you were new at it. Some of us just need a little extra time to figure out the best way to understand it, if our learning patterns are atypical. Once we get it, we get it as well as anyone else.

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      5. Sk

        I’m in architecture and it’s a tough field. Only 1/2 of my starting class made it to graduation. A lot of people were conflicted when they quit, spending 3 years and tens of thousands of dollars just to leave is a hard decision. After graduation people learn that practicing architecture is not nearly as glamorous as school makes it seem, and a lot of people who excel in school do terribly in a job. They either end up going back to get more degrees or to teach because they’re better suited to academic architecture than practicing architecture. I wish schools made more of an effort to emmulate the real working conditions so people know what they’re getting in to.

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      6. Antilles

        This is likely to derail, so I’m going to keep this brief and just say that I completely agree with you on the last sentence – for some reason, we as a culture have collectively decided that it’s impolite to drop a harsh truth that “not everybody is suited for every job”.

        Reply
        1. Gloucesterina

          If this were true–that nobody is discouraged from pursuing a particular career–we’d expect to see a lot of gender parity, racial and socioeconomic diversity, and indded diversity on a bunch of metrics across lots of different fields. I work with a college of engineering in the U.S., and looking at our gender percentages, for instance, it is very hard not to conclude that “we as a culture” are doing something to discourage women from pursuing engineering training.

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      7. HannahS

        Culturally, we need to be a lot better at understanding the abilities of people with disabilities. I’m in medical school, and it would be very easy to say that people with anxiety shouldn’t be here because medicine is ALL ABOUT about keeping calm and thinking rationally! Or that people who learn slowly shouldn’t be here–medicine is ALL ABOUT learning quickly and thinking on your feet! Or that people with ADHD shouldn’t be here because medicine is ALL ABOUT prolonged focus! Except, I know doctors–middle-aged clinicians, with long successful careers–with all of those issues. And on the autism spectrum. And physical disabilities, and chronic illnesses, and depression. Even intense careers have a degree of flexiblity, and school is not much like working. “Following instructions” is a huge cognitive ability with many, many sub-components, and this student struggles with some of them. You don’t know which ones. Your friend would indeed have been wrong to advise this student to leave the profession. You don’t actually know what this student is capable of unless you see him try and fail, and neither does your friend. You have both assumed that since he struggles to follow instructions while writing tests in school he shouldn’t try to be an architect. That is profoundly unfair.

        Reply
        1. galatea

          thank you for writing this.

          (Not to mention — college is often when mental health problems first manifest, and learning how to deal with that is ALSO a learning curve. I can tell you with absolute confidence that, while I’d still have a hard time with certain aspects of college, now that I’ve had a decade of living with mental illness under my belt it wouldn’t be the trainwreck it was when I was a teenager suddenly trying to power through on willpower alone)

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          1. HannahS

            Exactly. I am exactly the kind of student who can’t handle medical school. Literally, I am physically unable, and once I start clerkship, I’ll have accommodations in place where I don’t have to do everything that everyone else does. I will also have to do things that no one else does to make up for it, and that’s fine with me. I had numerous people (doctors! my own rheumatologist!) tell me not to go. They based their assessment on how my health was when I was at my most sick, not based on where I could be once better. They also based it on their own assumption of what a doctor needs to be. Well, I’m here, and on the last test I was a full standard deviation above the rest of the class, and my plan is to be psychiatrist–very little physical work. So I have very little patience for gatekeeping.

            Reply
            1. MakesThings

              Good for you for sticking it out. I also have little patience for rigid gatekeeping- so often it has little to do with the reality of life and work after the program ends.

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          2. It's Pronounced Bruce

            You also don’t know what kind of transient things are going on with a student at any given time. When I was in college I had more than one pretty major distraction, including both of my parents nearly dying around two totally unrelated sudden and severe illnesses in the same school year. That was also the year I was in a serious car accident in which I was injured and my car was totaled. I had inherited my car and neither I nor my family could afford to just up and buy a new one, so for a while I couldn’t even get to class.

            Some semesters were rough and I’m sure I did not impress quite a few of my professors. You may not know what’s really setting off a student’s issues because they won’t tell you, and they won’t tell you because of how aggressively universities like to deny you basic human compassion when you do ask for help. Here is one of a good dozen examples I could give of stuff like this: The semester my dad got sick (stage four cancer) and needed my help during treatment, I asked for departmental permission to withdraw from a course and retake it in a different semester. I had placed into the class, which was notoriously difficult, and the rule was that you only had one try to take it or you lost your placement– unless the department head gave special permission for extenuating circumstances. I sent the paperwork with my explanation to the dept head, who sent me a brief response a day or so later saying my situation wasn’t compelling enough for an exception. That was the word I think she used, compelling? Like, it didn’t tug her heart strings, sorry your dad is dying but meh?

            Reply
          1. HannahS

            My pleasure! It’s all the stored up anger I have from my classmates saying things like, “Should we even let XYZ people in to medical school if they can’t handle it” not realizing that I’M RIGHT HERE but I *look* healthy.

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      8. Chopper

        Yes this. In the U.K. there was an article about a teenager who had a form of dwarfism. (Sorry if that’s not the right way to say it) Anyway, he wants to be a chef, and was really annoyed that the college said the course wouldn’t be right for him and wouldn’t convert the kitchen to his height…

        Reply
    4. caryatis

      It’s way too easy to get into law school nowadays. There are schools that will take anyone. When you hear someone is a lawyer–don’t be impressed unless they went to one of the top schools.

      Reply
        1. Triplestep

          Yeah I was kind of wondering how the junior attorney described in the OP got THROUGH law school … Not how she got in.

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          1. Dust Bunny

            I was wondering this, too. I only have a BA in history and my profs would have ripped me apart if my evidence didn’t work with my conclusions.

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        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Unfortunately, that is not the case. The bar tests a very narrow set of skills, many of which are not actually helpful in practice.

          Re: “don’t be impressed unless they went to one of the top schools,” I disagree. It’s true that there are many non-rigorous and exploitative schools. But I’ve met plenty of incompetent lawyers from top schools and plenty of stars from “lower ranked” schools. A person’s law school is often a signal of their SES, not of their professional competence.

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          1. BookishMiss

            “A person’s law school is often a signal of their SES, not of their professional competence.”

            THANK you for saying this. I went to a state school because that’s what I could afford, vs the elite private school down the road, and the bias is pervasive across nearly all fields. My alma mater turns out grads just as excellent and just as awful as every school – just with less debt.

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          2. caryatis

            “A person’s law school is often a signal of their SES, not of their professional competence.”

            Nah. You need a good LSAT score to get into a good school–and you can’t get a good LSAT without a high IQ. Now, certainly high IQ doesn’t necessarily mean competent, but it helps.

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            1. Fiennes

              I had a great, 99th percentile LSAT score…and I was a terrible fit for law. The LSAT doesn’t measure legal proficiency or even intelligence as much as it measures standardized-test logic. It’s possible to be very smart and a bad test-taker, or of so-so intelligence and a great test-taker.

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            2. Weyrwoman

              Except that recent studies have shown that IQ is tied to SES as well – that people who live in poverty have lower IQs on the statistically significant level.

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            3. Dankar

              Except a number of (very well regarded) law schools no longer require the LSAT, and more are looking to make the switch to more general exams.

              …and that IQ has been shown a number of times to be a poor indicator of intelligence, likelihood of success and just about everything else that people think it’s designed to measure.

              PCBH is absolutely right–what law school you attend is MUCH more correlated with SES than competence.

              Reply
            4. Tequila Mockingbird

              “you can’t get a good LSAT without a high IQ”

              This is not even remotely accurate and it’s sad that you actually believe this.

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              1. Dankar

                SO MANY people believe this. And I know I’m going a bit off-topic, but it is so frustrating to see people just cite high IQ as some be-all-end-all stat that shows how amazing/talented/successful a person is.

                Intelligence can’t be boiled down into a single number. Trying to do so (and then using that number to judge a person’s worth) severely limits and disenfranchises those with learning disabilities, those who grew up in poverty, those who excel in the soft-skills (emotional intelligence), etc.

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                1. SimonTheGreyWarden

                  One of my good friends is a former special-needs educator. I love her line about this: IQ tests only measure how well you do at taking IQ tests.

              2. asleep or maybe dead

                Thank you.
                IQ is a terrible metric with terrible history and I don’t even know why it’s being brought up.

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            5. Jessie the First (or second)

              “You need a good LSAT score to get into a good school–and you can’t get a good LSAT without a high IQ”

              I had a very good LSAT score. (No idea what my IQ is, never tested that.)
              But I went to a lower ranked school because of the scholarship they offered – I could graduate with no debt, versus taking on enormous debt at a top-ranked school. This was significant to me because I was a single mom struggling financially.

              So your “Nah” comment is not only incredibly dismissive, but doesn’t match reality. People with high LSATs go to all sorts of schools. And some people with low LSATs turn out to be great lawyers – because the LSAT measures next to nothing that is useful.

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            6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I would encourage you to reexamine your assumptions about what signals competency or capacity in the legal profession. There’s a large body of social science evidence that contradicts and/or dismisses your argument, including undermining the assumption that high IQ = smart = impressive. There’s great research and studies on the limited predictive strength of the LSAT, as well, particularly when it comes to assessing the professional performance and quality of practicing attorneys.

              Oftentimes, good lawyers are resilient, have a strong work ethic, and have grit—all things that a person builds in response to adversity and/or failure. Having worked with lawyers from across the educational spectrum, I worked with better and smarter colleagues when they were the #1–10 graduates of Podunk School of Law than graduate #449 from Harvard.

              Reply
              1. Dankar

                Thank you so much for this! I’m not a lawyer, but I have worked with student populations that came from a lower SES, and at universities which largely served those populations.

                I was already wary of IQ tests as a tool for determining competency before, but my experiences with those students really highlighted how damaging an attitude like caryatis’ can be, both to the students’ feelings of self-worth and to their employment opportunities. Great students/employees can come from “bad” (often, less-prestigious) schools, and vice versa.

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            7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I should also note, scoring well on the LSAT tells others exactly one thing: that you are good at taking the LSAT. It has literally no bearing on any other factor that makes someone a good law student or a good lawyer. And performance on the LSAT is primarily driven by whether you took test prep, with the result being that higher SES students often take those prep courses and get higher SES scores. That doesn’t make them smarter or better lawyers; it just means they have the wealth to train to become slightly better at taking a very specific standardized test.

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              1. mrs__peel

                As a practicing lawyer, I’m happy to say that I have never *once* had to divide up a group of 13 people into separate volleyball teams so that every brown-eyed person gets to serve once.

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            8. Jesmlet

              Give me an LSAT practice book and I’ll ace that shit after a couple of days of studying. I’ve always excelled at standardized tests. Does that mean I’m suited for law? Hell no. Does that necessarily mean I have a high IQ? Nope. I know someone who got a perfect score on the SATs and she’s dumb as a box of rocks. She just spent a ton of time getting tutored for it and figuring out the ins and outs of the test. A high score on the LSAT tells us only 2 things – that the individual is literate, and that they are good at taking the LSAT.

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            9. Minocho

              I am an excellent test taker. There are multiple reasons for this. I can speed read – a big advantage. I play games with the statistics on multiple choice questions, and I enjoy taking tests and challenging myself. As I enjoy tests, I do better at them, which helps me enjoy them more, which…happy test taking feedback loop!

              I do not think I’m more intelligent than people who don’t test well. I just…have a skill set that looks very good on paper.

              The work world included some harsh lessons I had to learn in order for me to become successful. Lessons people that may have been less skilled at taking tests learned earlier – and thus likely better.

              We all have different strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages.

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            10. NotAnotherManager!

              Focus on elite school education is definitely a SES marker. Even if you get a good LSAT score, you’ve got to be confident enough you’re going to get a BigLaw job or help from family to pay that six-figure tuition for a top-tier law school (or even undergrad – I grew up middle class, and nearly everyone I know went to a good but not elite college – I graduated with 500+ people and two went to Ivies, one went to a SLAC, one went to a Seven Sisters, and the vast majority of the others went to college went to a state school. It is very much a SES-cultural thing.)

              I’ve worked in legal for about 20 years, and it’s one of the most academically snobby fields that there is. I had no idea that my (nationally ranked) state university education was inadequate until I came into the field and got comment after comment about how I could have gone to a state school. I believe finance is similar. BigLaw attorneys turn their noses up at smart, competent people who can’t swing expensive private school tuition. I have been forced to hire a less qualified applicant who went to a “good school” over people with better grades and relevant work experience and had lawyers come back to me to say that they were so surprised that Joe, who went to a second-tier university, was an amazing worker!

              Reply
          3. a username

            Graduate schools can be a luck of the draw thing too: I have a decent number of friends who went to the Fancy Ranked Undergraduate university and opted to go to state school for medical or law to avoid picking up too much debt.

            There are way more affordable ways to defray the cost of an undergraduate education than a graduate one: scholarships are easier to get for undergrad, grants are easier to get for undergrad, parents with the means are usually more willing to help out either with money or in-kind (housing, cars) for undergrad expenses.

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          4. Save your forks

            100% accurate both about the bar and the rating of school. I went to a highly regarded law school, did fairly well, passed the bar, and I was totally a Jessie. Writing a decent issue-spotting exam and doing well on a multiple choice don’t a good lawyer make.

            As someone who wasn’t cut out for law, I would have loved someone like OP being kind but honest with me about it. There is absolutely a right career out there for Jessie – this just isn’t it (or if she can be a lawyer, it has to be in a very different setting).

            Reply
              1. Save your forks

                I had to find something else when I realized it wasn’t working out and happened to find an opportunity in a new career in the wealth management firld where I could use a legal background but there was a little more.. room for a learning curve, if that makes sense. It still required attention to detail but in a different way, and there were fewer big impact judgment calls of the type OP describes. So there is definitely something out there for Jessie!

                Reply
          5. mrs__peel

            Yes, all of this!!

            I went to a reasonably good law school, and I had a number of classmates from upper/upper-middle-income families who could presumably pay for extensive tutoring and test preparation. A lot of them did very well on standardized tests (which are written primarily by and for people like them). Unfortunately, some of them were pretty lacking in empathy and understanding of anyone who didn’t come from a similar background– qualities that are necessary to ensure that clients are well-served and that fairness is actually present in the legal system.

            Reply
        3. Jen

          The bar exam is tough, but doesn’t really test for these kinds of skills. You cram as much into your brain as possible for the exam but it realistically can’t test for certain skills.

          Reply
        4. Bea

          I wish. It’s the same in medicine…the quacks all passed all the rigorous exams and residency that’s set to try to weed out the bad seeds.

          I’ve seen a lifetime of damn good students fail in careers.

          Reply
        5. Thornus67

          As my crimpro professor, jokingly, put it, don’t worry about the bar exam; you only need a D to pass, D+ if you’re an over achiever. Most states require a 260 to 280 out of 400 to pass.

          Reply
        6. AKchic

          The exam is just a test.
          Granted, in my state we have a would-be politician (oh goodness, don’t get me started on this one) who’s spouse has failed the state’s bar exam multiple times. This would-be politician went so far as to claim the spouse’s failing was a conspiracy against them, even before they got into politics.

          Reply
            1. AKchic

              Unfortunately, the would-be lawyer was not the would-be politician.
              They were quite the joke for well over two decades here. I haven’t heard anything since she ran for a school board seat 5-6 years ago (maybe she won?).
              I know they went to church with my 1st ex-husband’s mother, and being the small town feel that our state has, everyone knows of everyone, but I have never had to work with her or her husband before. I may have gone to school with her kids, but I can’t remember much other than a vaguely displeased looking boy, like he was sucking on a lemon while sniffing a particularly ripe dog turd, so I think he favored his mother in facial expressions.
              Her voice is unmistakable and it would be unfair of me to describe it.

              Reply
        7. LawDog

          First time poster, long-time lurker, with a very important message: the bar exam is not designed to test how good of an attorney you’ll be, it’s to test how good you are at taking an arbitrary test.

          Reply
        8. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool

          I know at least one US jurisdiction doesn’t require one to take a bar exam if they completed law school in that state.

          Reply
      1. Holly

        I got into a T14 school and chose to go to a well respected local school instead because I received a full scholarship and would have been paying for school myself – yep, I saved a quarter of a million dollars and have close to no debt compared to my colleagues. People who attend “top schools” are of course usually intelligent, but more importantly they have the financial means to attend. So just keep that in mind.

        Reply
          1. Holly

            That is true, but a) all law students get to work at top firms and b) some law students end up as junior attorneys at big firms and realize they hate it and leave after 6 months-1 year (this has happened actually pretty often with some of my classmates) and that isn’t a long enough time to have paid off all their loans. Or they feel chained to jobs they hate because they have exorbitant loans. Those are all risks for aspiring attorneys to weigh.

            For me, I knew I would be more interested in public service. There are top law schools geared towards public service yet still cost $60k a year.

            Reply
    5. Bea

      I’ve met a ton of horrible CPAs and staff accountants in my life.

      I am eternally grateful I came up through a different track.

      This is yet another reason I loath higher education expenses.

      Reply
      1. CMart

        Am a not-horrible CPA and staff accountant, but know many people from my graduate program (Master of Accountancy) who are also now CPAs who I wouldn’t trust to file their own 1040EZ or balance their own checkbook.

        Not because they’re stupid, or bad people. They were just really bad fits for accounting and had to work 10x as hard as others to achieve the same results.

        Reply
        1. Bea

          I’ve fixed so many of their errors and dealt with penalties thanks to these dingbats. The problem is they’re trusted by people who cannot fight their way out of a paper sack of financial records without a map, so they’re at the mercy of these bad accountants. I’ve had business owners near tears unsure what went wrong because they “hired someone with a certification to do this for them!”. It’s as bad as a crappy lawyer or doctor, it can wreck someone’s life.

          I think people in a business they suck at are actually marginal people at best given their ability to harm others!

          Reply
    6. coffeeeeee

      True, but the upside is you can pivot. I know tons of people with JD’s who work in the Compliance department for major corporations doing a variety of roles. Although they are no longer practicing attorney’s and licences have lapsed they still enjoy the legal work they do through Compliance.

      Reply
    7. Paper Librarian

      I’m a librarian and I’m taking law classes, and I am dumbfounded that the junior attorney got so far into her programming without realizing it was a bad fit. Law classes are *hard* and I don’t know how someone can coast through all the obligations with poor attention to detail. Maybe she thought she could relax outside of classwork?

      I can only speak on law classes compared to graduate library classes, but it’s so much easier to get through library school and realize you are a bad fit. Maybe it’s a money thing…? You don’t stick through library work for the big bucks…

      Reply
      1. Save your forks

        In law school the only time I had to fill out detailed paperwork correctly, with actual consequences, I had someone looking over my shoulder, supporting me and correcting mistakes, because it was a teaching setting. Then in real lawyer life the person who had to correct my mistakes was – surprise – not happy about it. A lot of people don’t get any practice in law school at the real business of lawyering. The schools that do give students this practice should be rated much more highly.

        Reply
    8. Persimmons

      One of my college friends is a neurosurgeon who wants to be quit and become a car salesman. He literally hates doing brain surgery. It’s a horrifying sunk cost.

      Reply
      1. Bea

        An old friend was in neuro long enough to pay his loans. Now he manages a retail establishment.

        He hated the politics and wanted to turn his humanity back on.

        Reply
    9. Mallory Janis Ian

      One of my coworker’s husband went all the way through architecture school, practiced architecture for 2 – 3 years, and hated it. He then went through med school and has had a long career as a doctor. It worked out well for him in the end, but the thought of going completely through both architecture and medical school makes my head hurt — they’re both so labor-intensive and expensive.

      Reply
    10. mrs__peel

      Considering how long it’s going to take me to repay my law school loans, that’s a truly terrifying prospect for me! My heart really goes out to people in that situation. The job market for lawyers now is tough enough even if it is a good fit.

      Reply
    11. The OP

      I think this is why I want to try to help her, before suggesting she move out of the legal field together.

      5 years at uni, all that debt… to be told she needs to move careers? It’s fucking scary.

      Reply
    12. Courageous cat

      Yes, this is a fear of mine, and my reluctance to say “she won’t succeed in this job” is solely based in my own fear of failure. Of doing something like this, getting into law school and THROUGH law school and the bar, only to find I’ve failed and it was all for nothing.

      My hope is, for this person, it’s a matter of not realizing the gravity of the situation and being too flippant, and some time/maturity will help? Maybe?

      Reply
    13. Me

      That’s pretty much the way every field that requires a professional degree works. You can’t figure out if you really like a job until you do it, but you can’t do it until you get the degree and the license.

      Reply
  6. Nervous Nellie

    Oh, dear me. I have dealt with this with direct reports in accounting & contracts. Alison’s advice is bang-on perfect. The critical part is this:

    “And missing what the evidence really says is might not just be about attention to detail. It may also be about reading comprehension and/or judgement and/or critical thinking.”

    If after OP has coached and reassured and tried and tried to get her to see her errors, then it’s time to gently get her to see the reality of a bad job fit.

    At my company we were pressured to keep marginal people way longer than made sense, and then had to deal with the fallout of the marginal staffers constant & serious errors. She’s not in school and learning, she’s on the job and needs to meet its requirements.

    I wish you the best – it can be disheartening to tell teammates they don’t cut it. But it’s necessary for the good of all.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      I agree with this:

      “And missing what the evidence really says is might not just be about attention to detail. It may also be about reading comprehension and/or judgement and/or critical thinking.”

      This is not attention to detail. No checklist of “check names”; “run spellcheck”; “run Grammarly” is going to help with that. This is a fundamental comprehension / critical thinking problem.

      Reply
      1. Butter Makes Things Better

        Exactly. Running spellcheck without applying critical thinking won’t fix mistakes like correctly spelled but incorrectly used homonyms or nouns/verbs that are spelled similarly — a big problem when language precision in legal documents is paramount.

        Reply
    2. Mad Baggins

      Honestly it sounds like she wouldn’t be able to complete a reading comprehension/puzzle game like the Ace Attorney series, where your success hinges on your ability to identify a contradiction between what the witness/character is saying, and the evidence you have in your inventory. (Ex. Witness says, “No one was in the building but me,” and you present security camera footage that shows someone else entering the building.) This game is not at all true-to-life lawyering, but it sounds like she would struggle even with this.

      Reply
  7. BlueWolf

    The typo and spelling errors are common issues for people, so it is something that she should be able to develop strategies to correct. Spellcheck will pick up a lot of errors (although not all) and usually will highlight all names in a document. I know to double-check names because lawyers are often misspelling them. The errors in analyzing evidence is a more serious issue. I agree with Alison that it implies greater issues with reading comprehension and attention to detail. It seems surprising that she would be able to get through law school and pass the bar if there were such serious issues, so it is worth following Alison’s advice to ask her about strategies she used in those contexts, and making sure she understands the seriousness of the issue.

    Reply
    1. Roja

      See, that’s what I’m curious about. Getting through law school and passing the bar are not easy tasks. If she’s missing such fundamental things, then how did she get through AND get hired to boot? She must presumably have had decent references… from somewhere. How? I don’t see this ending well for anyone, but I hope it does somehow.

      Reply
      1. Jen

        I have seen people with great resumes who were disasters after they were hired. Great law grades, good school, etc. It happens.

        Reply
    2. Elle

      This reminded me of that program that was advertised a lot a few years back? Dragon or something? It’s like a far superior spell check that also catches grammar issues. Maybe this is a software you could get for her.

      Reply
      1. Richie

        Yes, but it could solve only a small part of the problem…. OP, maybe she should check if she does not have something lurking under these errors, attention deficit disorder?

        Reply
        1. Mine Own Telemachus

          Honestly, ADD was my thought. It can manifest in women as disorganization, trouble with attention to detail, and trouble comprehending dense material (mind wanders and you go “oops where was I” over and over). I’m against armchair diagnoses, but as someone who recently discovered I might be ADD (in my early 30s!), it makes a LOT of sense.

          Reply
          1. gmg22

            Agreed — this describes me as well. Women too often don’t get diagnosed with ADD/ADHD early enough in life because educators assume that it can’t be a problem unless there are behavior issues (which is much more often how it manifests in boys). In hindsight, my attention deficit issues were glaring from the time I entered school — ask any woman with ADD if she has that telltale first-grade report card that pegs her as a “daydreamer.”

            Reply
      2. Liane

        But spell and grammar checkers–software, human, or AI–are NOT going to catch issues like misreading/mis-stating evidence, no matter how good they are at flagging spelling and grammar errors.

        Reply
        1. Annie Moose

          For sure.

          Even beyond that, I use ProWritingAid to assist in editing writing (it’s similar to Grammarly), and… you can’t just sling something in there and expect it to fix everything for you. All it can really do is point out things that look odd to it, and you have to use discretion to determine whether you take one of its suggestions, ignore it, or reword things. So it’s not even going to be a guarantee that things actually have standard grammar or that you’re using the right word.

          If Jessie’s not a bad writer but just sometimes misses things in the editing phase, something like this could help her check her work over… but it sounds like the problems are so much more deeper than that.

          Reply
        1. Elle

          That one! I don’t think it will solve all the problems, but if we’re discussing accommodations… it might at the very least free up her attention to focus on other things.

          Reply
    3. Yikes

      Right?! I’m just sitting over here like, how did she pass law school or a bar exam? She must have attended a diploma mill, and then sat for the bar in a state with like a 90%+ pass rate. I’ve passed the bar in three jurisdictions, and while in two of them there’s no way someone like this could have made it through, in the third they might, I guess. Goodness.

      Reply
      1. Holly

        I’m surprised this hasn’t been brought up – what’s her workload like? Does she seem overwhelmed? A lot of people seem baffled by the fact she could pass law school and the bar and be struggling like this, but hey – practicing law is way different and requires different applications of skills. Does she have *time* to review everything thoroughly? It could be she’s rushing because her time management skills are lacking – that’s fixable, and perhaps the other stuff will follow.

        Reply
  8. Not my monkeys, not my circus

    Is there a way that you can suggest for her to get a medical check up to make sure that there is no medical reason for these mistakes. I sometimes found I was making mistakes when my B12 or iron was down, and was fine once it was dealt with. That and not enough sleep makes it more difficult for me to pay attention to detail. I say this, because before she decides practicing law isn’t the right fit for her, she should absolutely make sure there is no medical reason for the behavior.

    Reply
    1. Doug Judy

      Thyroid issues can also cause issues with concentration, memory, and having “brain fog”. That might be worth exploring as well.

      Reply
    2. irene adler

      Medical issue is certainly something that should be looked into. I have to wonder if she’s always been this way.
      ADHD? Or some other attention deficit issue?
      That should be looked into/ruled out as well.

      Reply
      1. Lynca

        I wouldn’t be surprised if it was ADHD. I had to come up with a whole different way to cope with the working world vs. how I coped in school.

        Regardless of that she needs to be told how much this is threatening her career.

        Reply
      2. Jen

        I mean this as nicely as possible, but it does not matter. If she can’t work to a basic competency level, she should not be practicing law.

        Reply
        1. Just Another Techie

          It’s not an excuse for her to continue to make mistakes of this magnitude. But if a diagnosis and treatment (be it ADD meds, thyroid, iron supplement, who knows) means she *can* perform competently, it would be a great kindness to her to suggest she bring this up with her doctor.

          Reply
          1. Jen

            True, but until she does, she cannot be allowed to file anything for the firm or handle clients. I still think firing is OP’s path here.

            Reply
            1. gmg22

              I think you are probably right, but given that OP has expressed a desire to help her employee, suggesting a medical screening would certainly be a way to help. (Even if it’s happening at the same time that she is being put on a PIP/probation/whatever.)

              Reply
    3. Elle

      I agree. I went through a period of brain fog that ended up being related to my diet (food intolerance). I feel much more on top of things these days. It’s a miracle I wasn’t fired in the time it took me to work it out.

      Reply
    4. Lady Ariel Ponyweather

      I’m so glad others have the same thought. Everything OP describes could purely be due to medical issues.

      OP, if Jessie is already getting treatment for her thyroid and it’s not working, encourage her to do her own research. Some people need more treatment than expected and they often have to do a lot of the tests themselves before a doctor takes them seriously. If she starts taking care of things now, it’ll save her a lot of pain in the long run. And if it’s just B12 or iron, those problems are relatively easy to take care of – she will need to keep track of her levels but that’s relatively easy. Good luck, I hope everything works out.

      Reply
      1. MissGirl

        That’s really not the OP’s place to say or encourage. We and the OP have no idea what’s causing things and doesn’t do anyone any good to speculate. That’s entire up to Jessie to manage.

        Reply
    5. epi

      I don’t think the OP should do this. (And we probably shouldn’t be doing it either.)

      No one but Jessie knows what is going on when she makes these pretty serious errors. Maybe there are ADHD-like symptoms. Maybe she works in an open office environment that would distract many people. Maybe she just really hates this type of work! There are so many possibilities, medical and otherwise, that it’s pointless to speculate.

      It is really on individual adults to decide when something in their life is causing them serious problems, not responsive to their efforts to change it, and is something they actually want to fix, including possibly with medical attention. The OP’s responsibility is to let Jessie know, if she didn’t already, that this problem is serious so she can take care of the other steps herself.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I’d be okay with at least saying hey, if it’s a health thing, we can talk about possibilities, but I agree with your underlying point that that’s really tangential for the manager anyway. I had a colleague whose detail problems *were* related to health things, but they weren’t unmanaged health things, so they weren’t going to get medically fixed; fortunately, his role was able to transform into more big picture areas where his problems weren’t an issue.

        And just some sympathy for the OP. It is really tough on a manager to have a talented employee you like, and who is clearly diligent and hard-working, and still lets too many mistakes slip through. Doing checklists and backwards readthroughs and all the other little tricks is not always enough to solve the problem of just not seeing stuff, and I don’t think anybody’s found a way to just turn on that part of somebody’s brain. So I know that sinking feeling.

        Reply
        1. epi

          Yes, I really felt for the OP and their employee reading this letter. It’s especially troubling because as others have pointed out, if Jessie can’t fix these issues she is probably not cut out to practice law. No one wants that to happen to someone else, and no one wants to have to tell someone that either!

          I hope there is some way to fix it so this isn’t ultimately a career-altering failure for the OP’s employee. Maybe with coaching or a different environment or addressing a medical issue or whatever. But lots of employees would find it inappropriate for their boss to suggest this, and the OP is not a medical professional. It’s quite likely that if they did this, their suggestion could be wrong.

          Reply
      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yeah, I don’t think this is especially helpful for the OP. She’s already in a mode where her instinct is try to accommodate this, and she really needs to focus on what the bar for the role is and communicating that to Jessie.

        Reply
        1. Kyrielle

          Agreed. At most it might be useful to say something like “If you haven’t talked to your doctor to see if there’s a medical issue and explored treatment options, you might want to do that also” – but maybe not quite that way because you don’t want to imply that if she’s going to her doctor, that will save her job.

          Sure, if she turns it around in a few days or a week, maybe. But many of the things that can cause this and can be addressed will take weeks-to-months to address. That’s at the very least a medical leave – she can’t keep doing her job at this level, for the sake of your clients and your firm.

          Reply
      3. MissGirl

        Yes, it could be any of these, all of these , or none of these . That’s not the OP’s problem. It’s on Jessie to figure that out. It’s on the OP to explain in very clear terms what the consequences of not meeting the requirements of the job are and offer any job-related help within reason.

        The only reason I would advise the OP to consider if something else is at play is if Jessie was a high performer and now isn’t. That would merit a conversation around what’s going on that caused this change. But it sounds like this has always been Jessie’s MO. Sometimes people are in the wrong job, and it’s as simple as that.

        Reply
        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

          How did she get this far, though? It sounds like she’s gotten through law school; possibly a bar exam? Those are far from easy.

          Reply
          1. Kathryn T.

            Because classes and tests are nowhere near as open-ended as the real world. If nothing else, SOMEBODY already knows what the right answer is to the question, what the right takeaway is from a lesson. The information you’re given is more likely to be relevant than not; certainly the information you’re given will be sufficient to get the right answer, and will very likely be trustworthy.

            None of that is true in the real world. It could be that what this employee lacks is exactly those skills; the ability to separate the signal from the noise, the ability to see where things make sense and where they don’t. Those kinds of metacognitive skill deficits are hard to spot in an educational setting.

            Reply
      4. Slow Gin Lizz

        The junior atty might be an adult but if she is a young-ish adult she may not be aware that health issues could be causing a problem. If OP is in a position to coach her or be an advisor, which seems to be the case, OP could mention it as a possibility. I don’t think it would be out of bounds in this case.

        Reply
        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

          Agree with you, it was not until my early forties that I started getting myself checked for what turned to be my own conditions that were interfering with my work. We are not taught to do this. We are taught to work through anything that might be wrong, using nothing but the willpower and maybe positive thinking. It literally never occurred to me for years to get myself checked out.

          Reply
        2. epi

          I’m not sure I agree. If this person is a new attorney, we’re talking about someone who is at least 25 and has a graduate degree. I’m probably only a little older than her and I came up in a generation where people were worried about *over* diagnosis of learning disabilities, especially ADHD. I’d find it pretty surprising if a currently practicing junior attorney had never had a friend or classmate with an issue like this, or heard a medical issue could be the cause of performance problems at work or school.

          I do think it’s possible that someone who is starting out in their career might not feel comfortable divulging a known or suspected health issue to their boss’ attention, or might not realize what accommodations are available to them. The OP clearly has a good rapport with Jessie and cares about her a lot. I would find it pretty reasonable to say something like, “These performance problems are really serious. If there is a personal or medical issue you think is causing them, I need to know that so I can try to help you.” But that is as far as I’d go.

          Reply
          1. Socks

            I’m about that age, and while there was certainly a concern about over-diagnosis of ADHD, it was exclusively in young boys. Girls and women, as well as boys/men with inattentive-type, remain extremely under-diagnosed because the symptoms present very differently. I wasn’t diagnosed until a year after finishing undergrad, despite being a walking human manifestation of the DSM crieria for diagnosis.

            Any adults, especially women, who struggle with attention to detail, should go get checked out, regardless of what the cultural attitude towards ADHD was when they were a kid. Treatment could very well resolve all sorts of problems like the ones in the OP.

            Reply
            1. epi

              Well, if you read back up, my reference to ADHD was an example and Slow Gin Lizz suggested that this professional adult might have no idea that health issues in general could be causing her troubles at work. That is quite implausible regardless of your personal experience with ADHD awareness. It’s also irrelevant to a discussion in which we are not supposed to be armchair diagnosing anyway.

              Reply
        3. serenity

          “Health issues” sound like a world away from what the OP is describing, which are weak critical thinking skills (not the spelling errors, but the inability to draw correct conclusions from documents, etc.)

          Reply
    6. animaniactoo

      While we’re here, I’ll toss out my somewhat rarer one that took me down gradually over the past couple of years until I hit a hard wall last year – silent migraines. All the effects of a migraine without the headache that actually *tells* you it’s a migraine. By the time I got bad enough to diagnose, I had 2 other issues making it worse until I was triggering 24/7 by the end of last year. I spent most of the early part of this year in a fog and barely scraped by. Still occasionally cleaning up back to my usual standard at work.

      Reply
      1. a username

        I can vouch on the silent migraines, I get them as well. When I get them I get hyper, struggle to sleep, stumble and am clumsy, lose my ability to choose words, feel like I’m listening to someone talk from the end of a long hallway, and feel unsafe driving (it’s too much decision-making to process.)

        I also get migraines with pain, and I struggle to remember to take my rescue meds for the symptoms that don’t include pain, because I don’t always notice how “off” I am without the pain.

        Reply
    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

      Same. I was making mistakes in my work, as well as getting comments from some of my managers about zoning out in meetings. Went and got myself checked for attention deficit disorders and was found to have ADD, and prescribed meds. That was ten years ago, and I’m pretty good at coping techniques by now that I only need the meds occasionally. Not trying to diagnose this employee in anyway, but thought I’d share my own experience.

      Another thing that helped me that was also of medical nature, I used to get debilitating headaches that lasted several days, and found myself making pretty serious mistakes in my work on day 2 or 3 of a headache. Went to a neurologist, got tested, was diagnosed with migraines and prescribed meds. Again, helped improve the quality of my work tremendously.

      Reply
    8. BRR

      I don’t think the LW should do this. I say this as someone with ADHD and has been fired for attention to detail mistakes. I think it’s way overstepping for LW to go into this. I think the LW can offer “Is there any other way I can help you with this?” but then it’s on the employee.

      Reply
    9. TootsNYC

      ditto celiac sprue and brain fog.

      Plus attention-deficit ADHD.

      So maybe making a general recommendation that she investigate all these things might be helpful to her.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        Or maybe OP could stay in her lane. I’m astonished that so many people think it would be appropriate for her to make all these health-related suggestions and recommendations. I’d be livid if a boss was like “Oh and have you ruled out celiac sprue and attention-deficit ADHD? And B12 deficiency?” No. OP’s job is to bring up her performance issues. Jessie can make her own health-related decisions herself, as she, a grown-ass adult, sees fit.

        Reply
        1. AKchic

          +100 x 100

          I can’t agree with this enough.

          OP is Jessie’s supervisor. Not her mentor, guru, parent, conscience, Jiminy Cricket, Fairy Godmother, guardian angel, or personal savior. All OP can do is bring up the obvious work problems and make sure she either shapes up or ships out. It’s up to Jessie to take the initiative to figure out the *why* or underlying cause and fix it if it is indeed fixable. At the end of the day, all that matters to OP and the employer is that Jessie gets competent at her job ASAP or she no longer has that job so someone else can step in and do it (competently).

          Reply
        2. Jesmlet

          Thank you! I get that we all inherently want Jessie to improve and that the possibility of there being a medical excuse/solution sounds better than the reality that she just sucks at her job, but either way, OP is not in the right position to be suggesting diagnoses. Present the facts, outline what could happen if she doesn’t improve, help her where she can, but if it’s medical, it’s on Jessie to figure out and/or deal with.

          Reply
    10. Snark

      These are things Jessie may possibly want to look into herself, but no, OP, her boss, has no standing to suggest anything of the sort.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        And I cannot personally wait to see new commenting rules that will at least try to head off this much speculation, because HOLY CRAP we’re up to like 30 wild-ass guesses about which potential health issue could be causing poor attention to detail, and I can’t do it with this place sometimes.

        Reply
        1. katey

          Freaking AMEN! This is such pointless speculation. And honestly, the kind of lack of critical thinking described cannot really be due to any kind of condition like ADHD, migraines, etc – this is macro-level stuff.

          Reply
  9. Coffee with my Creamer

    Just an idea, my MIL (retired english teacher) works part time doing grammar and spelling checks. It may not be possible with her being a junior attorney but if she is a great potential attorney otherwise could you potentially pay her less and hire a paralegal or someone else to proof her work. I know its not idea but if she is great otherwise but not at grammar then that may be something she can have hired out.

    Reply
    1. WellRed

      It sounds like way more than grammar and spelling, though. It’s stuff an attorney needs to be able to do, for the sake of the client. Also, it doesn’t actually say she is great at the job, just that she is a lovely person.

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        yeah, not noticing that the evidence contradicts the client’s assertion is way beyond something you can paper over like this.

        Reply
    2. NotAnotherManager!

      The issue with this is the time involved. Court deadlines can come up fast, and just getting a document written, approved by the client and partner, and formatted per court rules/specifications is often challenging. An attorney needs to be able to write coherent documents without requiring a 100% copy edit by a paralegal because there is not always time or personnel to do that, even in large law firms.

      From the letter, too, grammar and spelling are only part of the problem. This particular junior attorney is making serious mistakes in areas fundamental to the job. You can’t pay someone to re-review evidentiary materials and confirm there are no errors in that, too. What’s the point of having Jessie around if someone else has to redo her job entirely?

      Reply
      1. miss_chevious

        Not to mention the amount of time that couldn’t be billed to a client because it was essentially re-doing another attorney’s work. It’s essential that the junior people on a legal team have these kinds of skills, because they are doing the heavy lifting in terms of discovery, drafting, and legal research and providing the raw material for the more senior attorneys to work with because. If this junior lawyer can’t be trusted to do that, she needs to find another role.

        Reply
    3. Jen

      Someone who makes errors as bad as what is described in this is not a good attorney. Writing is a basic skill necessary for the law and evidence analysis is crucial. We throw out resumes and writing samples with a lot of typos for a reason.

      Reply
    4. epi

      I don’t think that makes sense here. That is a pretty non-standard arrangement– getting someone essentially a personal proofreader or an aide to do their job. There’s no evidence in the letter that Jessie is a valuable enough employee to merit that level of special treatment– the OP just personally likes her.

      It’s also very unlikely that the OP’s company could just reduce Jessie’s pay to make up for it. There are likely expenses such as benefits for each person that couldn’t just be reduced to make room, making this potentially a very expensive proposition.

      Reply
    5. HumbleOnion

      If you’re at a point where you have to reduce someone’s salary to hire them a proofreading assistant, you’re better off firing that person & hiring someone who can actually do the job.

      Reply
    6. Observer

      The problem is that she is NOT a “great attorney otherwise”. Hiring someone for editing for things like typos is one thing. For the other errors? Totally not practical.

      1. Fact mistakes means that someone needs access to other information to be able to check that.

      2. Not understanding the evidence means you need at least a paralegal, which means a large cost.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Yes, this sounds like it would basically mean hiring somebody to do the lawyering for the lawyer. So why not just have that person instead of Jessie?

        Reply
        1. Jen

          Also, in theory at least, a paralegal is supposed to be supervised by an attorney. You would have a paralegal doing the supervision here? Yikes, no.

          Reply
          1. AJK

            I am a paralegal, and most of my work involves drafting court documents which have to be reviewed by an attorney. I have trained some of the junior attorneys in my office how to do basic document drafting, but we’re talking things like “here is the form we use” and “here is an easier way to format this document.” They have to know how to do it before they can delegate it to me. Granted, I know more about quirks in our software or what court prefers which format than the attorneys do, but they still have to have a good grasp on what they’re asking me to do before I can be of any help.

            Reply
  10. Delta Delta

    Lawyer here.

    Typos – not great but they happen. How many times have we all proofread a pleading that says “herby” instead of “hereby?”

    Getting parties’ names wrong – a new level of not ok. Is she using a template? Maybe she’s re-using a previously-created pleading for the form of it and isn’t changing the names? If that’s the case, maybe it would benefit everyone to make a template for simple things where the names are not on the actual template. (for people who aren’t lawyers – this is pretty common for simple, common filings, like a notice of appearance, or something like that)

    Evidence – Nope nope nope. This is starting to inch over into malpractice territory, especially given the example you cited. It sounds like that was more of a surprise than anything else, but it could have been much worse had there been advice given to a client based on that huge mistake.

    It makes me sad to say this, because it sounds like she’s a nice person and she’s trying hard, but she may not be the right fit for your office.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      I agree, these issues are very different. I say this as someone who has always struggled mightily with details (I might have some kind of ADHD about them even, it’s unclear). For “little” things like wrong names in the wrong places – that’s not that little by the way – yes, you can adjust the templates she’s using, or ask her to create a system of checks and balances that will catch common substitution errors. With numbers I just always have to go back and create some checks for myself or I won’t catch problems (like, is the sum of this column bigger than total the award amount … okay clearly there’s a problem somewhere), with other fill in data it might be harder. But not carefully looking at evidence and what it means is not the same blind spot, and it’s weird to me she could have gotten through law school if she had a problem with critical thinking. Is she super overloaded/stressed? Going through emotional upheaval? Overwhelmed by the work world?

      Reply
    2. Anonymous Finch

      Also a lawyer here, and 100% agreed. We’re edging into professional duty of competency problems with this young attorney.

      Reply
    3. LadyByTheLake

      Another lawyer here and Delta Delta said it exactly right. When I was a junior lawyer (and even now that I am senior) I sometimes didn’t/don’t have patience for minor details, so when I saw the topic, I thought “ah, maybe Allison will have some tips for me.” But this is so far outside the realm of acceptable that it’s off the map.

      Reply
      1. Momminmama

        I had the same reaction! Attention to detail isn’t my greatest strength, so I was looking for tips too (ADHD, natch.)

        Reply
    4. MK

      I am not so sure about the typos either. Yes, they happen (I once managed to draft a 100-page document about a contested will and in every single instance where I should have used “the testator” I wrote “the accused” and didn’t catch the mistake untill the third revision; in my defence, the two words are a lot more similar in my native language than in English). But my usual output has 1 every five pages or so; if she is making 2-3 mistakes per page in every doument she writes, that’s not typos, it’s a person who cann’t spell.

      Reply
    5. The Other Geyn

      Fellow attorney here — agree completely. Those evidence mistakes were 90% of my nightmares when I first started practicing.

      Reply
    6. The OP

      Yeah, I think the getting evidence wrong was really what motivated me to write to Alison – it crossed a line, and I had to do an affidavit explaining the error to the court.

      Parties’ name wrong seems to be from her using precedents and not double checking them.

      Reply
      1. Anon attorney

        When I was doing my training I had a position in estate law which I was really bad at because I found it so boring (I do divorce now). I used to have typos and mistakes in documents because I wasn’t paying attention properly. I dealt with it by creating a checklist for common documents (eg does the salutation match the signoff? Is the date the will was signed correct?). That worked well. Minor errors may be amenable to this?

        On the big errors, I have yet to meet an attorney in any field who has not made at least one significant mistake at some point. Myself included. We are all human. Virtually all legal mistakes can ultimately be rectified, although it may affect your reputation, insurance coverage, etc. Repeated mistakes are a different matter. A junior attorney who makes repeated, significant mistakes will usually not progress because nobody will have confidence in her and will therefore not give her work to do. If you are having to explain her mistakes to the court, she is costing you more in time, energy and reputational risk than she is contributing by her labor, I think. I agree it is time to establish clear consequences for any further errors.

        Reply
  11. Doug Judy

    As someone who has tried to improve my attention to detail, there might not be much more you or she can do. It is not a skill that comes naturally to me, and no matter what I do, I will never be a super detailed person. I’d be willing to bet that she’s not happy in her role, because it is in conflict with her natural abilities. I was never happy in positions that required detailed work because it was a daily internal struggle.

    The best thing you can do for her is maybe brainstorm with her roles that would be a better fit for her natural skills. Since law is very detail oriented I am failing to come up with something else she could possibly do, but those who work in that field may have better suggestions for an alternate path.

    Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        OMG, please don’t let her teach. She’s not understanding basic principles of legal argumentation and proof, and if she can’t understand why that framework matters, she absolutely should not be teaching future lawyers!

        Reply
    1. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow

      I’m the same way. I’m good at big picture type things, but I struggle with details. However, I also work in a field where typically a typo or two isn’t the end of the world. However, I’ve also found that the more I care about something the better my attention to detail is. The type of errors being described by the OP leads me to believe that the junior colleague simply doesn’t care about the work.

      She may not even need to lead law completely, she may find a different area of law she cares about more (and she finds more interesting), may help her become more detail oriented.

      Reply
      1. Slow Gin Lizz

        I’m good at details and terrible at big picture. Maybe Jessie is like you, Anon, and would do well in a big-picture non-law role. Her background in law would be a huge plus to a lot of companies even if she no longer was a practicing attorney.

        Reply
      2. Argh!

        I’m the same way, and my boss is a nit-picker so it hurts my career (as in not getting raises). I wasn’t hired as a typist, so it really irks me to be downgraded on my typing instead of my more important and mission-related duties. Almost all of my documents are internal, so the only real consequence is being looked down on by my boss.

        I have a nit-picky friend who will spell-check for me (for a fee), but that probably can’t work for something that’s confidential. If there is someone in the firm who could proof the documents, this situation could work.

        Regarding bigger mistakes: I supervise someone who misdelivers to customers and orders the wrong things all the time. It’s very frustrating. This person also fails to meet deadlines, goofs off at work, and is unprofessional with the staff they supervise. My boss won’t let me escalate discipline and nixed my performance plan so I’m stuck with being someone who makes mistakes supervising someone who makes mistakes, and I don’t catch them all. In my supervisee’s case, the mistakes are mission-oriented and cause problems. To make matters worse, I have seen no attempt to take responsibility for mistakes or think how to do things differently to avoid them. Mistakes are just fairy dust sprinkled in the work, beyond the control of my supervisee. The only real solution is micromanagement, which I absolutely hate doing.

        Reply
    2. Kat

      Insurance and financial services companies are always hiring lawyers and people with law backgrounds into compliance and regulatory roles. That could be a better fit for her, potentially.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        Compliance and regulatory roles? Are you kidding?!

        Compliance is almost by definition a detail oriented job. You CANNOT do a compliance job without being able to dot every i and cross every t.

        Reply
        1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

          It really depends… I’m in compliance and I struggle with ADHD plus have had issues with attention to detail in past roles. Compliance can be very operational (taking the rules/regulations and figuring out how to put them into practice – what procedures should the company put in place to ensure the rule is being followed, what sort of documentation is needed to prove the rule is being followed). I don’t actually do much of the dotting and crossing, I design and upkeep the processes for others (mainly other departments or employees overall) to dot and cross. I also design the testing processes to confirm that i’s are continuing to be dotted.

          Two key things I will mention – I’m at a firm with separate legal and compliance departments. Also, I can concentrate on the details in shortish bursts – I just can’t maintain long term or near constant focus on the minute details (and I have a enough variety in my responsibilities that I don’t have to).

          Reply
        2. It's Pronounced Bruce

          And seriously, I worked in the medical field where we had internal regulatory oversight from a lot of JDs without a whole lot of critical thinking skills… It’s a capital-p Problem. I mean spending most of a year in round after round of revisions of a protocol driven entirely by issues like them not remembering the names of the programs used for our electronic medical records.

          Actually, the number of people suggesting that this person move into medical compliance is… Really illuminating.

          Reply
      2. NW Mossy

        I work in financial services, and did a stint as a non-lawyer in a regulatory-consultation capacity. Frankly, I can’t fathom being able to do that job well without a tight grasp on the details.

        In that role, my reputation as a credible person was EVERYTHING. People needed to be able to trust that my research was complete, accurate, and a fair representation of reality. It was critical that I asked the right sort of probing questions to elicit details I hadn’t been provided up front that would change the analysis. Otherwise, I’d be handing out bad guidance and leading us into disaster.

        Jessie’s errors erode her credibility, and you can’t be effective in the sort of role you describe without it. Rightly or wrongly, when people see Jessie make obvious and avoidable mistakes at the pace the OP describes, they’re not going to have confidence that anything she says is true. It’s the kiss of death.

        Reply
    3. Just Another Techie

      My sister has a law degree and also discovered early on that she was not cut out for litigation. She actually doesn’t practice law at all anymore, but handles high level vendor negotiations for a large regional business. A lot of the public speaking, questioning, and people skills that she learned when she thought she wanted to be a litigator came in very handy when it came to haggling with vendors. And she works on a team where one of the detail and numbers geeks can review all the numbers before an agreement is signed off on.

      Reply
    4. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

      Compliance – in either finance or medical field could be an option! For finance at least – a lot of compliance personnel are hired out of the legal world (this is starting to change, but it’s still a pretty common thing) and her JD would be an asset.

      It is still somewhat detail-oriented, but its more about legal theory and putting that into effect operationally than straight up contracts/documents. The compliance department typically deals more in written policy (which is specifically supposed to be written in “plain english” rather than “legalese”) and procedure. I’d absolutely struggle in straight legal work with attention to detail, but I’m doing well in compliance as I just need shorter bursts of concentration and then can switch it up with less detail heavy work.

      Tough to say if it would work for her, but could be worth exploring.

      Reply
    5. Trout 'Waver

      In a team based environment, you don’t need every person to be the details person. Maybe an attorney is really good at taking depositions, negotiating with opposing parties, wrangling clients, or big picture strategy.

      On the flip-side, some legal positions are for true generalists. Corporate counsel at a medium-sized company, for example. The counsel has to know enough to know who to call for IP, litigation, regulatory compliance, HR disputes, and whatever else. But they’re not expected to be a details-oriented expert in all those areas.

      Reply
  12. NotAnotherManager!

    You have to fire her. That sort of lack of attention to detail is going to end up as evidence in a malpractice case, if you keep her around. Mixing up the parties? Taking the client’s word for what their evidence says? Nope, nope nope. From your description, she is unable to meet the requirements of the job, even after feedback and with self-double-checks implemented. That is a huge problem.

    I’ve worked in legal for decades, and none of that would fly with a paralegal, much less an attorney. Attention to detail is one of the core skills to working effectively in the legal world. If she cannot do that, she’s going to land your firm in hot water one day.

    Reply
    1. Retired Professor

      +1 to this.

      Plus, your supervision (agency relationships!) and knowledge of her errors comprises you and the firm all the moreo. On the next mistake, you can’t simply claim you didn’t know about a once off evidentiary error or problems this junior attorney has. Now you are negligently allowing someone to harm your firm’s clients moving forward.

      OP – Is it possible that in your efforts to see the best in someone you like that you’re not taking this seriously enough and she’s picking up on that attitude too?

      There are a handful of reasons that an attorney could make this type of mistake without it going to an overall poor fit for this type of work. Sleep deprivation would be my top example (how are her hours and workload?), though there are other medical or personal reasons for it (both substance abuse and depression run deep in our industry). If I really liked someone and had other indicia they could do this work well, I’d be inclined to dig a little deeper. Does she need to work on fewer cases and for fewer hours? Is there someting else going on that if it were addressed could result in her being a competent young attorney for your clients? But any of these reasons are not an immediate “fix” or something you as a supervising attorney can coach as “attention to detail.”

      Reply
    2. OlympiasEpiriot

      Yup. She is not cut out for this. In fact, and I mean this without any malice, I am having a hard time coming up with a job that doesn’t require the reading comprehension and analytical thinking needed to notice that a large amount of money was spent on something different than what was being claimed!

      I wouldn’t want to hire her as a lawyer or anything else.

      Reply
  13. anon for today

    I’ve been in the wrong job before and realized I was just not capable of successfully completing the tasks assigned and I could not see where to be proactive, simply put, I did this. What do I do now? I have no idea. I wonder if there’s something I should be doing? There was. I wouldn’t have guessed what it was in a million years.
    Of course, I hadn’t been through law school and passed the bar, but I appreciated them giving me an extra three months probation and I appreciated them letting me go when I still couldn’t get it.
    If you are open to it, have the time and want to make that last hail mary pass/end run whatever the sports thing is, I agree with the people saying to give her an assignment, and then review it, much like a quiz in school. Show her what she missed. Then give her another one and watch how she does it.
    If she’s not getting it, you’ve done all you could.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      Yep yep yep. My role has become increasingly financial within my company, and I’m in a panic about it. There is nobody less well suited to finance than me (I literally struggle with inverting numbers, have a terrible memory for figures, and lack basic math skills). I’m trying to up my game every day but I’m also aware that I’ve got to get out of this organization in the near term.

      Reply
  14. Jen

    I am an attorney and I have to agree that this kind of error level is a serious, serious problem. Especially the evidence issues – that is simply unacceptable for an attorney and borderline on malpractice. You submit evidence that doesn’t say what you claim it does to the court, you are going to face nasty consequences.

    You need to consider firing her. If you are not there yet, you need to get harsh. That evidence mistake is huge and she needs to be formally reprimanded and made clear how bad this is. No sugar coating, no niceness. I am not saying yell, but give her no room to delude herself as to how bad this is. A judge will view this as equivalent to a lie if you mischaracterized evidence.

    She fixes this or she is gone. Your firm will suffer serious consequences if this level of sloppiness is allowed to continue.

    Reply
    1. Jen

      I said borderline malpractice but I realize this could just be straight up malpractice. Like Rule 11 bad. Depends in circumstances, of course.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yeah, this sounds like Rule 11-level misconduct to me, and it’s absolutely malpractice to make material misrepresentations about what the evidence says to the opposing party. It’s a sanctionable offense if she did it before a tribunal. She’s lucky this happened before it went to the court (or at least it sounds like the error was discovered during discovery disclosures).

        And I know this sounds bad, but how did OP’s firm not catch her evidentiary errors? I have never worked anywhere—even in our 2-person, community nonprofit legal arm—where we took a junior attorney at their word on what the evidence said. I’m concerned that OP is minimizing the severity of Jessie’s incompetence (I mean that in the legal sense) because they like Jessie as a person. I’m shocked she hasn’t been fired or that the firm hasn’t lost clients because of this.

        Reply
        1. Nita

          Agreed, I think OP’s liking Jessie is blinding her to how bad this is. Regarding why the errors are not getting caught – I wonder if the poor writing is contributing to this. When I’m reviewing a poorly written report, it’s really hard to switch gears from correcting the grammar and spelling, to even seeing the facts behind the bad writing. Never mind actually checking whether those facts are accurate. It often takes me just as much time to review something like that, as if I wrote it from scratch. If someone is reviewing Jessie’s work but they effectively have to do it twice… I’m not sure how helpful it is that she did the work at all.

          Reply
        2. Putting Out Fires, Esq.

          I’m a supervising attorney these days and this would not fly in my office. This is not at all competent representation, and the malpractice will flow up to OP and the rest of the firm.

          It is terrible that she doesn’t have the mind for being an attorney, but there’s no subspecialty I can think of where her issues would be not the biggest of deals.

          Reply
        3. irritable vowel

          Yeah, IANAL although I work in an adjacent field, and maybe I’ve watched too many legal dramas on TV, but I’m having trouble understanding why Jessie was not outside the building with a box of her belongings the same day the evidentiary error was discovered. Junior employee with a history of making mistakes and not improving, makes a huge, consequence-laden mistake in a high-stakes situation and is kept on staff? Why?

          Reply
        4. Yikes

          I worked for a small, mismanaged firm where I was not even remotely supervised as an entry level attorney, but it worked out because I am competent. However, a fellow junior associate at the firm managed to commit an egregious act of malpractice due to the lack of supervision, and almost got disbarred, so I agree that ideally there would be SOMEONE doing at least a final check.

          Reply
        5. JB (not in Houston)

          Yes, I’ve been coming back to this off and on all day, and I keep thinking about what an ethical issue this is. As an attorney you owe a fiduciary duty to your client, and this just doesn’t cut it. If you can’t competently represent your client then you should not take their money, and even if you’re working on contingency you should not represent them and then blow their case. To protect their clients, this firm is going to have to double check everything Jesse does, and what’s the point of paying her a salary at that point?

          I’m not saying she should be fired right this very second, but she should be told very clearly that she’s going to be if she keeps making these kinds of mistakes. I don’t know if the OP wants to take on the hand-holding work of asking if there are any possible disabilities or medical issues she could get help with, or checklists she could make, or reading comprehension classes she could take. That’s up to her for how much work she wants to put in on helping Jesse out. But Jesse can’t keep working on client matters unsupervised, and this can’t keep happening.

          Reply
  15. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

    This is interesting, because even if you haven’t been direct with her about how big of a problem this is, any marginally self-aware person would come to that realization on her own when cases gets screwed up because she misunderstood/misinterpreted/didn’t interpret/etc. the evidence.

    I’m a little surprised she wasn’t fired the first time this happened (since the team knows she she struggles with this; it wasn’t a out-of-the-blue mistake that everyone makes now and then) — certainly the second time she screwed up evidence should have been the last. Your clients deserve better!

    If you’re committed to rehabbing her work (rather than letting her go), it sounds like she needs a great deal more management than she’s getting. For example: could all her work flow through you? I don’t know how your work works, exactly, but could you set up a system where she walks you through her thinking on every document, giving you the chance to a) double check her work and b) question and coach her on how she approaches things. (“Ok, so they spent the total revenue from the sale of the Florida house to pay off the Massachusetts condo mortgage. How did you think about confirming that?”)

    If that sounds like an unreasonable amount of hand-holding, I agree. But she’s a liability to your firm and clients without this kind of support… which is why I think she should probably be let go.

    Reply
    1. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow

      I can see why she doesn’t get it yet. I remember being in a job earlier on in my career where I made a bunch of mistakes and I really didn’t think they were a big deal. It was compounded by the fact that no one took me aside early on telling me what a serious issue those mistakes were. Many months into the job it was finally communicated to me, and I started looking for another job right away.

      That particular experience was great at teaching me to be more self-aware. However, if mistakes are being fixed in review, then it’s possible that the person feels like that is the process. If the mistakes are being minimized with language like “mistakes happen”, “we all make mistakes”, etc., I can see why the OP’s colleague wouldn’t recognize the seriousiness of the issue.

      Reply
      1. sheworkshardforthemoney

        I had a summer job and part of it was hand delivering legal documents from one office to another. They were real estate documents and time was of the essence. Except that no one told me that and I’d take my time, pick up a coffee along the way and waltz into an office and have the documents almost snatched from my hands. What finally opened my eyes was when I arrived at a bank as it was about to close. The teller kindly took my paperwork and pointed out to me what could have happened if the paperwork hadn’t been delivered that day.

        Reply
    2. Nita

      How much of the repercussions is Jessie aware of? Does she go into the courtroom herself, or does anyone sit her down later and tell her that she’s caused a major problem in trial? I don’t understand how no one is checking her work, and I don’t know that this is a fixable issue… but also can’t tell if anyone has even made Jessie aware how serious her errors are. OP does say she knows she has a problem with attention to detail, but as others have pointed out, that’s a vague phrase that could mean anything from “the document has misspellings that make the office look bad” to “the document is worse than useless in court because the key points are inaccurate.”

      Reply
  16. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP, I’ve worked with junior attorneys like Jessie. I think it’s important to reframe the problem, here. This isn’t an attention to detail problem. This is a lack of critical thinking problem. I’ll take this in two parts:

    1. Typos
    First, the deluge of typos, etc., in court documents are a big deal (not as big as evidence/doc review problems, but still big). Those typos undermine the court’s confidence in your analysis and make it less likely for the judge to believe you’re accurately stating the law. They transfer work from counsel to the court, and for overloaded courts or less diligent judges, those typos undermine your firm’s reputation in front of the court. Transposing the names of the parties is also a problem.

    So Jessie needs to set up a system where she proofs her own work. It sounds like she’s breezing over her stuff instead of actually double-checking. If she’s terrible at editing, give her items to proofread from other people and give her feedback on whether she caught errors. If you’re in charge of her supervision/development, you have to really drill down on this with her. I have two junior attorneys who’ve done this, and it took me months to get them to be diligent about checking their work.

    2. Failure to Review Closely
    The problems with evidence are of course a BFD. What you’re describing isn’t a lack of attention to detail—it’s a reading comprehension failure and a failure to understand the elements of a claim/defense and the evidence required to prove that claim. That’s more alarming, but common for attorneys with very little litigation experience. What concerns me is that she’s taking the client at their word and then failing to conduct a rigorous review of the record.

    Does she know how to do a doc review? I know this sounds basic, but a lot of junior lawyers are never trained in how to read evidence or scaffold a case. Are there planning tools that could help her? For example, can you have her outline the elements and explain which pieces of evidence support those claims? Can you ask her to go through the possible defenses or weaknesses? This is issue-spotting 101, and if she passed the bar, she should be able to do this. If she can’t, you have a major competency problem on your hands.
     
     
    Ultimately, these are problems that get attorneys fired or disbarred. It’s important for Jessie to realize it’s not a lack of attention to detail—her job and professional reputation are on the line. It would be a kindness if you can help her realize the severity of these problems and the need to fix them (and if they’re unfixable, to consider other law-related or non-law jobs).

    Reply
    1. RabbitRabbit

      This. This right here. I work in research regulatory compliance, not law, but one of our major requirements of the job is to ensure that the supporting documentation actually matches what the researcher claims it says. Failing to cross-check that to the point where it’s a frequent error in her work is frightening.

      Reply
    2. NotAnotherManager!

      Taking the client at their word and failing to confirm literally made my skin crawl. Maybe I’ve just worked too many internal investigations, but Associate 101 where I’ve worked is basically Trust But Verify. Because sometimes your client lies to you. A lot. You do not want to represent those lies as facts to a judge or investigator, particularly when the other side whips out documentation disproving your assertion.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        You’re right that this is basic due diligence. No attorney should rely on their client’s word without verifying it. It’s our job to find problems and address them, and we can’t do our jobs if we never identify the problems!

        Reply
      2. AKchic

        I worked in records for drug rehab. My rule was: listen, be skeptical and *always* verify; the clients lie, documentation doesn’t.
        Too many times we’d get bright-eyed, fresh clinicians who wanted to save the world one client at a time coming in who felt that doing paperwork (and notes) took away from “saving their client”. Until their client did or said something that they couldn’t prove because it wasn’t in the notes and not in the file. Then the client did it again and it became a pattern and there was no written history of the problem because someone was too busy “saving” to follow state and federal law, company and accreditation procedures and general advice.

        I don’t know if Jessie’s problem is her newness or something more. If it is just newness, it can be trained out of her, if OP is willing to be blunt and stop tiptoeing around the seriousness of the issue(s). If there’s something more, that may be up to Jessie to figure out, and up to OP to actually say “y’know, maybe this career path isn’t for you if you can’t handle this kind of work” and hold her accountable for her inability to actually do the work necessary to be successful.

        Reply
      3. HumbleOnion

        At some point, I think it’s far to consider that maybe she’s lazy. Did she decide to just take the client’s word & blow off the “verify” part?

        Reply
        1. Dankar

          You know, I had that thought as well. I tutored students who were college-bound, but not college-ready, and a lot of what we worked on was critical reading. Most of the time, they could spot major factual errors like evidence that didn’t support the article’s argument. And the times that they couldn’t? “Oh, well I was bored, so I stopped paying attention.”

          I suspect she’s not doing her due diligence.

          Reply
        2. Argh!

          The mistake-prone supervisee my boss stuck me with (and won’t let me discipline in any way but a scold) is the laziest person I have ever supervised. After years, I have made no progress, and this person just doesn’t really care about shoddy work, misspent money, or the mission of the organization not being accomplished. My boss keeps telling me how to “help” (i.e., micromanage, like she does) but this is just not something a person can overcome that easily.

          Conscientousness is one of those Big Five personality traits. You can’t train that into someone.

          Reply
    3. fposte

      It’s interesting for me to read this from an editor’s perspective, because while the consequences are different, I deal with people who struggle with #1 as well. And while I don’t know if it’s innate or not, IME it’s really tough to train somebody who genuinely struggles with this. There is something about the cognitive load of interrogating at the same time as decoding that is just beyond some people, no matter how many checklists they employ or re-reads they do. The less “readerly” the checking process is the better it works, but ultimately you can end up always fighting the last war and adding process after process to get around the fact that no matter how carefully this person reads, they’re not seeing things they should be; it’s like the invisible gorilla problem.

      Reply
      1. BRR

        I struggle with typos and I agree it’s really tough to train somebody on this. I employee every technique that ever existed and then some but still make stupid typos (there’s probably one in this comment).

        Reply
        1. fposte

          I’m really good at reading interrogatively, but I hit a limit when I’m proofing an index. I can read for accuracy of entries or alpha order but I can’t read for both in the same run. I think some people have a similar limit before they get to the typos.

          Reply
        2. AMPG

          This is hilarious, because there totally is a typo (“employee” instead of “employ”). I probably never would have noticed (and certainly would never have pointed it out) if you hadn’t mentioned it.

          Reply
      2. Lore

        Yeah, in my experience, you cannot train someone to see like a proofreader. You can train someone who has natural instincts how to check the mechanical stuff that they might not think of, like widows and orphans, and of course you can train someone how to mark up proofs, but I’ve never successfully coached even otherwise super-smart, detail-oriented, colleagues in publishing into being competent proofreaders if they don’t *see* that way with some sort of native ability. For me, at this point, I literally glance at a paragraph and get a warning alarm; sometimes it then takes ten minutes to drill through the language and find the thing that set it off–and I miss things too! Proofreading is a constant struggle toward impossible perfection–but I have never succeeded in constructing a checklist or style sheet or process document that will create that “warning bell.”

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Yeah, I think we’ve talked about this before. I think some of us just have a finer sifter installed from the get-go.

          Reply
      3. Argh!

        I make a lot of typos and mistakes, and with each one, I try to figure out how it happened. My best method now is to print something out, mark it up, and change only what’s been marked up. My former method was to fuss over something so much that I inserted mistakes, dragged and dropped things to the wrong place, etc.

        But that’s me. My supervisee, on the other hand, never has any idea how mistakes happen and sometimes eve denies that they made the mistake, even though nobody else touched their stuff. There are gremlins in their Word program, apparently.

        As for ordinary typos, it really irks me that I’m a professional with an advanced degree, and my boss judges me on what I consider a secretarial skill. Unless it’s to the level of LW’s supervisee’s evidence mistakes, imho a person should be judged on what they were hired to do, rather than their typing skill. If typos are fireable, then have a typing test as part of the hiring process.

        Reply
    4. Observer

      I was going to point this out as well. This is NOT just an issue of lack of attention to detail.

      Even the attention to detail stuff is big – these are NOT just typos. She’s getting material stuff wring! But not checking the evidence and missing one or more major items goes WAAAY beyond “details”.

      OP, you need to reframe this in your own mind and then communicate this clearly. And, in the meantime NOTHING she does gets used without thorough review.

      Reply
    5. WakeRed

      I mean, it is a relatively simple thing to set up systems to work around these issues. Maybe she needs to have that suggested to her – it’s just a matter of developing workarounds for her weaknesses, which will catch most if not all of them. Don’t we all do this? I *certainly* have my systems in place. For example, she could use defendant, plaintiff, Party1, Party2, etc, as code when she’s writing and then Control+F+Replace when she’s ready to go. Maybe she needs to print things out to catch the analysis issuesor come up with a note-taking system.

      I agree with Alison, though, that you’ve done what you could aside from really impressing upon her and she needs to find some workarounds so that these problems lessen and discontinue within (time period). You’d be doing her a huge favor. If you really want, recommend some areas of law that don’t have this requirement for detail work (if those even exist??)

      Reply
      1. Perse's Mom

        I don’t understand how this system helps her, though? Per the OP, Jessie has a track record of not finding errors in reviewing her own work, and there’s absolutely nothing that prevents her from confusing or swapping the coded terms. It may actually make it worse since she then has to mentally keep track of who she’s actually talking about, or consistently refer to other documentation to keep them straight.

        Reply
    6. The OP

      Thank you for your reply, super helpful. I’ll definitely use the tips – she’s only 2 years out of uni, so it’s possible she never learned these skills.

      I’ve mentioned above – I don’t have hiring / firing power, and I’d assumed that the partners who have spoken to her have been explicit, but I don’t know that for certain, so I will make it very explicit for her.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        It’s my pleasure! I spend most of my time, now, training law students, who I also cannot fire ;) I will note that what I’ve described is much more “hand-holding” than what I would expect to invest in training as a supervising attorney in practice.

        I know it’s really hard to give someone tough news, but it’s better for her to learn, now, that what’s she’s doing is malpractice and can cost her her job. It sounds like you’re in a Commonwealth country, so I’m not sure if the standards or expectations are the same for junior attorneys as they are in the U.S. But as we’re likely both common law countries, I suspect that our ethical norms (duty of candor, loyalty, confidentiality and the fiduciary duty) and the professional consequences for violating those duties are similar.

        Ideally she’ll get it together, but if not, I think you have to limit your sympathy about how much time/money she’s sunk into pursuing her degree. It’s true that finding out law might not be her calling could be devastating, or it might be liberating. I have several friends who left the profession after paying off their educational debt, and they have never been happier. Sometimes we stay in a position that’s a bad fit for us because we’re scared of trying something different (especially lawyers, as we tend to be fairly risk-averse as a population). It would be better for her to give it her best try and then reassess, because it will be much worse for her if she’s ultimately disbarred. At least she can formulate a transition and keep her head high if she ends up deciding to leave on her own terms.

        Reply
        1. tangerineRose

          I think colleges and other places of higher education should work to help students get an idea of what various jobs are like in their major – school and work are very different.

          Reply
    7. Sandman

      I think this is really helpful. If there’s anything that can help this junior attorney, it seems like this is it right here.

      Reply
  17. Trout 'Waver

    Attorneys with poor reading comprehension, critical thinking, and attention to detail baffle me. I know they’re out there. But you have to get good grades in college, get a good LSAT score, pass law school, and then pass the state bar. Those are all endeavors that require a great amount of reading comprehension, critical thinking, and attention to detail, even at less prestigious schools.

    If this lack of attention to detail is a new thing, maybe there’s something going on in her life that has changed that is affecting her health or stress levels? Maybe you can ask her what motivated her to study for and pass the state bar? Whatever that motivation is might work if she knows her job is on the line?

    Reply
    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      If law schools are anything like the graduate programs I’m more familiar with (policy, business school), there are pleennnnnty of law schools out there that don’t have particularly high standards. Grad schools are moneymakers for universities; they love to enroll people.

      (That doesn’t explain passing the bar or getting hired though!)

      Reply
      1. NotAnotherManager!

        Law schools are moneymakers for the universities. They charge six figures for a degree that ends up earning most people with a JD little more than some of my mid-career paralegals make. The percentage that come out of law school making six-figure salaries in Big Law or as corporate counsel is not even 20%. There was a huge ABA accreditation scandal several years ago because schools were not accurately representing their job placement statistics.

        I have worked with a ton of lawyers, and many of them are very, very smart people. There are also those who could be out-lawyered by my bright-but-argumentative 4th grader.

        Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I think the difficulty is that the kind of writing required to be successful in law school or on the bar exam is not comparable to the work of an actual attorney. It’s a type of writing you literally only use to graduate and pass the bar exam.

      Reply
      1. NotAnotherManager!

        This is probably too much of a derail, but I have feelings about how law school could better prepare their students for actual legal work. I get the need to teach legal thinking/reasoning/research, but I’d scrap the entire third year as it currently exists and teach project management, supervision, and business development/management, plus a practicum or internship. There are a substantial number of clients who will no longer pay for first-year associate time because they don’t want their matter to be paid training grounds for people fresh out of law school. I also think that most people would benefit from a few years in a non-attorney legal position to see what the lifestyle of law is really like before committing or even basic work experience before law school.

        Reply
      2. Trout 'Waver

        Right. But there still “recognizing fact patterns” piece, which you absolutely should pick up going through law school and passing the bar. And that seems to be what is the most lacking in the junior attorney the OP describes.

        Reply
  18. Elle

    I am pretty detail oriented, but I don’t enjoy detail oriented tasks much. I had an extremely detailed job for a while (reviewing product quality documents) that required me to get really good at focusing and catching errors. I developed a little routine for when I’m getting ready to focus. I take care of all the other stuff that might interrupt me- snack, bathroom, silence my phone and close my email window so I don’t see new notification. I put in headphones with classical music and turn on my bright desk lamp. I make myself a cup of tea. Then I set my timer for an hour. I work really hard for that hour, and then take a 15 minute break. At the beginning it was torture, but now I often go the entire hour without even taking a sip of tea because I’m so focused.
    I also found that changing my diet got rid of a lot of my brain fog and helped me with stupid mistakes. Turns out vitamin deficiencies can really mess with your abilities in that department.

    Although, sadly, I will say that my coworker was not detail oriented and just did not catch things even though he worked hard at it. We tried implementing so many double-check processes but ultimately it just didn’t work out for him. He moved to a new department and is MUCH happier now. Imagine what torture it must be to try to focus on the details if you aren’t good at it?

    Reply
    1. Doug Judy

      It is torture. Every day it’s a struggle and it’s depressing. Plus sometimes you get stigmatized as a bad employee, when really, you’re just not a good fit for that role. I am much better at roles that require building relationships and are people focused than I am in positions that require a lot of detailed work.

      Reply
      1. Elle

        Definitely! That sounds horrible. Its like, I hate talking on the phone. If my job was to talk on the phone all day, every minute would be torture. Why would I want that to be my life?
        OP, you have a great opportunity to help this woman identify a role where she might actually excel and be happy. I think everyone deserves the chance to find a job they are successful at.

        Reply
      2. knitcrazybooknut

        As a detail-obsessive person, I can testify that building relationships and people-focused activities are my idea of pure hell. I’m so happy there are people out there like you so I can stay in my cave and work on databases!

        (And if you think about it, the real Doug Judy has your same skillsets!)

        Reply
        1. fposte

          I think of editing as basically making a living at being The Princess and the Pea. If I’m going to freak out at irregularities other people wouldn’t notice, might as well get paid for it.

          Reply
          1. Lore

            Indeed! I have a running joke with one of my colleagues–it makes her crazy to read stuff in bound galleys because all she can see are the mistakes. I prefer it because then I can tell myself that all of those will have been corrected by the time they print…whereas if I read a finished book rife with errors, I just want to throw it across the room and/or go find the production editor/copy editor/proofreader and tell them a thing or two.

            Reply
          2. kitryan

            My go to analogy is that I’m a paid Cassandra, predicting the future (that no one listens to). I’m not as negative as that implies, but I do tend to spot problems and issues that others don’t – which in some situations makes me the rain on people’s parades. I usually also have solutions or alternate options as well, but people often just remember that you harshed their vibe.

            Reply
        2. emmelemm

          Same. I am so happy in the details (and a master-level proofreader, although that’s not my job), but constantly having to build relationships and strategize is my idea of pure hell.

          Reply
  19. Anonymous Finch

    Does she not fully understand the possible consequences to your clients of her failure to pay attention to detail? Or the probable consequences to her career? Maybe the best tip for improvement that LW can give her is to make her fully comprehend the gravity of this issue.

    And as JB (not in Houston) alludes to, lawyers have a professional duty of competency. If she can’t get her act together, her legal career may be an unhappy and short one.

    Reply
    1. pcake

      And unfortunately her legal career will also be unhappy for the OP’s firm’s clients. The OP should focus on that more, as there are consequences – sometimes life-changing and negative – to those beyond the firm and the careless junior attorney.

      Reply
      1. Jen

        OP can also never, ever sign her name to something this employee worked on. Never. She can’t in good conscience say the work done in the filing is correct. This could harm OP.

        Reply
    2. Contracts Killer

      Not just her, the OP likely has duties as her supervising attorney. Depending on what state the OP is in, there are likely rules of professional responsibility that govern OP’s supervision of his/her junior attorney. This is now a known issue for OP, so OP’s law license is in potential jeopardy every time he/she supervises this person.

      Reply
  20. The Other Dawn

    This really sounds like the job isn’t the right fit for Jesse. I’m in banking and what I do involves a similar type of thing: great attention to detail, combing through account activity, trying to determine if it’s suspicious, and tying the pieces together. For three of my team members, it comes very naturally; one had a steeper learning curve, but has improved a lot; and the last person…I think she’s better off going back to what she used to do in another part of the bank. She can do the work, but she often misses obvious things and her attention to detail isn’t great. She does better with things that are back and white, or are more of a routine type of task. And that’s OK in my department, because that means she does some of the things the others hate doing and she actually enjoys it, while doing less of the things that don’t come naturally; it all works out. But if she were at another bank with a smaller team and had to do a lot more of the research, she’d have a really hard time with it. Doing what we do in my department is a learning curve for anyone, but it’s particularly steep for someone who has a hard time with the gray areas and the subjective stuff, and has to somehow make a lot of connections between them.

    Reply
    1. rear mech

      hi Dawn, what is your department or type of role called? I’m looking for a new field and this endless stream of short term research sounds ideal for me.

      Reply
  21. caryatis

    “she doesn’t pick up that the client’s evidence doesn’t say what the client says it does”

    Sounds like she’s just not smart enough for this job. There’s only so much good advice, and hard work, and double-checking can do when a person is suffering from a basic lack of IQ points.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      I mean, that’s one possibility sure, but I’d also look at the workload. Is she struggling to keep up? Didn’t have time to look over every document as carefully as she planned to? Or is she struggling emotionally/distracted? Not that these are OP’s problem necessarily, other than how they approach this employee – all they should do is call attention to the problem and demand it be fixed – but you don’t necessarily have to jump to “too stupid.” Most people aren’t just stupid or smart.

      Reply
        1. Sloan Kittering

          Absolutely a struggle with the workload can explain why someone didn’t have time to carefully review a document (whipped it out in five minutes to hit a deadline, hoped it was fine) – or really dig into what a financial document really said (was trying to get through twenty docs in an hour, checked off the total and kept moving instead of carefully reading the substantiation). I’m not defending the errors and they need to be fixed, but definitely my work quality goes down when I’m stressed and flailing around trying to get a lot done.

          Reply
          1. Observer

            Sure, work quality gets hit by overly high work load. But the issue here is not just that she’s not checking everything or being a *bit* careless. Even when she is officially checking, she’s missing MAJOR issues and she’s just getting basic information wrong. Miss-spelling, incorrect numbers, transposed numbers or dates are one thing. Getting the wrong person? Missing major items? Even with overload that shouldn’t be happening unless she’s just not capable or doesn’t care.

            Reply
  22. KHB

    I can empathize on the matter of evidence not saying what the client says it says. We’re conditioned to trust that people are going to be truthful and accurate in their descriptions of their own stuff, but unfortunately that’s not always the case.

    Last year we ran a news story about a scientific paper where the researchers’ own university press office overstated the scale of the experiment by a factor of more than 1000. A lot of news outlets took the press materials at face value, and were rightly eviscerated for it. Fortunately, our story was based on the actual paper, so we got everything right, but if we’d assigned the story to a less experienced reporter, it could easily have gone the other way.

    So, has anybody impressed upon Jessie that part of her job is specifically to check things like this? That clients are human, and they sometimes make mistakes or are prone to exaggeration, and she needs to independently confirm that all the ducks are in a row? Maybe you’d assume that she’d figure it out after she caused the team to get caught with its proverbial pants down once (or even several times). But from what you’ve said about her, you might not be right to assume so.

    Reply
    1. Jen

      The thing is “clients lie” is part of practice 101. I was taught it in clinic (your last year of school you can do some representation through a program) and, sure enough, almost all my clinic clients lied to me. Some seriously (I have had to pivot mid hearing because if this). We would emphasize how important telling the truth is and still be lied to. An attorney who doesn’t know this and know to verify has a serious problem.

      Reply
      1. Anon attorney

        Absolutely. My rule is that I believe the documentation, not the person. It’s not so much that clients lie, but that they forget, make mistakes, or are so invested in Explanation Y that they genuinely think Document X will prove Y.

        Reply
      1. Liane

        And the legal equivalent–from my reading novels with lawyer characters–is, “Never ask a witness in court a question if you don’t already know the answer.”

        Reply
    2. CTT

      Seconding Jen’s “clients lie” comment, and also whenever an attorney submits something to a court, they affirm that the information within is, to the best of their knowledge, true. So you have to check these things or otherwise you and your firm can be sanctioned.

      Reply
  23. Matilda Jefferies

    Ooh, ouch. This is not okay. At this point, I think the kindest thing you can do for her is to let her go. Explain what’s happening and why it’s not acceptable, then offer whatever you can to help her find a new job. But do it now, while it’s still a small problem – the worst thing you could do is let this go until she makes a hugely damaging mistake and you end up having to fire her for cause.

    Things you can do to help:
    *Give her lots of notice of her impending layoff, with time off for interviews if possible (if this isn’t possible, or you really don’t want to keep her in the office, give her a really good severance package including access to her existing benefits plan for a decent period of time)
    *Connect her with anyone in your network who could help
    *Offer to review her resume and cover letter
    *Give her a good reference when the time comes.

    She’s a good person and a good worker, but not a good fit for this job. Please help her get out the door now, with her dignity and your law practice intact.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous Finch

      I would not inflict this junior attorney on any lawyer who I’d want to keep a positive relationship with. How can I recommend someone with this record? What happens when the lawyer I send cheerfully to a pal’s firm then blows up a case for them?

      Reply
      1. Matilda Jefferies

        Oh, yikes – no! I don’t mean recommend her for a similar job with someone else. I mean, the OP probably has lots of people in their network who are not lawyers – teachers, businesspeople of whatever sort, etc. There are probably lots of non-legal things that Jessie could do quite well, so I’m suggesting that OP could connect her with people in those fields instead.

        Reply
          1. Jesmlet

            +1 – there are very few jobs that don’t require critical thinking and attention to detail. I could not in good conscience recommend Jessie to anyone I actually liked or respected.

            Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yeah, in good conscience, I could not refer someone to Jessie to anyone else or encourage her to practice law until she addresses the problems OP identified. Reputation is everything in law, and I would not want to stake mine on someone who is lovely/nice but a complete mess as a firm attorney.

        Reply
  24. Miss Mouse

    I wonder if she has ADHD? It is under-diagnosed in girls as their symptoms tend to be more discreet than boys who have the far more stereotypical symptoms. Girls tend to manifest more with daydreaming, absent-mindedness, disorganization, time-management issues, lack of attention to detail, etc. It is VERY VERY under-diagnosed in extremely intelligent and high-performing women who have learned to compensate in school but who often hit a wall in the professional world. She might want to talk to a family physician or psychiatrist who specializes in adult ADHD. If she does suffer from it, there are pharmaceutical options, talk therapy, apps and instruction for task and time management, etc. It can be extremely frustrating for smart well-educated women to accomplish so much and yet not be able to figure out why they struggle with the most basic things at work.

    Reply
    1. Jen

      It kind if doesn’t matter.

      You have it under control or you do not practice. It does not matter why you are not providing diligent representation, if you can’t do so, you do not practice law. You take a leave of absence, sure. But you cannot let someone with severe errors continue practicing law at your work. I have worked with attorneys with disabilities before and the line is very clear.

      Reply
      1. Socks

        Well, it might matter in that if she is undiagnosed, a diagnosis and medication could quickly and easily get it under control. It still might not, but DAMN am I a totally different person, functioning-wise, when I’m on meds. Night and day. If she has not been evaluated, she should do that asap, because there’s a non-zero chance that the problem could be completely solved.

        Reply
        1. Jen

          I just keep thinking about this and the evidence issue is so bad, I can’t see how you continue letting her do any attorney work. If she needs medical help she needs to go away until it is fixed. But the trust would be so gone for me.

          Reply
          1. TootsNYC

            I agree. But if I were Jessie’s boss, I would probably suggest that she check it out, so that she wouldn’t have these problems in a future job.

            Reply
        2. Observer

          Given the scope of the problem, it’s actually not likely that medication would just resolve the problem by itself, and not quickly either. Sure, it can be the thing that makes all the difference, but she’s still going to need to unlearn a LOT of stuff.

          It’s only AFTER that happens that it makes a difference, because that provides a reason to believe that something has actually changed.

          Reply
    2. twig

      I was wondering this too. I am not going to armchair diagnose, but share my story instead.

      I always had good grades, did well in school, was able to check all the “correct” boxes. However — I’ve always been a “space cadet.” When it comes to stuff that I enjoy — I’m able to focus like mad.

      When it comes to stuff that is less enjoyable — it’s a struggle. I can be reading for a couple of pages before I realized that I didn’t absorb anything — or check for errors.

      At the age of 41, I read a random article about ADHD in girls and women and how it presents itself. Friends, that was a description of ME. Here I thought that I was just a lazy bastard and it turns out my brain chemistry was off.

      I discussed it with my psychiatrist, she prescribed some ADHD meds. and WOW. It’s like night and day.

      While I still need to work on coping mechanisms and build routines for myself, medication has made a world of difference. I’m able to focus on my work, without all my other duties and needs creeping in around the edges of my focus battling for attention.

      Reply
      1. asleep or maybe dead

        The only giveaway that I haven’t wrote this comment myself is that I do not have a psychiatrist and I am not medicated, so I am getting by any other coping methods I can find.

        To add other funny anedoctes, I first noticed my ADHD problem when I had quit coffee and was suddenly battling constant brain fog and could not focus at all.

        Initially I thought that that was normal, and certainly everyone was like that. I thought so until I watched a highly relatable 100+ items ‘you know you have adhd when’ video and forwarded it to a friend and they were horrified that I found any of that applicable to my life.

        Reply
      2. Jane Smith

        I think I read this same article, at age 38 (in The Atlantic? “It’s different for girls with ADHD”?) It changed my life. Like you, I am high-functioning and was successful in my field before my diagnosis, but some things in my personal life changed, and it got a lot harder to function. I made the same kinds of mistakes described by twig and the OP. Things others handled with ease were inexplicably harder for me. I’m 43 now; I take meds, and it has been a life-changing — not only am I better at work and life, I no longer feel terrible about my flaws. Someone upthread said ADHD meds aren’t an overnight fix, but they kind of are. Sure, meds don’t change who you are, but most of us know we’re not doing it right, and when meds give us the space to improve, we do.

        I agree that the dynamics of a manager asking an employee if they’ve been checked for ADHD are … tricky. I don’t know that I would have felt good about it, had it been broached by my manager … but, getting diagnosed sooner would have been better. Maybe the OP can leave this article lying around? :) https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/its-different-girls-adhd/316674/

        Reply
    3. Observer

      It doesn’t really matter. It’s not on the OP to try to diagnose ANYTHING. It also doesn’t sound like the OP has enough information to make any intelligent suggestions beyond “please talk to your doctor about possible medical or neurological reasons for the the problem.”

      But I also want to push back on the stereotype here. The OP calls is “lack of attention to detail” but there is a LOT more going on here. And the mix of errors here doesn’t really speak to distractability per se, either. Knowing people with ADD/ADHD (diagnosed), this doesn’t sound like them, at all.

      Reply
      1. Paralegal, Part Deux

        I have a friend with diagnosed ADHD who is also a paralegal. When she’s not on her meds, she’s just like Jessie. On her meds, totally fine and can focus like a laser.

        As I’ve said, I’d rather someone point it out as a possibility than lose my job and derail my career over something that’s easily corrected.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          That may be true, but the way it works is that you need to learn to function. Once that happens, the meds are far more useful. Just popping pills generally is not all that useful.

          It’s not that meds don’t work, it’s that you need to have the behavior tools to make use of the clearing of the brain fog.

          Sure, the OP can tell Jessie that she should consider getting evaluated. But anything beyond that is just out of line. And whatever the diagnosis, this could take far longer than the organization can afford.

          Reply
    4. Oxford Comma

      Jessie might have ADHD. There might be any number of medical conditions that cause the problems. But I don’t think the OP can even raise those possibilities with Jessie.

      Reply
    5. Jesmlet

      Jessie may have ADHD, she may have dyslexia, she may be experiencing side effects from existing medication, but none of that should matter to OP. That’s not her responsibility to bear.

      Reply
  25. Marion Cotesworth-Haye

    Ouch. Big law mid-/senior-level associate here, and this strikes a chord. I’ve found it useful to frame these conversations with junior associates as “everyone makes mistakes and misses things as a junior attorney getting up the learning curve — it’s how you handle it that will determine whether you will be successful here long term.” Owning up to her weakness here is good, but she needs to take ownership of coming up with solutions to the errors she’s already made and how to prevent them from recurring, not relying on you for tips and tricks. If she has the critical thinking chops and just not the attention to detail, she should be able to use the former to create guardrails against the latter. For example, if a junior attorney missed a privileged document, they should come back with (1) a draft letter to claw that document back and (2) a suggested change to their process/document review protocol to prevent further privileged documents from slipping through the same crack. I may go in another direction given my experience/knowledge, but they should have the critical thinking skills to propose possible solutions.

    Reply
    1. serenity

      I have no response to your comment at all except I *LOVE* your screenname. My favorite WW scene ever. If I ever have an alias it will be “Helena Hotworth Hooter-Tooter”.

      Reply
  26. Stellaaaaa

    A bad attorney can seriously mess up other people’s lives. Jessie is one of the hardest types of bad employees to deal with – you can’t fire her for absenteeism or having a bad attitude or for not taking the job seriously. She’s committed to the job and wants to do it well but just consider how many more clients’ time, lives, and money you’re willing to compromise just to be nice to Jessie.

    Reply
  27. Legal Rugby

    I’m an attorney, and this used to be me! I came to law school from a fast-paced operational environment, where people could be hurt or killed if you didn’t react, and where reports came after. It took a LOT. I’ve been out of law school for four years now, and I’m just getting to the point where I can trust most of my rough draft work product to not have huge gaps.

    A couple things that helped me – I created a list of things I had to check in each document – first, when I worked as a prosecutor, I turned my Microsoft word grammar and spelling check up to 11. It drove me crazy, but I learned to catch things as I wrote them. After that, I kept a running list of things I needed to search for in each work product – and possible misspellings that might slip through (i.e., I had a victim whose last name was splice, I would search for spice, which MW wouldn’t catch.) This was especially a big thing when I was working off a motion or brief from another case as a template. To this day, when I have to edit 40-50 page documents, I keep a running list on a legal pad of things I want to go back and double check – things like acocunting for all the money, or checking that I changed all of the names, or that everytime I refer to something, I do it the same way. I do that checklist just prior to my last run through. I also still do evidence webs (although less frequently, given my area) where I write a checklist of what each piece is going to prove, what I say about it’s relevance, and what it’s gap or issue for the other side is.

    But… these are all techniques that I developed to prevent me looking like an idiot in front of others. I was able to recognize my issues (thanks to great feedback and clear directives from my bosses and supervising attorneys). It was also a alot of trial and error for me. Some of the advice I got didn’t help at all, and some of it worked really well with my flow but didnt address the issues. If she’s not coming up with these methods on her own, and it sounds like she isnt, you might want to look at her problem solving skills – has she ever had to adjust to this type of setback? Like Allison asked, does she understand she is essentially failing at her job?

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      This is great, it shows what SHE should be thinking. If she’d written in, these would be good tips. But I’m not sure her mentor can implement them for her – I think you were able to do it because you were a) sufficiently motivated and b) figured out for yourself what kind of errors you were prone to and how to avoid them. OP needs to give this employee the big picture of what she need to do – then fire her after the next mistake.

      Reply
      1. Legal Rugby

        You kind of hit my nail on the head. My point (rather poorly outlined) is that it took me two and half years of hard work to create a system that addressed the feedback I was getting. OP doesn’t indicate that this person has put in that kidn of work.

        It may be that this attorney was a K-JD who never faced a real hurdle where they had to create their own solution. The attorneys that I work with who can’t improvise are frequently facing their first real hurdles in life, and they need that type of wake up call to learn. I hire attorneys to represent my employer in certain matters, and flexibilty and problem solving are things that we pay very very well for.

        Reply
    2. Mike C.

      Yeah, I don’t understand why a checklist wouldn’t be the answer here. We do these for pilots, astronauts, surgeons and all sorts of folks in life or death situations, so why not here as well?

      Reply
        1. Observer

          It’s a great episode. But anyone who has been following healthcare might be aware of this also, because Attul Gwande, has just been appointed the head of the Amazon / Buffet healthcare consortium and he’s been a major proponent for this.

          Reply
      1. Sloan Kittering

        Check list is good for some stuff, but weird errors like putting the wrong name in Plaintiff, or if the task is “confirm that evidence proves what we think” might get a little wrong. The checklist is basically to do the task you were assigned … correctly. I mean, by all means suggest they give this a chance, but I’m not sure this type of error is the kind that checklists catch well.

        Reply
        1. twig

          However, if she knows that she is prone to these kind of errors, she can add them to her checklist:
          For Example:
          *check plaintiff Name
          *does Evidence reflect plaintiff’s description?

          It may seem kind of simplistic, but when there are A LOT of details to track, this kind of thing can be incredibly useful.

          In the past, I’ve had trouble with trying to pay attention to ALL THE DETAILS AT ONCE. when it really works better to pay attention to just a detail or two at a time.

          Reply
          1. Sloan Kittering

            True, I guess a long enough checklist could catch every possible error. I guess it depends, are there some things she has consistent trouble with, or is it a new field filled out incorrectly every single time.

            Reply
            1. Legal Rugby

              And thats a big part of what I was talking about. I know I am taking the same mental short cuts, or where I fall back into my old writing style, and how to search for that in my work. However, if I discover through proof reading that I’ve missed a word, or I am using the wrong word usage, I will search the entire document.

              I do a lot of anonymizing documents, and knowing what a attorney might mistakenly write helps me a lot. So my checklist always includes a section to write down mistakes I do find so I can search the whole product for them.

              Reply
          2. Socks

            Yup. Checklists of really basic details are 90% of how I made it through school. And, like, cleaning my own apartment. One time I lost my multi-pen I used to color code my to-do lists, and my life basically fell apart til I found it. Lists. Lists are magic.

            Reply
            1. Sloan Kittering

              Ugh, such mixed feelings haha. I agree that lists can keep me productive, but I also hate the feeling that my entire life, both personally and professionally, is about checking things off. It starts to make me feel crazy … this may be a “me problem.”

              Reply
              1. asleep or maybe dead

                Can relate.
                But checking things off activates the sweet sweet reward center of my brain and I have not found anything better than that to get me started.

                Reply
      2. asleep or maybe dead

        +1 for checklists.
        I have a hate/love relationship with them, but I cannot deny they have saved me more than a couple times.

        Some people really do think that checklists are for ~dumb~ people doing ~menial~ jobs, though. That is really upsetting.

        Reply
      3. RabbitRabbit

        I think the issue is that neither the OP nor Jessie seem to be sufficiently disturbed by this, and the advice is aimed at the OP and not Jessie. This has to be a realization on the OP’s part about how precarious a situation their firm is in, more than anything else about checklists or doctor’s appointments for ADHD checkups or what have you.

        Reply
      4. Let's Talk About Splett

        Sometimes it’s not about knowing the steps. I am the type of person who can recite the steps of a task forwards and backwards, and teach someone how to do it. My issue is that I might perform Steps 1-9 flawlessly, then get interrupted by something more pressing and forget to go back and do step 10 or think I did step 10 and it’s ready to deliver.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          Well, the idea would be to actually CHECK off the items on the check list. So, you would do steps 1-9, checking off each item as you do it. You then go off on whatever interrupted you. You come back and check your list. And, OH! #10 is not checked off. That’s actually one reason check lists are so useful.

          Reply
          1. Let's Talk About Splett

            Sure, but if I think I completed step 10 because I started it I might check it off in error. (Not to say that a checklist is never useful, but it’s not foolproof).

            Reply
          2. TootsNYC

            checking off each item as you do it.

            No, check off each item AFTER you’ve done it, and AFTER you’ve checked that you did it right.

            I use checklists religiously, and I also use highlighting of changes I’ve input as a form of checklist, and I have to really lean on my people that you do NOT check off the item (or highlight the writing) until AFTER you have done the task, and AFTER you have checked that you input it right.

            We also have routing slips, and it makes me CRAZY that so many people sign them before they start working.

            Reply
            1. Observer

              True, you check after. What I mean is that you check things off item by item so you can see where you are up to. Being meticulous about doing it after the task is done is a key thing, though.

              Reply
      5. Tequila Mockingbird

        Ugh, again with this “checklist” nonsense, as if it’s some sort of magic pill.

        A checklist cannot correct deficiencies in critical thinking.

        And no high-level professional uses a checklist in a “life or death situation.” They use their experience and intuition.

        Reply
        1. kitryan

          I am definitely not a checklists fix everything person, but doctors do use some simple checklists for some types of emergency medical procedures/screenings. It’s been proven to work well in that application – also great for pilots. The problem is that they don’t fix critical thinking (as you point out) and they won’t help when your brain elides over the mistake you’re checking for or skips over steps in the list itself.

          Reply
        2. Observer

          Not true. Airline pilots and surgeons, among others, absolutely DO use checklists. That’s about as “life and death critical” as you can find.

          Not that’s a panacea. And I suspect it won’t work here because she seems to just not see the problems.

          Reply
        3. Legal_Rugby

          I used checklists when responding to emergencies all the time in my old profession. My pilots used them too. Checklists are meant to ensure that things get done i nthe right order in an emergency so that when you are ready for the next step, the next step is available.

          Checklists can be great – and I wasn’t advocating for them – I was demonstrating how they helped *me*. Because, as I said in my third paragraph, they work for some folks and not for others. But I did the work to figure out what would work for me – which is what I’m not seeing in OP’s letter.

          Reply
        4. TootsNYC

          And no high-level professional uses a checklist in a “life or death situation.” They use their experience and intuition.

          Case in point: Captain Sullenberger.

          The second decision was just as critical and it was not on the checklist for an emergency like this one. Based just on instinct, Sully switched on the auxiliary power unit, a small turbine engine in the rear of the airplane that normally supplies power when the airplane is at the gate and the engines are shut down. Without the power generated by that unit there would not have been enough electrical power for the computers to provide the flight envelope protection. Sully would have lost the hidden hand that helped him save the airplane.

          https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-unsung-hero-left-out-of-sully

          Reply
          1. Observer

            So? That doesn’t mean that he didn’t use check lists. Checklists were first instituted in aviation as a result of a crash that resulted from an experienced airplane crew forgetting to take care of one task.

            In this case, it’s quite possible that the use of checklists was part of what enabled him to make the right call – he knew what had already been checked before they ever got off the ground.

            Attul Gwande tells a story about a surgery that nearly went wrong. Yes, he showed an enormous level of skill and saved the patient’s life. But if the check list had not been followed, the man would have dies despite the heroics. Because the checklist was the tool that lead to there being enough blood in the OR – the man was hemorrhaging, and they kept pouring blood into him till they could get the break repaired. If they hadn’t had the blood in the OR, the man would have been dead before they could fix the problem and / or get more blood from storage.

            The point is that checklists are not, and cannot, replace skill and the “instinct” that comes from practice. But it DOES make skilled people more effective when properly implemented.

            Reply
        5. Leslie knope

          I work at a law firm and we always use checklists because of the sheer volume of work. They aren’t for the big picture stuff like the actual argument though, more like is there a mailing label, are the checks there if needed, are all the forms signed etc.

          I think this woman is most likely a bad fit and has critical thinking issues that can’t be solved with checklists but some of these comments are a little dramatic. Plenty of professionals use checklists, no one is perfect and things do slip right out of your mind sometimes. The “I would NEVER hire Jessie even to fly a kite” comments are also kind of overkill. I think we’d all like to think we don’t make detail mistakes but….we definitely do.

          Reply
        6. Kiwi

          My first aid training was basically about learning and following a checklist. Otherwise, the first aider jumps in to deal with the obvious stuff like a broken leg and misses that the person’s lying in a position where they can’t breathe. Checklists are great in emergencies like that.

          Reply
      6. Rusty Shackelford

        Yeah, I don’t understand why a checklist wouldn’t be the answer here. We do these for pilots, astronauts, surgeons and all sorts of folks in life or death situations, so why not here as well?

        I imagine the surgeon’s checklist has things like cauterize all bleeders and count the sponges (actually, the surg tech probably does that, but you get the picture), but there is no checklist for remove the appendix. And this is the part Jessie’s having problems with – removing the appendix.

        Another analogy. Truck drivers have a long, detailed checklist to be completed before every trip. But that checklist isn’t going to help you back a trailer into a loading dock. That’s a skill you have to learn, and also (IMHO) a certain amount of innate ability you have to have. All the numbered steps in the world aren’t going to give me the ability to back that trailer if I don’t already have the ability to back that trailer. And Jessie doesn’t seem to have the ability to back the trailer.

        Reply
      7. The Ginger Ginger

        My concern is that she IS checking. So if her checklist said, “check for spelling errors”, she’d mark that sucker off because she did check! She just didn’t RECOGNIZE. And that lack of recognition is the core issue. If she’s not seeing the problem there’s nothing a checklist will do for her.

        Plus, she needs to be able to recognize her weaknesses and problem solve ways to shore those up on her own. From the sounds of it, there’s a serious lack of self awareness going on here, and I don’t think it’s fair to a client to work that out on their time. At some point, the hand holding is just too expensive and too risky.

        Reply
      8. mrs__peel

        Checklists are not really a practical solution when you work in a legal environment with billable hours, especially if your peers don’t need them and can do the same work in a much shorter time. The time it takes to develop and implement them is just not likely to be acceptable to the firm or to clients.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          That’s profoundly misunderstanding how checklists work. Properly implemented check lists don’t really add much time – even before you factor in the time savings that come from lower error rate.

          It’s not just lawyers that are under major time constraints. In a heavily used airport, adding 10 minutes to each plane takeoff would have major effects. In surgery, it’s even worse. Yet, somehow they use them all the time – with excellent results.

          Reply
          1. JB (not in Houston)

            I am guessing that mrs_peel means that you’d have to develop a new checklist for every case, and the time it takes to develop and implement it would have to be either (1) time spent that you can’t bill a client for, which the firm won’t like, or (2) time you bill the client for, which the client won’t like and may not accept. It’s not that only lawyers have time constraints. It’s the lawyers at firms have a specific, intense “who are you billing this time to?!?!!” pressure.

            Reply
            1. Observer

              And that’s not how check lists work. That’s my point.

              There are certain things you need to do on each project of a given type. It’s those routine, albeit skilled, items that Jessie is not doing.

              In this case, for instance her checklist could include:

              Verify the name of the plaintiff and defendant
              Check for all occurrences of the Plaintif’s name and make sure they are correct
              Check for all occurrences of the Defendant’s name and make sure they are correct

              For any project requiring dealing with evidence you could have:
              Get a full list of all the documents / exhibits
              Match your list to the items you have. Note any missing items
              Check each item to make sure that it shows what the list says it’s supposed to show.

              These are all basic things. And because in this case they happen to be things she should be doing anyway, it doesn’t add any time to her workflow at all.

              Now, it’s possible that the problem is that Jessie doesn’t know how to do those things. If that’s the case, then all the checklists in the world are not going to help her. But if she DOES have the skill, then it’s possible that this will help her build the structure she needs to get the work done.

              Reply
            2. mrs__peel

              It sounds like she would need **extremely** detailed checklists for basically every single type of document and every type of situation the firm encounters.

              And, as someone else pointed out above, it’s very difficult to develop checklists for the discovery process because you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to find. To some extent, you can use tools like (e.g.) software to review documents and locate key words, but you also need some inherent good judgment and attention to detail to identify things that might be important for your case.

              Reply
      9. NW Mossy

        I tried checklists with a Jessie that I managed. We tried it them exhaustively, along with documentation, action plans, weekly check-ins, and feedback on each and every work item she produced.

        I wish I could report that it worked exceptionally well, but it did not. It failed miserably. Every single day I’d watch her roll that accuracy ball almost to the crest of the hill, only to have it roll back over her as it sank back down to the starting point again. We tried this for 6 months and achieved no measurable forward progress at all.

        I can’t say for sure if this is what was going on in her head, but it appeared to me as her manager that the fundamentals of the job never clicked for her. She could understand abstractly that being accurate mattered, but when she talked about her errors, every mistake was a unique and uncorrelated event that would never repeat. She simply couldn’t see that she herself was the common thread uniting the mistakes, and without that insight, she couldn’t get to the critical understanding that the only thing she could do to make fewer mistakes was to change her behavior.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          They key to this whole situation is for Jessie to REALLY, TRULY *GET* the issue. That these errors MUST stop. That these are not “just details”. And that either she cannot do the job, or she needs to change how she is doing it.

          I’m sorry that your Jessie never realized this. So frustrating for you.

          Reply
    3. asleep or maybe dead

      Yup, I’m not in law but have been that person as well.
      I think your take hit the nail in the head. Ultimately, if she wants to continue at this kind of job, she needs to recognize her shortcomings and build her own strategies to be able to deliver. And while she can ask around for advice, tips and tricks, she has to test and weight each one of them, because what works for some does not work for others.

      Reply
  28. Asleep or maybe dead

    Oh op, kudos for your dedication.
    I can empathize because I frequently am in yours AND Jessie’s position.
    I have to prepare a ton of highly technical material and I was not given the blessing of attention to detail by the gods, but found some tricks that help me a lot. 1) is keeping my support files organized so I can check infos quickly 2) is a rubber duck debugging like routine in which I mentally picture that I am presenting my documentation to someone who’s very inquisitive and read it out loud to make sure all the documents support the narrative I am going with. It sounds silly but I promise it really helps.
    On the other hand, I oftentimes have to review documentation sent to me by business partners and some of them are a nightmare. I tried to help them improving the quality of their output, but sometimes they’re just not willing to.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      I also find that I have to be really careful when I update old templates. I need to think critically before I even start working about what kind of things probably need to be changed, maybe look for them first before you even get into substance of what you’re doing.

      Reply
  29. Ashlee

    The evidence part is scary to me. She doesn’t pick up the evidence does not match what the client says? Isn’t this the kind of thing that could cause irreparable harm to a client or even jail time?

    Reply
  30. cheeky

    I had a (nightmare) coworker who was like this. Excellent attention to detail and the ability to find mistakes are critical in my job, and she just did not possess those skills. I’m not sure how she made it past her interview. She ended up being terminated because she just could not do her job competently, and no amount of training or retraining fixed that. She was given many chances and lots of instruction, but you can’t teach someone to become detail oriented if they lack the ability.

    Reply
  31. Bea

    Attention to details is critical in accounting as well so I’m all too familiar with this problem that some folks have.

    I agree that this sounds like a comprehension issue. Does she understand when the errors are pointed out? Does she then see the missed or inappropriate information?

    It may be that she’s in too deep too fast. Being overwhelmed can be a breeding ground for errors a seasoned person won’t make. Can she take a step back and be put in a lower position to not be anywhere near the final product you’re submitting to the court? I’ve had people try to automatically jump into full cycle bookkeeping who needed to be pulled to just AP or AR for awhile to understand the process. But I’m not certain a law practice has a way to wade in like that.

    I’ve had stellar students turn out to be difficult workers. It’s a different kettle of fish and different stakes. They’re focused differently for the task at hand instead of knowing you’re dealing with a real judgment. It’s not hypothetical anymore.

    She has to figure out for herself which way to go. Being kind and letting her transition is the best advice I can give you. She’ll beat herself up enough. But as stated up thread, this is your practice on the line and can lead to malpractice suits over time. So think about the entire picture and not just the nice person you know personally. That’s the crappiest thing about business I’ve ever dealt with in my career.

    Reply
  32. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

    If she’s ok with actual issues of law, perhaps there are non-litigant areas she can go into. Perhaps she’s better suited for negotiations or arbitration.

    Reply
    1. Teapot librarian (and recovering lawyer)

      Or policy (my first step after the “dear God I’m bad at representing clients” realization) or working for a legislature (my third step after that realization).

      Reply
      1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

        Right. She needs to find a niche that she’ll thrive in — this office doesn’t sound like the one. On the flip side, some lawyers might have phenomenal attention to detail and be great at contract or trademark law, but fail hard with public speaking or lack people skills such that they could never be in a courtroom.

        Reply
        1. LilySparrow

          +1

          I’ve worked as a legal secretary in several different types of practice – estates, corporate, family mediation, real estate, tax…

          They all require really different temperaments and skill sets for the attorneys. Even if you look at something like business tax strategy vs representing someone in an audit – you could be fantastic at one and suck at the other.

          And TBH, I’ve met a number of attorneys who became senior partners on the strength of their ability as rainmakers, who could nab lucrative clients all day long and got somebody else to do the gruntwork.

          Reply
  33. Sloan Kittering

    I suspect this is different in law than in other fields (I bet attention to detail is important even to senior legal types) but one thing I’ve struggled with in my career is that extreme attention to detail was very important in the early stages – when I was an assistant or coordinator – and become less important over time, as I went up. At the top level you often have other people compiling the data or whatever, and you are reading the executive summary assuming that the data is correct. You’re managing staff. When you are the entry level, you can’t mix up one name or one data point.

    That is to say, if you (like me) are recognizing yourself in the description of this employee, you may find some relief if you can buckle down for a few years and get through the entry period. (But again, not in all fields, and probably not in law).

    Reply
    1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

      That’s a really good point, especially since it does sound like the senior lawyers in the OP’s office aren’t reviewing their own case evidence prior to trial and rely on junior lawyers, like Jessie, to summarize the evidence or create documents.

      Reply
    1. Bea

      I was thinking about dyslexia issues as well. With swapping out things and not necessarily finding the errors.

      I fight mine with resetting my brain by putting things away and reviewing before sending out. I also can do checklists and reversing the math to make sure it all matches up.

      Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Maybe, but this is running pretty close to the “don’t armchair diagnose” rule here. If you’re going to do it, please explain how it affects your advice to the OP.

      Reply
      1. Dr. Johnny Fever

        Thank you, Alison. I have ADHD and manage it, and I get pissed off every time it’s tossed around as a cover for mistakes. Sometimes, people without ADHD make mistakes, too.

        Reply
    3. Debonairess

      Let’s say she gets a diagnosis, to what extent is the company required to make accommodations for that? I say this as a Brit who genuinely doesn’t know about US law. It seems to me that diagnosis or not, the kind of mistakes being talked about are beyond what I would expect reasonable adjustments to have to accommodate.

      I have dyslexia, diagnosed in my thirties. I use all the spell checkers under the sun and still make an average of one typo per three or four internal (informal) emails to colleagues. Because the need to communicate in a timely manner is more important to mine and others’ work than the need to ensure every internal email is perfect. But external stuff is a different matter. I put multiple systems in place (and more hours) to ensure all externally facing stuff is accurate, ESPECIALLY stuff that affects colleagues.

      I would absolutely not put myself in a position where my repeated mistakes could have life changing effects on potentially vulnerable people in the legal system. If Jessie can’t see this for herself then you need to see it for her, tell her outright it is unacceptable, and put her on that PIP.

      I would not be suitable for Jessie’s job. It doesn’t sound to me like Jessie is suitable for it either.

      Reply
  34. Icontroltherobots

    OH yikes OP – Allison’s advice is spot on. In your letter you mentioned she hasn’t been put on a PIP yet, but I think it’s time for you guys to take that step. Really it’s a kindness to let her know she’s not doing okay. Since you’re so interested in helping, could you offer to closely mentor her?

    By closely mentor – I mean excessive hand-holding – where you both read the same evidence – and do whatever lawyer do with that. check over her work with a fine tooth comb and point out anything that’s off – make her re-do it over and over until it’s correct. Sometime error shaming works.

    Things that have helped me:
    1) Error shaming – over/over/over repeat until perfect
    2) Explaining the why behind what you’re doing
    3) Explain the review process – big picture checks – I’m going to read A and check it matches B
    4) Process sheets/check-lists – Have I checked party A ties from file X to court doc B. These are excellent for determining if she’s lazy or just not detailed oriented.

    My suggestions are time consuming, and in a world with billable hour goals, budgets and mandatory overtime, they may not work for you.

    Reply
    1. Not All

      These are good ideas but, yeah, as a client I would be LIVID if I was billed for one minute of this. I’m barely able to afford my attorney fees as it is…if I was paying double because they assigned someone incompetent I’d be filing complaints everywhere I could as well as hiring a different attorney.

      Reply
      1. Dust Bunny

        Yeah, this. It’s not my fault as a client that they hired and now won’t let go of somebody who can’t do the job. If they want to keep her that badly, the firm ought to foot the bill for retraining her.

        Reply
      2. Icontroltherobots

        The assumption would be that OP volunteers to eat his hours to offer this excessive training. Also, “problem employee” would have to eat her time on the corrections.

        It’s very not ideal, but sometimes it’s the only way to save someone. I would never suggest billing a client for your own stupidity/mistakes. I personally have eaten many an hour on both sides of this dynamic.

        Reply
    2. asleep or maybe dead

      I myself am struggling with a business partner who delivers VERY POOR QUALITY work, and have tried all of your suggestions.

      I second that they’re all very time consuming. Also, they put a significant stress in the relationship and sometimes are not practical/ will affect you or other people more, etc.

      In the past I have been able to successfully train and coach co-workers and juniors, without resorting to this tactics. But I’ve tried everything on this BP, seen no results and wasted a lot of time and effort. My take is that I was able to help who wanted to learn, but there’s nothing I can do to help those who do not want to be helped.

      It seems OP thinks that Jessie is valuable and willing to learn enough to help her out, and if that’s the case I fully support it. But if OP finds themselves full blown error-shaming Jessie, then I think they should reconsiderate.

      Reply
  35. sheworkshardforthemoney

    The simple and plain fact is that she is incapable of doing her job with any degree of accuracy. It’s a hard truth but there are jobs that not everyone can do and there is nothing wrong with that. Part of being a manager is realizing that you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole.

    Reply
  36. Jubilance

    The kindest thing here might be to sit her down and ask her to really think about if this is the right career for her. These aren’t just small errors, they are big and they are going to hold her back if they continue. She says she’s trying, and sometimes that’s just not enough. Maybe a different type of law role (in-house counsel? teaching?) might be a better fit for her.

    Also I’m really surprised that she made it through law school without conquering this issue.

    Reply
    1. Monty and Millie's Mom

      Yes, this. I’m not a good fit in my current position, and am actively looking to change jobs, but it was honestly a relief to me to hear from my supervisor that I might not be a good fit, but that didn’t mean I don’t have strengths/skills that will make me awesome somewhere else. Be honest, but be kind, and you will both be happier!

      Reply
    2. StressedButOkay

      This. It will be painful – it takes a lot of work to become an attorney – but if she’s putting the client cases in jeopardy on a constant basis, she’s not currently and might not ever be in the right field. Especially in such a high stress field where a mistake could result in you all getting sued.

      Reply
  37. I edit everything

    I’m an editor (could you tell?), and this gives me the heebie-jeebies! Even in a trashy romance novel, I fact check everything. If the 4th of July was on Friday in one book, what day of the week will Christmas be on in the sequel? Can you really see the sunset from that restaurant in Seattle? Can someone inside this apartment see the elevator at the end of the hall through the peephole?

    But something that will make a major difference to a client’s case? That would have me burning my metaphorical red pens in penance and sacrifice to the gods of one-space-or-two-after-a-period.

    Maybe I should start peddling my services to lawyers…

    Reply
    1. NotAnotherManager!

      My very favorite law firm typo thus far is that Paul Manafort’s attorney mixed up cypress (the tree) and Cyprus (the country) throughout his entire bail application memo filed late last year. Because that document was not going to generate any public interest and didn’t need a second look….

      Reply
    2. WellRed

      As another (different type of editor), I just want to say thank you to the amount of attention you pay to detail. Cause yeah, I WILL notice and be irritated by stuff like this. My personal favorite worst: A character with diabetes was given insulin to treat low blood sugar.

      Reply
      1. the gold digger

        I saw an episode of some TV show that showed first communion in a Catholic Church in Boston and then everyone went to a farmers’ market to buy tomatoes.

        I have never in my life seen a first communion happen any other time than May. It’s usually the end of the school year, after the kids have been in Sunday school preparing for it.

        Reply
      2. Dust Bunny

        I read some awful mystery novel years ago in which the protagonist, in some Western state, was having a she-shed kind of thing built in her back yard, in late fall. I thought, nobody has home renovations done then–it’s the start of deer season.

        Reply
        1. Decima Dewey

          Sounds like an ingenious murder method: “Priscilla, I think the shed may be crooked. Go take a look. Oh, it’s cold out, don’t forget these fuzzy white mittens…”

          Reply
      3. twig

        Me Too!

        I once read a book that took place 15 miles from Lake Tahoe, and the main character “drove around Lake Tahoe before breakfast”

        That’s a 72 mile drive! with lots of traffic!!

        it tore me right out of the narrative.

        Reply
      4. TootsNYC

        My daughter started writing a fantasy story, and she set the scene as a village next to a dense, deep forest. The heroine left early in the morning, walked for an hour or so, and turned at the top of a hill to gaze back at her former home and the fields around it, golden in the sunshine.

        She asked me to read it, and I pointed out the discord there.

        Reply
      5. mrs__peel

        The comedians Mitchell and Webb have a wonderful series of sketches like this (e.g., screenwriters who know nothing about cricket writing a cricket film).

        Reply
    3. annejumps

      I’m a technical writer who used to process depositions, and I feel like you have an aptitude for this type of stuff or you don’t.

      Reply
  38. MarkA

    Using Myers-Briggs, I’m an ENFP and have pretty bad attention to detail. I know this and certain jobs just would not appeal. My suggestion is that it is her innate character. The fact she is a lovely person is supportive of this theory.
    Does she struggle to concentrate and also to focus at the task in hand too?
    Maybe she could take one of the more reputable tests, that may indicate this is natural. If so, she will have other skills and strengths that may not being full utilized.
    I appreciate MBTI is not a hard fact based “science” for all, but it might give an indicator.

    Reply
  39. Been there, seen that, the T-Shirt doesn't fit

    A good paralegal or legal secretary can help with most of those problems, but if she doesn’t understand the evidence she shouldn’t being doing the job.

    Reply
  40. Binky

    Honestly, I think Jessie just can’t hack it. The first question is, how mortified is she by her bigger mistakes? Because if she isn’t abjectly apologetic and sort of sick about it, I just don’t think she cares enough. And there is nothing you can do about that (except keep her off your cases).

    If she does understand the gravity of the situation, and you’re determined to see if you can help her, you should sit down with her and have a discussion to find out where the doc review mistakes are coming from. Did she just not know that the use of funds was relevant, so she didn’t look to confirm how it was used at all? If so, that’s an issue of not knowing the case well enough to figure out what she should be looking for – so you should concentrate on making sure she’s up to speed (and that should involve her explaining to you what she’s looking for in the review). Did she mean to confirm the use, but got sidetracked and never got there? That’s an organizational issue – so she should concentrate on organizing her tasks to make sure they’re all completed before handing on her work. Did she specifically look to confirm use and found a document that she misread – say by missing a footnote relating to the $300k? That’s a reading comprehension issue, but I’m not sure how to help her fix it.

    Typos, she should work on getting used to spotting ones she makes frequently. If she knows she screws up parties’ names, she should check specifically for that. (I had a client whose name I mis-typed over and over again – it was quick to run a search for that spelling before sending out a document.) For regular typos (nad, hte, etc.) she should make sure to have a secretary/paralegal/whoever read over her writing before sending it on. But it’s got to be on her to make these changes.

    The final question you need to ask yourself is, is she any good at any part of her job? Because a junior associate who can’t review documents or draft briefs is not going to have much to do.

    Reply
    1. Susan

      First part of this response is critical. Mistakes in legal documents can change people’s lives; if she’s throwing it off as “oh, I’ll get better” or “oops” – major problem. This stuff is serious – real life consequences – not just a school exercise.

      Reply
  41. the gold digger

    Whoa. I fired a lawyer for this. Primo and I needed a will. She wanted us to come in to sign, but I asked her to email me a draft first.

    I don’t know what other mistakes she made – I couldn’t get past the fact that she got our names wrong.

    On a will.

    As in, she called me “Silver” instead of “Goldie.” And let’s say Primo’s real name Brad Jones. She called him “Brad Pitt.”

    I asked her to proof it and send it to me again and she got a bit pissy and I said never mind, we’re finding another lawyer.

    Reply
    1. Sal

      Heh, this was me with our mortgage. It was, like, insanely crammed full of errors and the bank folks were like, it’s cool, just sign and we’ll fix the errors later, and I was like, lol, lawyer here, kindly direct your attention to the part where I’m supposed to sign to confirm that everything in this document is true and correct to the best of my knowledge. How about we fix them so that I can sign that truthfully. They were flummoxed by my insistence (facepalm emoji) but eventually did it.

      Reply
      1. Mrs. Smith

        My husband and I recently bought a new car and they guy filling out the paperwork kept getting my husband’s name wrong. He’s “John Howard Smith” and the guy kept putting “Howard John Smith”. I made him change it every time and I could see he was getting a bit irritated but I told him that I wanted the paperwork correct and the name he was putting down was actually our child’s name. Plus, the whole true and correct to the best of my knowledge part Sal mentioned above.

        Reply
        1. Dankar

          My mother just got a notice that she had leased a brand new vehicle. Called the dealership and they said, “Oh, we have your name and address, but the SSN doesn’t match.”

          Turns out they’d leased a car to someone with the same name, and just searched for an address and plugged in the first result to come back. Hope the correct person got her invoice eventually…

          Reply
      2. kitryan

        I was given a rental lease with my name spelled incorrectly *everywhere* (think Kristen/Kristin). Had to strikethrough, re write and initial the change about 40 times throughout.

        Reply
      3. the gold digger

        I forgot! That one, too! Primo and I bought our house together before we got married. The entire down payment (50% of the price) was my money. I was paranoid about his dying before we got married and his parents getting the house and not giving it to me.

        I had a lawyer review the files and tell us exactly how to word the ownership (joint tenant or something like that).

        I got the drafts of the sale documents three weeks before closing. They were incorrect – had the house in Primo’s name only. I emailed back and said fix this.

        Got to the closing and they still hadn’t fixed it. (Yes, I was reading every single word of the contract.)

        The person in charge said oh just sign, it’s Friday afternoon and we can fix it on Monday.

        I said nope, we’ll wait. Fix it now.

        Honestly.

        Reply
      4. CMart

        Same experience with our mortgage and the lender. I’m not a lawyer, but I am an accountant and am similarly very concerned with completeness and accuracy. Lots of “little” details like idk, how they’ve amortized the loan or the fact there was a checkmark next to the PMI box when we shouldn’t have been paying PMI were wrong, as was my husband’s last name.

        They were also similarly flummoxed when I was insistent that it be changed before we signed. “Don’t worry, we’ll fix it later”. Maybe the fact that basic, important corrections need to be made in the first place should tell you that I have no reason to just trust they’ll be fixed…

        Reply
    2. NotAnotherManager!

      I had to have a sit-down with someone last year and explain why spelling the client’s name right was so important. Other than that they were paying us a significant amount of money to represent them, the fact that we were registering an application under a name different than their legal entity name was also a big, big problem.

      I cover this in interviews and orientation now – you MUST have strong attention to detail (and demonstrate it on a regular basis) to succeed within this position.

      Reply
  42. Some Sort of Management consultant

    Oh no!

    I’m person who’s inattentive to detail (hello ADD) and I struggle a lot with it. It’s been brought up several years in a row during my performance reviews. I just don’t see small stuff like the wrong date, or I get impatient and stop checking.

    This is not something solved by “paying more attention”.

    I have long, detailed checklists because if it was about paying attention, I wouldn’t have this problem.
    It’s easy for me to miss small details so I have to take actions that force me to check for mistakes.

    I try to build in safety checks to control my own behavior, essentially.

    It’s far from perfect but it works well enough.

    Reply
    1. Some Sort of Management consultant

      Övernattningslägenhet 19-21 oktober

      For semi-important document I force myself through all these steps. they sound really basic, I know, but it’s just something my brain seems to be unable to automate.
      – look through the document on a projector and on an external monitor
      – print and proof read
      – check every header and footer and speaker notes
      – compare a new and a previous version
      – check all font sizes and types
      – Read text aloud (if it’s very important )
      – Go through and redo all the dates
      – Make a table checking my new content against any reference documents
      – Ask someone else to look at headings so that they’re in the correct format (I’m especially bad at that)
      – A good old fashioned hard copy checklist
      – PDF it and send it it to myself
      – Move old versions to a different folder so I don’t click the wrong one

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        – Read text aloud (if it’s very important )

        Read slowly. With a pencil on each word as you say it.

        This is how I look for missing words–because those are the errors I see on web pages and in magazines most often. And spellcheck won’t find it (Sometimes a grammar checker will, but not always!)

        Reply
    2. NotAnotherManager!

      This is fantastic! My kids both have ADHD, and we use checklists a lot because after item #2 (or, more often #1), their brain is done. Checklists everyone’s sanity, and it frustrates me no end that I have to browbeat the school into allowing them to use them there (or, even better, when it’s specified in an IEP, and, in Q3 of the year, there is still no checklist). I am providing my own accommodation, and it’s what the kid needs to remember things – so frustrating!

      Reply
  43. CAM

    So this sounds like my coordinator, except we’re not lawyers. She constantly drops letters in verbs and nouns (e.g. “that form look really good”) which we’ve called her out on many, many times. I know she doesn’t think critically, another thing we’ve called her out for. And her verbal communication is atrocious. She has a go-to phrase that makes little sense but it’s just the thing that comes out of her mouth. Another colleague has said to me privately that she thinks there’s a “connection” problem between what’s in her head and what comes out of her mouth, which I agree with. But it holds her back tremendously to the point where she can’t advance any further here – title or salary. And she hasn’t realized that maybe the job isn’t for her.

    Reply
    1. Sal

      Ohhhh I am so unreasonably curious about the phrase now.

      I notice myself having these communication fails with my 3yo more and more. Like, just full-on non-grammatical non-idiomatic speeh on the reg. Probably drives my husband nuts since he’s an English teacher but he has so far kept a lid on it. I blame sleep deprivation and I can keep it together at work for the most part.

      Reply
    2. Rhoda

      Oh, dear. I read all the comments, thinking; why are people armchair diagnosing, don’t they know we’re not supposed to armchair diagnose?
      Then I come to this one (“that form look really good”) and think, hmm that’s a strange error for a native English speaker, could be that rare language disorder. Possibly I should make some use of my Linguistics knowledge instead of procrastinating reading careers advice.

      Reply
  44. DaffyDuck

    Tips for spelling mistakes: Keep spellcheck ON all the time! Make sure that misspelt words haven’t been “added” to the dictionary (it is amazing how many people do this). Teach her to use “ignore” instead of adding clients names to the dictionary, and never, never add a word unless it has been triple checked and you are sure it is correct. (She should know how to take a word out of the dictionary also in case she adds one by accident.)
    Getting clients names mixed up and not adding up the numbers herself are not spelling mistakes, these show a serious lack of attention to detail. I would suggest she have a checklist of things to go over before turning in any work. It would include double-checking names and if they are with the correct side and adding up any numbers by hand/calculator (twice). She needs to slow down! Plus, someone needs to be kind and give her a Come-to-Jesus talk about how these problems can get her fired. How did she get out of law school with this type of work?

    Reply
  45. Koala dreams

    I agree that it might not be worth your time to teach her this, when you already have pointed out these issues and she don’t improve. Still, I will give some suggestions that I have met at work in my field (accounting).

    0. Tell her to ask questions when unsure. Work is not school, where you ask intelligent questions to impress on your classmates. Or at least that is my experience in school. At work you ask questions to be able to do your job better.
    1. Review her work and point out her mistakes.
    2. Then, make sure that she fixes them herself. For example, if there are typos, point out the typos and give the document back to her to re-write.
    3. Also, tell her to create her own check-list with common mistakes that she makes. Next time she writes a document, she should be checking her check-list before handing you the document.
    4. When her mistakes creates more work for you, make her take part in that work. Obviously not on her own, but under your supervision. Let her see the result of making mistakes.
    5. Don’t give her more difficult work than she can handle. It can be hard to remember what is hard for a new employee and what is easy if you yourself is experienced, but you can probably predict what will be okay and what will be too demanding for her. I put this point last because it doesn’t sound like this is the problem in your case, but we have had this problem at my work. As a new employee it’s great to be trusted with everything, but it isn’t great when you then have to redo everything twice because it’s too hard for your level.

    Reply
    1. Bea

      Yes yes yes to drilling into people to always ask questions. It takes me ten seconds to confirm something most times but it can take hours or days to clean up errors. I don’t care if it’s a simple question, ask it. But my God, write down the ef’ing answer and use your notes.

      I write everything down. I rarely need them again but they’re there just in case.

      Reply
    2. Rusty Shackelford

      The thing about step 0 is, people are sometimes unreasonably sure.

      Example: In one of my first jobs, I was responsible for running time cards. My managers drilled into me that no one was supposed to get overtime, and it was my responsibility to check every day, and if someone was drifting over 8 hours, to leave them a note that they needed to clock out early. Easy peasy. But the first time we had a paid holiday, I didn’t add 8 hours to anyone’s timecard if that would put them over 40 hours. And of course, this was caught, and I was corrected, and several (SEVERAL) people stressed to me that if I had ANY questions about time cards, I should ask. But the problem was, I *didn’t* have a question. Since I’d been told over and over how important it was to make sure no one got 40 hours in a week, since a big part of my job was making sure that didn’t happen, I was (naively) sure that I wasn’t supposed to add 8 hours to anyone’s time card if it would put them over 40 hours. I didn’t ask because I didn’t know to ask.

      Reply
      1. Bea

        Huh? So they had 8hrs holiday pay and they were still concerned with OT? Holiday and PTO time doesn’t count towards overtime…except in Cali where it’s over 8hrs a day without a collective bargaining. So they were calculating their times all wrong and overpaying OT…

        Reply
      2. Koala dreams

        Yeah, when you don’t have the experience it can be difficult to know when it’s the general situation where the rule applies, and when it’s a special situation that calls for other rules. I feel you.

        Reply
  46. I'd Rather not Say

    I’m wondering if Jessie has ever given any indication she became a lawyer to please her family. Maybe she knows it’s not what she wants to do (or is cut out for), and the additional pressure is contributing to her making even more mistakes. That doesn’t change what OP needs to do (serious conversation/possibly letting her go), but it might give some insight to how she got in this situation.

    Reply
  47. Denise

    For those trying to diagnosis, my first thought was to see if Jessie could use a read aloud software or used it in the past. Checklists would be good. All this however, is dependent on Jessie asking for help. As a high functioning person with multiple disabilities, I get why she might not (not sure she needs them, not wanting to draw attention to herself, not sure of the reception).

    From the boss’s side, I’d recommend a “Come to Jesus” meeting as we called it in rehab- one last chance. Lay everything out- what the behavior is, why is it serious, what will happen if it happens again. Then talk prevention-checklists, etc. Remind of the ADA if it applies. This would be her last chance to ask for accommodations. Make sure expectations are explicitly clear.

    Then treat like any other employee who you can’t trust if/when the next mistake happens.

    Reply
    1. LadyJD

      I am a practicing lawyer and want to highlight the recommendation for read aloud software. It has been a game changer in my life long struggle to catch errors. My biggest problem is using similarly spelled but incorrect words such as martial for marital. Spell check will not catch these errors. I use read aloud software on every brief I draft. It takes no more time–and is much more helpful to me–than reading the document aloud to myself.

      Reply
  48. Thornus67

    I’ve had a couple of small mistakes before as an attorney. I had one filing where I forgot to write the subsection – I had written something like 67 USC 5278(b)(3)(iv) when it was really 67 USC 5278(b)(3)(D)(iv). I had another where I slightly but accidentally mischaracterized the other side’s argument when they had sued 15+ defendants including our client and had buried one allegation against our client in a string of allegations against a co-defendant in a complaint and I missed it. I was mortified at both of those mistakes and was reamed for them by the bosses (probably an over reaction when a stern “be more careful next time” would have sufficed). I can’t imagine living with her mistakes or having a job.

    The types remind me of opposing solo counsel we went up against a lot. Said solo had the most type ridden filings I’ve ever seen, typically 10 a page. She was generally seen as incompetent in the community, and I don’t know if she ever won a case outside of go-away-settlements. She also constantly missed deadlines, which the courts bent over backwards for her to rectify. You can’t be a good attorney unless you watch the details. You can’t even be a competent attorney.

    Reply
    1. Thornus67

      Also, with that second paragraph, I can think of no benchslap more powerful than a judge directly quoting an attorney’s filing then adding a [sic] to the end. It shows a court’s complete lack of faith in that side.

      Reply
      1. Jen

        I have received filings where they clearly copy/pasted and did not tailor. Like the equivalent of saying “this case is about puppies” when it is really about teakettles.

        Reply
        1. Thornus67

          I’ve seen that too. Just a random paragraph about another case 8 pages into the brief.

          Another time, the solo had an appeal dismissed because she missed a deadline. Her argument, which unfortunately won the day but not the war, was that attorney negligence should be excused if it prejudices a client and cited to a different reinstated appeal when, surprise, she had been negligent and was excused.

          Reply
          1. Jen

            My friend is a prosecutor and she once came up against defense so bad, she stipulated to a bunch of facts to help the defendant file his ineffective assistance petition after the trial (he had filed it badly so she stipulated to facts to get it granted). Then she asked the judge for coaching on how to handle a defense attorney that incompetent in the future.

            Reply
        2. Sal

          I saw this as a clerk. “Why are you talking about firefighters of x race when your client is a mechanic of y race…is this some analogy you didn’t preface well enough, or…? Oh, nope, ran a search of your name and firefighter and this is your case from last year about firefighters of x race. Thanks for that.”

          Reply
      2. Sal

        Heh, I clerked and can confirm the subtextual side-eye inherent in the “[sic].” If we like you, we’ll quote around the error instead.

        Reply
  49. Jaybeetee

    While I agree that a lot of this sounds like ADHD and coping mechanisms that no longer work well, I also wonder how Jessie is coping in terms of the workload? Junior-level attorneys are infamous for having mountains of work and putting in insane hours to get through it all. Is that the case here? Is it possible that Jessie is finding the workload overwhelming, and as a result is rushing through things more than she should (to get to the next task), isn’t double-checking (even if she says she is), and losing focus after being at it for hours? Or maybe this is a result of sleep deprivation brought on by long work hours? (I’ve encountered lawyers who pulled all-nighters, especially when big cases/deadlines were coming up). It’s possible she might be struggling to keep up, leading to these errors, and she’s racing through tasks to try to get to the bottom of her pile. It could be that she’s “double-checking”, but that she’s rushing those checks as well, or tired and not noticing things.

    Maybe probe her a bit to see if that’s a possibility, and if there’s anything that can be done about it. If she has lots of work/long hours, that might just be the nature of the beast for your industry and she might be better suited elsewhere, but it might be possible for you to suggest some coping mechanisms in that direction that help her out.

    Reply
  50. Indie

    People seem to think that ‘If student/trainee is listening attentively I can just tell them how to Skill, and – voila!’

    Teaching would be a breeze if you could pick up skills from others the way you pick up Smarties. It takes time and teaching and a plan to build up lesser skills first. Without that, we could disparage the entire teaching profession as babysitting and underpay it……. oh wait.

    Reply
    1. Bea

      And we would never struggle to find someone to fill a role. You just need to keep polishing away and you’ll get anyone to fit the position!! *shiver* If people weren’t so idealistic, I wouldn’t shine so bright though….making a career out of scrubbing the ineptitude out of small business financials.

      Reply
  51. Tequila Mockingbird

    I’ve been an attorney for 17 years, and I’m sorry, OP, but Jessie is not long for the profession.

    She is setting your firm up for (at best) complaints from clients about the firm’s professionalism and competence, and (at worst) a malpractice lawsuit, or sanctions by the court, or a complaint to the State Bar. These types of mistakes–getting client names wrong, misrepresenting evidence–are a dealbreaker. I’ve seen junior lawyers fired for mistakes far lesser than the ones Jessie is making.

    Has Jessie had a recent performance review? (Annual performance reviews are typical at law firms, even small ones.) I’d be stunned if your firm’s partners hadn’t given her very negative marks in certain areas and/or put her on a PIP by now.

    Reply
    1. LeRainDrop

      I have 11 years experience as an attorney, and I agree completely with the Tequila Mockingbird. Misrepresenting evidence, or not flagging the important discrepancy to the other attorneys on the team, is a major problem. Junior attorneys are expected to be able master the details of the evidence and raise flags to their supervising attorneys. It’s how they can build trust, show good judgment, etc.

      Reply
  52. Green

    I have ADHD.
    only got the diagnosis a few years ago.
    Jessie sounds like me when I was young, inexperienced, undiagnosed and not yet used to manage my condition.

    As last resort you might suggest her to get that checked out.

    I am not sure how that could be tactfully and professionally arranged.

    Meds AND cbt (therapy) helped a lot, I am a valuable teammember where I work now.

    Though if you Google “adult adhd” law/legal jobs are on the list of jobs *not* recommended with adhd.

    If she has that the earlier she knows the better for her. I know I wish I knew 10 years earlier.

    Reply
    1. twig

      I am right there with you. Diagnosed at Age 41. How much of my life would have been different if I’d had a diagnosis (and medication!) sooner?

      Reply
    2. Snark

      As mentioned above, OP would be far out of her lane to try to make medical suggestions or recommendations. A boss should absolutely not be inserting themselves into that kind of discussion, and I’m really surprised so many people think this is a sensible thing for her to do.

      Reply
    1. SigneL

      This is a real question, not intended to be snark. I’m not a lawyer – I pay someone to do things I don’t understand and assume they do them correctly.

      Reply
    2. rubyrose

      I think this is a great question.
      Along with it, I hope the client is not being charged for the over and above effort needed to review and coach this junior lawyer.

      Reply
    3. Jen

      It depends. You do owe an ethical duty to your client. That doesn’t mean you fire someone for every mistake or fire an attorney when a client has a problem with her, but it can mean that if you knowingly unleash an incompetent attorney on your clients, you are acting unethically. Jessie is bad enough that it could maybe be unethical to allow her to perform attorney duties for clients. Not the typos, that evidence issue.

      Reply
    4. Bea

      This is a good question for any profession. I protect my staff from jerkwad customers and I protect my clients from inept service professionals. It’s a delicate balance most days to keep the balance going.

      Human error happens on both sides. When you see a pattern developing, it is unacceptable to let the person continue to represent and destroy the company’s reputation.

      I’m not fast to jump to firing but Jessie needs to be transitioned out at this stage. Maybe she’ll go to another firm and shine. Many have been fired and they’re not bad just in the wrong place at the time.

      Reply
    5. Thornus67

      Attorneys owe their clients a duty of competence, zealous representation,  confidentiality, and maybe a few others that fit into a general idea of “you have to put their interests first so long as they’re legal.” Her inability is rising to the level of incompetence,  if it hasn’t gone past it yet. The duty to put the clients’ needs first, as well as the self-interested need to retain clients and avoid malpractice claims and not be sanctioned by the bar, probably out weighs keeping someone who makes such egregious mistakes.

      Reply
  53. smoke tree

    I also work in a very detail-oriented field, and once had a coworker who sounds kind of similar. Really nice person, but just no head for detail whatsoever. Unfortunately no one ever spoke to her about it, as far as I know, so I don’t think she had any idea she was doing so badly. I think the same qualities that made her a bad fit also made her a bad judge of her own work. It could be that Jessie also doesn’t have a sense of how serious these issues are, so it would be a kindness to be straightforward with her about it, if you haven’t already.

    Reply
  54. kitryan

    I wrote in with the exact same issue nearly a year ago! My (junior) coworker makes exactly the same sorts of mistakes, down to the two types – typos or seemingly careless errors in work product – and errors in comprehension.
    I do think that improvement is possible- at least in my case he’s definitely improved, but it’s a very shallow rise. The problem with that is that I’ve also been improving, so he’s always lagging and can’t take on higher level projects without review- and due to the sporadic typos, most of the more basic stuff needs review.
    I still review 80% of his work and regularly catch errors and write explanation emails to him. He also will forget rules or procedures if they only come up every month or less frequently.

    Things that have helped:
    he uses a lot of checklists and reminders (good for some situations but not all-if you miss things when reading, you’ll sometimes miss steps on a checklist too),
    he sends me emailed reports on the documents he reviews, then I go in and re-review the docs and give him notes. This is a PITA but it is gradually working. It takes more repetitions than I feel is reasonable, but he is catching on to some of his errors of interpretation.
    He sends me ‘I have done X’ emails for a number of tasks he should be able to keep track of himself, so that when he fails to keep track, I can say ‘you submitted X on X/X/X – what is the current status’ instead of asking, ‘what’s the status of X’ and then he doesn’t remember what happened and we start over.
    He has trouble writing clear and concise emails so he saves emails I’ve said are good or emails I’ve sent and uses them as templates for future emails.
    Also, when something is a repeated error (in procedure), I send him the email exchange where it was corrected last time. I feel mean about doing that, but otherwise, he will say that he didn’t know that he was supposed to do it that way and will do it correctly going forward, which is frustrating when that’s what he said last month. Calling him on it points out to him that it is his problem to correct.

    I think that the suggestion to ratchet up the spellcheck is a good one – maybe also have them remove any commonly messed up homonyms from the dictionary (if that’s possible) so they’re *always* flagged for review? And add client names to the dictionary so that only incorrect spellings of those proper names are flagged? I think my office somehow does this because it will flag some of the more uncommon staff names when they are incorrect but not when correctly typed.

    All of this is to say that there are things that can be done for improvement, but it’s been very stressful and labor intensive for me – I dread coming back from vacations because I have to thoroughly review all that’s been done and often have to follow up with others on things that were done incorrectly or incompletely, that they thought were resolved and settled. Unfortunately, there’s no way for me, at my level, to replace this person, so we both work on ways to add all kinds of safety steps to procedures, which makes me feel a bit like a martinet, but at least I’m a martinet with a well deserved reputation for high levels of accuracy.

    Reply
  55. Another Lawyer

    I will echo the call for checklists. I’m a mid career attorney and I live and die by my checklists – I have one for every type of case I handle because they help me organize my thought and arguments.

    I’m not convinced she’s overall a bad fit for the law, but it sounds to me that she needs significantly more supervision and structure than she’s getting right now. Law schools do not train you how to actually review evidence, they train you to spot very hypothetical issues in a very time condensed situation. I’m not sure how much time or resources you or your firm can devote to supervising her more closely, but if it were me, I would make a game plan for every case/intake/assignment and create a structure based on that discussion.

    For example, what are the clients claims/defenses, what evidence supports those claims, what is the opposing side’s claim/defenses, what evidence supports those claims, what evidence do we have that doesn’t fit into either bucket. Having her create this kind of a structure to review cases for every intake may help her develop the skills to review evidence more completely.

    Reply
  56. SaffyTaffy

    My family actually owns property that wasn’t willed to us because a junior attorney made a mistake like this (and we decided not to take the high road and give it back).

    Reply
  57. oxfordcomma4life

    My supervisor is like this. He leaves out articles and words in sentences all. the. time. To be clear: we work in the media. He’s doing this in work that’s meant to be published. It’s constant; in emails, in things he writes, in things he edits. But he laughs it off, and says he ‘just misses things’ and ‘doesn’t see them.’ Our boss also laughs it off… but also has assigned me to go over everything and sign off, to catch these errors. He’s still laughing but I’m getting a vibe he’s offended by that… and frankly I’m having a hard time keeping the “you’re a moron, off you fuck” look off my face when I deal with him now too :S.

    Reply
  58. Phoenix Programmer

    Onr item to check – maybe pop on unexpectedly amd watch her work? I had a well liked coworker with arts who also struggled with this.

    Turned out he was on office IM all day stopping every few minutes to chat! Once I told him to knock it off he improved his work quality tremendously. Since IM is a work tool I think some fall in the trap of chatting on it too much.

    Reply
  59. Coverage Associate

    9th year associate here, and first time commenter. Is it clear to her that it’s part of her assignments (always? usually? sometimes?) to point out to the supervising attorney when the documentary evidence does not support the client’s statements?

    Even today, if my assignment were to find all documents related to x issue and put them in chronological order to, say, prepare for a deposition, I wouldn’t necessarily also flag documents contradicting the client’s statements, unless it was clear that’s always part of an assignment like that, or unless it was something subtle I thought the partner might miss. Otherwise, I would review the documents for x issue and collate them into chronological order, as assigned. It wouldn’t be laziness or lack of attention to detail, it would be an admittedly too literal interpretation of the assignment and a respect/assumption that the senior attorney knew the relevant facts better.

    Even if this is her first job out of law school, maybe during her summers she was criticized for pointing out obvious contradictions, or analyzing at a level deeper than that firm wanted. It took me a few years and working with some really good partners to realize that it’s actually the most junior attorney that has the best grasp of the details of the evidence, and it’s our job to flag things for senior attorneys.

    Reply
    1. McWhadden

      Yes, I was going to say. When I was a first year associate at a big firm I got in trouble for flagging when client documents didn’t coincide with their statements. I was told it wasn’t my job. It’s not necessarily as obvious that it should be done as people think.

      Reply
  60. oxfordcomma4life

    My supervisor leaves out articles and other words in sentences all. the. time. We’re in the media: he’s working on things for publication. He laughs it off, and just shrugs and says he ‘doesn’t see it’ or that he ‘just missed it when he was writing.’ It shows up in things he’s written and things he’s edited– as in he has been known to insert errors into other work. Our boss laughs it off too… except she’s now also assigned me to sign off on everything, to catch and fix these errors. He’s still laughing… but I’m picking up a vibe he’s less than thrilled about it, which is effecting our relationship (he recently told me he doesn’t think I have a ‘knack’ for this industry, he’s not assigning me as much work, he’s generally being condescending, etc). That, and it’s getting extremely hard to keep the “you’re a moron, off you go” look off my face when I deal with him :S

    off topic rant justification: people are bad with details in all SORTS of industries and apparently it doesn’t stop them rising to the top… it just annoys their subordinates no end

    Reply
  61. Kitty

    A checklist of items she needs to check and/or complete before finishing work could help. Eg proofreading, certain bits of information that always need checking, certain tasks to ensure are completed, key things to look out for (clients’ statements regarding evidence match actual evidence!). Putting the list together might help her focus on what her regular errors are as well.
    I used to miss stuff all the time at work but essentially forced myself to become more organised by making sure key checks were always done.

    Reply
  62. Rusty Shackelford

    Since there are some technical writers here, I’m going to ask if anyone remembers that graphic by… I don’t remember the guy’s name… William Something… it will come to me right after I post this. Anyway. He’d show this graph, titled “Processor Speed Doubbled,” and ask people what was wrong with it. Most would immediately say “doubled is misspelled.” And that was true. But the most important thing wrong with it was that the graph actually indicated processor speed had *halved,* not doubled. Now, you might be able to train and checklist Jessie into eventually catching doubbled every time. But it doesn’t sound like you’ll ever get her to realize that the title doesn’t accurately describe the graph.

    Reply
  63. Mrs. Carmen Sandiego JD

    Consider monitoring her work–popping in unexpectedly.

    And–not going to lie, but this post was especially difficult for me to read. I’ve gotten a law license, and I’ve struggled so much trying to get anyone in the legal industry to even give me a chance. (Tl;dr: no one ever did, and I’m jealous of this junior attorney. But I digress). Currently, I do policy work (for a very well known agency, with other attorneys), requiring a high level of detail (e.g., remembering case party names, drafting memos, knowing the difference between charters and other legal instruments, and doing policy implementation from the ground up). The quasi-legal policy industry requires an exceptional attention to detail that she may or may not possess.

    1. I really hope she finds the best fit job for her.
    2. I know this sounds awful–but…has anyone checked her law school credentials? Transcripts? Did she falsify any records–aka did she graduate from law school at all? I say this knowing people from mediocre law schools who worked very hard in their field of study. Even the most mediocre of law schools (I came from one)–1/3 were valedictorians at their undergrad colleges–people had such an unprecedented level of attention to detail. She just sounds like an extreme outlier. (Also saying this because a professor at one of the schools I went actually falsified records and was subsequently fired after not demonstrating the necessary expertise).

    Reply
    1. Bea

      It took about 5 years after passing the bar for my former bosses son to get a job in law. It was absolutely miserable and destroyed his health. He had to work for his dad while trying to break and the whole point of his schooling was to never have to work there, he didn’t want that torch. Thankfully he’s finally broken that wall down and is so much happier. I’m sorry that you’re dealing with this frustration.

      Reply
  64. I'm not that type of lawyer

    Next time you speak with her about this, you might tactfully suggest she speak with a vocational counselor. Many of these counselors will do education evaluations to identify ADD, dyslexia, or other potential attention problems. Whether there is a medical contribution or not, the counselor can offer appropriate techniques to help her. There are apps and programs for almost everything even in the law field.

    Reply
  65. Tink

    I’ve worked with a lot of attorneys over decades. They run the gamut, just as in any profession/job. Brilliant ones. Horrible ones. No attention to detail. Sharp as a tack. I recently hired a temp who was a recent law school graduate and passed the bar exam. She was hired for a non-attorney administrative role. I was shocked that she couldn’t write a simple email without multiple grammar errors. She had the worst writing skills, to the point where we would not let her send emails to external parties, because it would embarrass the company. She had no attention to detail. How did she make it through law school? I have no idea, but it wasn’t a good school (ie, ranked at very bottom).

    Reply
  66. Candy

    I fired our immigration lawyer over exactly this sort of thing. Every document I received back had grammatical errors, spelling errors, and other typos. I felt like for the amount of money we were paying they would at least do a cursory spell check and proofread before sending me back contracts and documents? She (or her paralegal) spelled my last name wrong, got the date of our marriage wrong (repeatedly), would sometimes type out dates as DD/MM/YY and other times as MM/DD/YY which was hella confusing, and so on.

    People hire lawyers so they don’t have to worry about things like spelling errors and typos. Attention to detail is a pretty integral part of the job and if I were your client I’d be wondering why you’re incapable of doing such a basic task.

    (I’m still paying off this lawyer, btw, and it angers me so much when I get a bill from them every month with my name spelled wrong)

    Reply
    1. mrs__peel

      Oh god… .. immigration paperwork is maybe THE WORST place to make these kinds of errors! The repercussions could be truly awful. Good for you for firing her.

      Reply
  67. anon4now

    OP-Shouldn’t paralegals be prepping the court documents and filing evidence? To bog someone down with tedious legal paperwork and then expect a strong critical analysis of it? Isn’t that why paralegals exist (attorneys need to apply critical skills, not be good at typing up court documents)?
    IMO, most folks aren’t programmed to feel like the other side is lying or to assume one would intentionally put red herrings in statements or to pay more attention to carefully cultivated phrasing. Being good at recognizing manipulations/etc. takes time and experience, something a Junior attorney should be developing as they shadow other attorneys and occasionally fumble cases.
    Making someone understand the monetary repercussions of failure might be a good idea to drive home the real issues of her mistakes (also, not only is the reputation of the law firm damaged, but the plaintiff/defendant’s whole life may be ruined).
    Mysteries and/or mystery-themed tv shows/books (like Veronica Mars, Monk, Encyclopedia Brown, etc.) can help one’s mindset to be think more critical/more distrusting, but this suggestion might be seen belittling to an adult whose already gotten her law degree.

    Reply
    1. Four lights

      Paralegal here. “Isn’t that why paralegals exist (attorneys need to apply critical skills, not be good at typing up court documents)?” Umm…no. Paralegals are also required to use critical thinking skills. And even preparing the simplest court paperwork (like a subpoena duces tecum to a bank or something) requires some knowledge and is more than just typing.

      While the work Jessie is doing possibly could be done by paralegals, she’s likely doing it because she’s learning. I know more about what I do than new associates come to my practice group fresh out of law school.

      Reply
    2. Coverage Associate

      Yes, in some firms. Even some large firms don’t employ paralegals.

      I have also attended continuing education describing lawyers’ work being reviewed by paralegals for typos and substance as a usual or even best practice. So it’s possible this employee thinks her work in writing should be really focused on the legal argument, and someone highly trained will pick up the mistakes.

      And if she can’t find her mistakes even after being told no one has time for such a deep review…she can still be a successful lawyer by finding a firm with a different work flow.

      Reply
  68. Lora

    I think we may all be being too hard on Jessie. Law school is supposed to teach you how to think like a lawyer, but it does very little to actually prepare you to practice law. Being a lawyer is very much on-the-job training, and I wonder if Jessie has gotten the training she needs. OP is new at being Jessie’s supervisor, so she may be assuming that the firm’s processes for how to evaluate evidence and write documents have been explained to Jessie and when they haven’t.

    I think the things mentioned in the OP are things that can be addressed by training. It should be expected that a new lawyer won’t understand every type of complex legal document placed in front of her. The problem is that Jessie went to the client for explanation instead of to a more experienced lawyer. Does Jessie know who to go to for help? Are the people who are supposed to be supporting her and answering questions actually helpful or do they brush her off because they are too busy?

    The answer isn’t that every single thing that Jessie does has to be redone by someone else. But the first few times she does a new task? It absolutely should be reviewed by a more experienced lawyer or paralegal who knows the case and can spot problems.

    (FWIW, I went to law school and passed the bar before realizing that the law was not for me.)

    Reply
    1. the gold digger

      Being a lawyer is very much on-the-job training, and I wonder if Jessie has gotten the training she needs.

      But that’s the thing – nobody who has completed college and professional school should need to be told to get the client name right.

      Reply
      1. Dust Bunny

        Yeah, what? I have exactly zero legal training but “getting names right” and “making sure evidence says what we’ve been told it says” seem pretty obvious. And they’re not specific to law: Getting names wrong and providing information that doesn’t agree with the evidence or sources doesn’t really work anywhere. (I’m an offices assistant in an academic library archive and I definitely cannot mess up stuff like this).

        The typos are annoying but this kind of thing is structural and really fundamental.

        Reply
      2. Coverage Associate

        Client names can actually be tricky. It’s not all Smith v. Jones. Sometimes it’s Smith Corp. v. Smith Inc. v. Smith, LLC.

        One of the things I learned in my first few years of practice was to make a note to myself before each court appearance with my client’s precise legal name and which side we were on. I still have to leave blanks in drafts sometimes and get that information from my supervisor later.

        Reply
    2. Observer

      What Gold Digger said. Also, these are repeated errors that she’s had pointed out to her. And that are still happening even though she says she double checking.

      Reply
    3. Jen

      I would have been absolutely ripped to shreds if I had been this sloppy my very first summer internship after 1L year. I can’t excuse this.

      Reply
    4. another lawyer here

      We are not being too harsh. Failure to comprehend and accurately summarize evidence is fatal to her ability to competently discharge her duties to clients – she is a fiduciary – it is a very high duty of care.

      Reply
    5. mrs__peel

      Even as an undergraduate, I had to provide evidence for my statements, list accurate citations, and get names right in papers. Hell, even in high school. That’s all pretty basic stuff when you’re doing ANY kind of research and writing.

      There are definitely many ways in which law schools fail to prepare students for real law careers (I could go on about that for a few hours…), but this isn’t one of those things.

      Reply
  69. Random Thought

    Any chance she is overworked/overwhelmed? Is there a reason she’s rushing through her work? Having a hard time managing multiple priorities? All of that would lend itself to making mistakes like this because you’re simply rushing to get the work done. Otherwise, wondering if there are other tasks she could do that don’t involve issue spotting… It seems like the grammatical and typographical errors could be managed by having administrative staff help out, but the evidentiary review… yikes. Maybe tell her explicitly to look for holes, or to build an argument AGAINST your client as a starting point — if she’s looking at the materials from that perspective, she may pick up o more of what you’re looking for.

    Reply
  70. DHA, ESQ

    If things aren’t clicking for her – if she’s missing them, it might not be that she’s just sloppy and careless – she could have a learning disability or ADHD.

    Nope, not trying to armchair diagnose, but only speaking from my own experience and health issues – I am a licensed attorney with severe adult ADHD that didn’t get diagnosed until law school because I was having severe issues with my memory (and other things). Now my issues are no longer memory, but me being unable to see errors on a page. Solved for me by a quick second set of eyes, which I’ve told my boss I need, and why… but I also don’t work for a firm.

    Is there any way to politely say “go see a doctor”, because my guess is no, but also yikes.

    Reply
  71. MrsMurphy

    I haven‘t read ALL comments yet. Lordy, we‘re wordy here. But as others have undoubtedly pointed out, I think some of these issues are fixable, but the important issue… isn‘t.

    I‘m an admin in a big law firm. One of our most brilliant lawyers has a tendency to confuse names in his writs. He‘ll mix up claimant and defendant, he‘ll miss wrong sums, stuff like that. He knows that – which is why in every case we plan the work so there is enough time for me to proofread for exactly those things (along with the numerous typos). So that stuff is fixable – and in my view, and that of my firm, proofreading really shouldn‘t be billable, so why on earth is your junior lawyer doing this?

    But it‘s one thing to mess up terms and spelling. No secretary can proofread for accuracy content-wise, and missing key points if a case, more than once, is just not bearable.

    If you want to help out your colleague, it might be good to sit down with her and see what she wants to do. Maybe a law firm – especially the big players – aren‘t the right fit for her. You know best how brutal that world is. Nice or not, but if she can‘t work under that amount of pressure, she simply can‘t. Maybe in-house positions are better suited for her, or something else entirely – but in any case it seems kinder to deal with that question noe instead of trying to help her until she gets fired.

    Reply
    1. mrs__peel

      “One of our most brilliant lawyers”

      It also sounds like he has some special skills that make him valuable to the firm and worth holding on to. I doubt that most workplaces would bother putting this level of support into place for someone who was otherwise thoroughly average or struggling with the other aspects of their job.

      Reply
      1. NotAnotherManager!

        The other possibility is that he has a substantial book of business for which they can be the relationship manager while underlings with the appropriate skills do the detail work. I work in law firm administration, and those sorts of errors would not be acceptable from associates or staff, so I assume this guy is bringing something that involved large dollars (large dollar client portfolio OR very nice subject-matter expertise) that allows for nonbillable personnel to have to be paid for to proof his every word.

        Reply
  72. LilySparrow

    There’s more than one kind of law practice, too. Someone could be unsuited to litigation and still use their law degree successfully.

    I once worked for an attorney whose specialty was divorce mediation. Lovely man. Zero attention to detail.

    As an example: we were in a state that did not allow no- fault divorce at the time, so you had to claim grounds. Normally, his clients would agree to some type of grounds that the other wouldn’t contest, like abandonment (moving out for a year) or “constructive abandonment” (living together but refusing to have sex for a year or more).

    So I was typing up court papers for some clients who claimed constructive abandonment going back 10 years.

    Their youngest child was 5.

    Even after I pointed out the date discrepancy, he didn’t think it was an issue. I said, “Look, the court clerk might let this pass, and they might not be perjuring themselves. But if they swear to these dates, have they considered the implications for child support? They might not always be as amicable as they are now.”

    He got on the phone and we fixed the dates.

    Lovely man. But he didn’t have a suspicious or cynical bone in his body. Great for mediation/arbitration. Not for litigation.

    Reply
    1. mrs__peel

      Mediation might be a good career path if Jessie is an empathetic “people person” but not as great at writing. It sounds like she’s considered a pleasant person to work with, at least.

      Reply
  73. AKchic

    I am going to say this because I see a lot of armchair diagnosing, and I always see armchair diagnosing here.

    It doesn’t matter if the person has a diagnosable issue or not. That is not the focus of this advice website, nor is it what the writer came to ask about. That is an unhelpful tangent. It is also inappropriate for a supervisor/coworker to suggest that Jessie may have a diagnosable condition.

    OP is Jessie’s supervisor. Not her mentor, guru, parent, conscience, Jiminy Cricket, Fairy Godmother, guardian angel, or personal savior. All OP can do is bring up the obvious work problems and make sure she either shapes up or ships out. It’s up to Jessie to take the initiative to figure out the *why* or underlying cause and fix it if it is indeed fixable. At the end of the day, all that matters to OP and the employer is that Jessie gets competent at her job ASAP or she no longer has that job so someone else can step in and do it (competently).

    I think the kindest thing OP can do for Jessie right now is be frank and lay out the problems they are seeing, and how it affects both Jessie in terms of her reputation and standing (both with the firm, but in the legal world), and the firm’s standing in general; and what she has already done and how it has potentially hurt the firm and her reputation already and has set everyone up (real lawyers have spelled it out better than I ever could.
    Come up with a real PIP. Being nice cannot save a company from real legal repercussions. She needs a PIP at the very least. Stop coddling her. It’s cruel to be “kind” to Jessie, even if she is a sweet person. Your kindness sets her up to fail and opens your firm up to a lot of liabilities.

    Reply
    1. Grouchy 2 cents

      Thank you! Jessie is the subject of the letter, but the LW’s question is how to handle a problem employee not how to bend over backward in an attempt to fix her underling’s life.

      There are really good people out there who are bad at their jobs. It’s not a crime to tell them that, let them go, and hope they find something more suitable.

      Reply
    2. Hiring Mgr

      From my understanding the rule of this site isn’t “No armchair diagnosing ever”, it’s “No armchair diagnosing unless that diagnosis changes the advice”.. I don’t know if that’s the case here or not, but just fyi

      Reply
  74. Holly

    I’m surprised this hasn’t been brought up – what’s her workload like? Does she seem overwhelmed? A lot of people seem baffled by the fact she could pass law school and the bar and be struggling like this, but hey – practicing law is way different and requires different applications of skills. Does she have *time* to review everything thoroughly? It could be she’s rushing because her time management skills are lacking – that’s fixable, and perhaps the other stuff will follow.

    Reply
    1. The OP

      Fair point – she might not. I don’t have control over her time pressures, but might get involved and into the fray

      Reply
      1. Holly

        If you think that might be the issue, that would maybe be a way of helping – seeing if she can better manage her time so that she can review everything thoroughly enough.

        Reply
  75. Oskiesque

    Speaking as an attorney, it seems that Jessie is having problem with spotting issues, applying the law, and/or understanding the strategy of a matter. How junior is Jessie? If she’s a first or second year (or even a late blooming third year), she may just need more practice and direction (e.g. “our position is this, so make sure to look for A, B and C because A, B and C will help us with showing D, E and F”). You may need to limit her responsibilities until she can handle and master her discrete assignments. This is what I do with my interns, law clerks and very junior attorneys. She may be having trouble and making mistakes because she has no idea what she’s suppose to be looking for. If she’s a 4th year or so, then being an attorney may not be for her.

    Reply
  76. Jordan

    If you want to help her with her legal writing, including typos and using the wrong names, advise her to read the draft to herself aloud. As a young attorney, I had similar issues. The problem is that when you read it in your head, your mind fills in the blanks. You will subconsciously add words that are missing so that a sentence makes sense, or you will see a name without processing that it is the right name. By reading it aloud, you force yourself to hear what you are actually writing.

    As for overlooking evidence, that is a serious problem. Other than warning her of the consequences and perhaps encouraging her to use her hours better (and if necessary come in on a weekend when no one is around to distract her), if she cannot get that part of the job, there is not much you can do about it.

    Reply
  77. Sarah

    I am a lawyer – and I have both had these kinds of issues and been the coworker of someone who had these kinds of issues. I was able to fix them, for the most part. She has not been.

    If you graduated from law school, you can be expected to know that you have to appropriately assess a case, and that you have to proofread court documents. If you’re not doing those things, there are two options: you either can’t, or you won’t. After the importance of my errors was impressed upon me (and not particularly gently, which I think was helpful in that it shocked me into some self-reflection), I was asked to think about that question, was it that I COULDN’T analyze a case correctly, or just that I was CHOOSING not to? The answer for me lay somewhere in the middle. I had ADD, and so while I was competent enough to know what I had to do to avoid making huge errors, I didn’t have the executive skills to do it. Medication and a lot of effort fixed that, and I got past these issues, and now have a reputation for thoughtful and relatively well proofread work. And, I’m fairly open about needing to have a colleague do a once-over of my filings, since typos are still hard for me to catch, and I do the same for other people, or trade some other small work task to make sure I have a double checker.

    My coworker is having many of the same problems, and I asked her why she thought that was. Her responses were all about how she didn’t see how it was all that important, the Judge we were in front of wasn’t picky, and the case analysis mistakes she made were because she didn’t have enough guidance. I told her my own story, and about my difficulties, and noted that whether or not she had ADD, she could institute a series of checks and rechecks to ensure that her work was up to par. Ultimately, she has not done any of those things, and has continued to find a reason that each individual mistake was either not as important as everyone said it was or not her fault.

    Ultimately, I think Jessie could be me, or she could be my colleague. I DISAGREE that the mere fact that she makes these mistakes is proof she can’t be a lawyer – but it certainly is true that if she can’t or won’t fix the mistakes and put routines in place to avoid them, she needs a different job.

    Reply
  78. The OP

    Sorry for the delay in responses – I am currently in another timezone, and this got posted while I was asleep!

    To answer some common threads:

    – I don’t have hiring / firing power, and I had assumed the partners who mentioned the attention to detail issues with her made it clear it’s a serious problem. Reflecting on what I know of them, I have no evidence they did – and that assumption is probably not reliable. I am definitely going to take Alison’s advice and speak to her seriously about it when I’m back from my trip.

    – She’s only 18 months out of uni, for those wondering about her references. She actually worked here while she was in uni, so there’s no external references.

    – I am not a psychologist, but I’m familiar with some of the signs of ADD / ADHD, and she doesn’t give any of them off to me.

    Reply
  79. Arty Mo

    Some people require tons of repetition before things sink in for them. I suggest highlighting every typo and sending it back to her as many times as it takes for her to get it right. Eventually, she’ll catch on, if for no other reason than to save herself some time from having to redo things 6-8x!

    For free more weeks errors or misses in evidence, maybe tell her than they’re is something she missed in the 3rd paragraph, and see if she can find it herself.

    Overall though, the manager is right, she may simply not be cut out for that type of work.

    Reply
  80. I AM a lawyer

    I am really late on this, but I am actually a lawyer (practicing almost 14 years). I have a few points on this. First, I have made huge mistakes before, and did not get fired. In fact, my firm requires us to list a mistake on our self-evaluations (and the partners have to, also). We make a lot of mistakes which we have to learn from. It’s part of this job. Second, when I was a new attorney, I was horrible at attention to detail. I’m not sure if it was because I was billing the client for every 6 minute increment, or what, but I was always rushing. I did not take the time each assignment needed to carefully read everything over, make sure that I was using terms consistently, there were no typos, etc. This was also true of marshalling evidence. It took me a few years to see what I was doing and learn how to go back and fix things. I still make mistakes here and there, but fortunately I have a secretary who has an eagle eye for proofreading. Third, partners in my firm review almost everything the associates do. That goes for me, even with my years of experience. I’m not sure how it got to the point that a partner never reviewed that document or took Jessie’s word for what it said. Maybe I’m making assumptions about the hierarchy, but if Jessie is still being supervised by the letter writer, then that should have been something that a partner or senior associate reviewed. I’m not blaming the letter writer; I’m just wondering if there are some quality controls that can be put in place. I’m not sure I totally agree with Alison here. It would be a lot to ask for someone to give up this career, and I think there is a chance she could improve. I didn’t feel totally confident in my role until I was about 5 years out, because there is so much to learn. Just my two cents.

    Reply
    1. Book Badger

      I agree, and I think that some of the commenters are overly harsh on Jessie (particularly since she’s only a year and a half out of undergrad). Some things can be cured through stricter controls, but some things, like knowing a client can lie, come from experience. For example, I would never have considered a client lying to be a possibility if I hadn’t had 1) my writing professor tell us a story about how a client lied to him and how he looked bad in front of a judge because of it and 2) a case in one of my internships where the suing client was clearly and unequivocally lying. Had I not had those experiences, I would likely have taken my client’s word for it until proven otherwise.

      I’m not a lawyer yet (fingers crossed for bar exam results next month!) but I already know that I’m underprepared for being an actual lawyer. Clinics and internships only give you so much practical experience, and I have no idea what they have in the UK. I have no idea what’s going to happen once I get a real job, especially since I’m used to a lot of internal review by a supervisor and I’m going into legal aid where there’s very little resources for training.

      I think leaping to fire her is a bit harsh. Give her structure, give her controls, have things in place so if she DOES fuck up then it gets caught early, but I think it’s jumping the gun a bit to declare she’s absolutely unsuited to the practice of law.

      Reply
    2. The OP

      Hi there

      You’re right that generally Jessie’s work gets supervised – and my frustration is more that I have to fix a lot more mistakes for her work than her contemporaries.
      A couple of mistakes have recently made it to court when I wasn’t supervising that particular matter, and the partner was too lazy to review it properly. That’s on the partner’s head – but also ideally, if she wants to grow, these mistakes need to be gradually reduced, and I’ve seen no evidence of them being reduced over the past few months.

      Reply
  81. Safetykats

    At some point this becomes a business decision. OP may be able to fix this junior colleague, but how much of an investment in time and effort will it require, and what resources are required to ensure there aren’t serious errors in the interim? At some point you decide that someone just doesn’t have the minimum skill set necessary for the job, and you move on. That could mean demoting them to a position for which they are qualified; it could mean dismissing them and hiring a more qualified replacement.

    Reply
  82. Canton

    Your practice definitely needs a 2nd eye on your documents for things like names and addresses on your pleadings. That 2nd eye should not be someone who is a biller. Attorneys are notorious for making those kinds of errors and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be obligated to catch.

    In terms of the other, more substantive stuff, I can’t help, lol. Good luck.

    Reply
  83. HH

    I work with someone similar to Jessie – she has NO attention to detail and has managed to mangle budgets to the point where my agency overpaid for work on a project that was never done. She’s also jeopardized our agency’s grant applications because details she said were correct, weren’t. She’s done the same or similar with all kinds of projects over the years. Instead of being straight with her, our director has given her projects to others on our team. It keeps happening because our director won’t be honest with her. The worst is that Our Jessie thinks that not being a detail person is cute and “just isn’t me” (she wrinkles her nose like she smells something bad). That’s the message she’s taking from this series of outrageous f-ups – that it’s ok and not something she can change. She CAN learn reading comprehension strategies, she CAN make lists of what to look for or do to make sure she doesn’t miss anything…there’s a lot of strategies one can learn and employ to make sure all the details are attended to, but if there aren’t any serious consequences, then she won’t take change seriously. Working with someone like this is a nightmare even if she is sweet and lovely as a person…which Our Jessie is as well.

    Reply
    1. Khlovia

      Oh, dear. The “I’m so cute and adorable” [wrinkle nose to demonstrate] “you can’t possibly be mad at me! Tee-hee!” ploy.

      Honestly, neither sweet nor lovely.

      Reply
  84. Chris

    It’s very hard to proofread your own documents. You keep thinking content, when it should be spelling. Sometimes it helps to read the sentences in reverse order. Best to have a colleague do it for you and vice versa.

    Reply
  85. Khlovia

    Goodness. I once temped at a law firm for a couple of weeks, supposedly as receptionist / file-clerk but in fact turning out to be a secretary-typist. I had NO legal training. No secretarial training, either, come to think of it; although I was fairly speedy on the keyboard. And I would have committed suicide if I had made even one error per page, never mind two or three. I caught the bosses’ errors! (Not, of course, of the sort wherein there is a mismatch between alleged evidence and actual evidence; see above re: zero legal training. I mean grammar, spelling, vocabulary, logic, math, & typos. This was before office computers.) Whether or not OP has threatened her job sufficiently emphatically, how can this person possibly fail to realize how unacceptable her performance is?

    Reply
  86. ComputerD00D

    As far as the evidence goes: send her to work in IT for a couple of weeks. One of the very first things you learn is to NEVER trust what the user is telling you, because 1/2 the time they don’t know what they are talking about, and the other 1/2 of the time they outright lie.

    Reply
  87. Indie

    I’ve been thinking more about this one, and I dont have the most natural attention to detail myself (It’s hard won). So I’m reconsidering if she actually is as unskilled as she appears…..

    How do you get through a law degree without reading comprehension or proof reading abilities?

    I’m wondering if she does actually have the skills but doesn’t have practical how-to apply the skills experience this yet.

    I wonder if a checklist is too simple, but maybe worth trying?

    Checklist:
    -What does the evidence show? Make a list.
    -Now review the client’s statement: does it match the evidence?
    -Parties’ names: Write out the name of party A, and who they are on a side note. Check through document that party A is correctly identified using this note.
    – Repeat with party B.
    – Repeat with any further named parties.
    – Go through the text trying to identify 4-5 errors on each page with highlighter.
    – Go through text again looking for the following common errors (list out several of her most common errors).
    -Print out document and read it out loud to yourself (at home if necessary).

    This is what worked for me.

    Reply
  88. BatmansRobyn

    Reading this as a baby attorney and absolutely SCREAMING. I work with complex financials, and some of what I’m working with is checking for discrepancies down to literal pennies. If I missed the fact that someone used several hundred thousand dollars, I probably wouldn’t be fired, but there wouldn’t be a next time if it happened again.

    Proofreading is one thing (as long as she’s not, say, transposing numbers or using the wrong versions of homophones)–you could tell her to put spelling/grammar check on and manually click each error the document identifies so that the lines don’t go away until she fixes or reviews every mistake. The evidence is trickier, because clients are the worst and lie all the time and if you can’t catch the holes in their stories there’s no way you’re going to catch on when opposing counsel decides to play tricks. One thing OP COULD do, though, is make sure Jessie actually knows what documents she’s looking for. Depending on where she went to law school, she may or may not have ever seen the documents she’s working with currently, and many of these things aren’t very easy to read even if the other side isn’t going out of their way to make things complicated/muddled.

    Reply
  89. Specialist

    I don’t know if the poster is still reading, but I strongly recommend that your employee be evaluated for learning disabilities. I know that sounds stupid given all they’ve achieved at this point in their life, but some of these things don’t show up until later. Particularly in people who are highly intelligent. There are treatments. I can’t tell you what those treatments are because this isn’t my field, but I do know that the field exists.

    Reply
    1. IDontRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore

      I’m going to suggest you do this as well, as a kindness. I have been considered to be brilliant, gifted, creative, talented, etc etc since grade school and NO ONE, least of all me, could understand why I never got anywhere or made anything of myself in life. It’s a huge blow to ones confidence and self esteem to be told over & over that someone as smart as you should have it made, so obviously you just DONT WANT TO- not trying don’t care irresponsible careless bla bla BLA when you are actually trying SO DAMN HARD just to survive it’s a wonder you don’t self-combust.
      I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD (and a number of other disorders & learning disabilities) til I was FORTY EIGHT, long after it might have made any real difference in my life. If someone, ANYONE, a boss, a doctor, a coworker, SOMEONE, would have seriously brought up the idea to be tested for an executive function or learning disorder at some earlier point in my life, who knows what I might have achieved? Even if all it meant was that I could get on disability (because yes, I am that impaired, with blatantly obvious symptoms, and in hindsight am astonished I was able to survive on my own *at all*, let alone thrive in my own little way) and have a small but guaranteed income & health insurance, both of which would have done wonders for me when I was young.
      I don’t want anyone to ever have to struggle & suffer the way I did for something that can be recognized, diagnosed, and (possibly) treated. Bringing her attention to this could make an ENORMOUS difference in her life (and no harm done if she doesn’t or isn’t interested in listening.) ADHD & other similar disorders are still massively under diagnosed in women, and every bit of awareness helps!

      Reply
  90. buttercup

    I’m bad at copy-editing/catching typos in a short period of time, but based on the letter, this isn’t just a copy-editing issue – it’s a she’s bad at her job issue. I work as an analyst and I’m still good at doing analysis – I just have to give myself extra time to copy edit. So this seems like a job fit issue more than anything.

    Reply
  91. KitKat100000

    I know I’m a week late with this comment – but I am also a supervisory attorney for young attorneys and the absolute best way to do this is to PRINT things and review HARD COPIES. More than once.

    Finalize on the computer, print a hard copy and review for needed changes, make changes on the computer, then review another hard copy – repeat until it is 100% perfect.

    And tell her to SLOW DOWN AND FOCUS.

    Best of luck!

    Reply

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