my employee has absolutely no attention to detail

A reader writes:

One of the junior attorneys who works for me and I are pretty friendly. Jessie is a genuinely lovely person — friendly, kind, and we have a good working relationship.

The one thing she struggles with is attention to detail. This comes out in two key ways — first, typos and misspellings in court documents. It’s not 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 more serious. When she’s been assigned to review 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 cases — 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.

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 will improve attention to detail when it doesn’t come naturally? How do I help someone’s performance improve?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 210 comments… read them below }

  1. nnn*

    For typos and misspellings, the MVP is a screenreader. Working in Word, I use the Read Aloud function, and there are other onboard and downloadable tools in other software and operating systems.

    This makes simple typos and misspellings conspicuous, even when our eyes and our brains would normally gloss over them. I find that even when I’m zoned out as the computer reads a boring document to me, I still sit up and take notice at typos like “taht” or “pubic health”.

    Instead of the difficult work of improving attention to detail, you’re catching more details with less attention.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Or an old-fashioned proof reader. I am a paralegal. My boss reviews everything I write that is more substantial than a cover letter. I review pleadings he writes before they go out. This works well for both of us. While the person the OP is on about seems to have more typos than is typical, everyone one typos. Also style and content issues.

      1. hyperbolist*

        Paralegal here too. I proof everything my attorneys write and I have someone give everything I write a once over unless it’s a relatively low stakes letter. I’m much better at catching typos in other peoples’ work then my own.

        The inability to reliably evaluate evidence seems like a bigger deal to me though. If she’s good at a lot of other things, say like being a whiz at motions practice (once proofread at any rate) it seems like those responsibilities could be shifted elsewhere, including to a skilled paralegal who could then go over the issues? In good firms I feel like people are given work that plays to their strengths. Otherwise I feel like that actually can be trained and there are CLEs etc. on the subject. One trick that’s big in my office is to start with the jury instructions and work backward through the case.

          1. Mf*

            I am giggling about how you and Richard both made typos. Proof that everyone does it! We’re only human!

            1. allathian*

              Or else autocorrupt strikes again.

              I catch most of my own typos because that’s my superpower. When I’m learning a new language, I only need to see a word written down once (including diacritics if the language uses them) and I know how to spell it even if I don’t know what it means yet. Admittedly I haven’t tried to learn a language that uses something other than the Latin alphabet, but…

              Even so, if I’m in a hurry, I’ll sometimes miss a typo or two. I’m a translator and my coworker and I proofread each other’s translations, at least the critical ones that can’t be fixed easily. Admittedly our proofreading involves more than just catching typos, sometimes you get too caught up in the source language and someone else who primarily looks at the translation can change the wording so that it sounds more natural. But we don’t have the resources to do that for everything, just the most critical stuff.

      2. SaffyTaffy*

        I don’t understand why, in a letter that clearly says “she makes TOO MANY typos,” and “she’s trying to stop but can’t,” so many people are just responding that everyone makes typos.
        Nobody is suggesting otherwise. That’s not the problem.

        1. Boom! Tetris for Jeff!*

          I think if everyone makes typos, so that means some form of proofreading has to already be built in for important documents. So if she makes more typos than average, there is already a process in place.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        For what it’s worth, we’ve “verbed” that noun around here to some extent. But until reading this, I’d have said it requires object: “Sorry I typoed that. What I meant to say…”

    2. Antilles*

      If the issue was simply minor typos, then absolutely a screen-reader or Read Aloud function will help you quickly catch when you write “taht” or forget couple words sentence.
      But no Read Aloud or spellcheck function currently in existence is going to identify issues like writing the plaintiff as Mr. Smith instead of Mr. Jones; to the program either name could be correct and it’s on Jessie to correctly identify who’s who.
      Nor will those technological fixes identify holes in evidence that OP mentions – if the client is saying he mailed the contract January 15th but the postmark date is February 8th, it’s Jessie’s job to notice that detail/discrepancy.

      1. Lizzianna*

        I will say as someone who is more of an auditory learner than a visual learner, *hearing* a case caption read could help me catch a situation where I’ve mixed up a plaintiff and defendant when my eyes might glance over it, just because I tend to absorb info better if I hear it than if I read it.

        I don’t know if that’s enough to help LW’s employee, but I just say that for others who struggle with editing their own work.

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Neat idea! I’ve definitely found reading things out loud to myself to be very helpful. I’m forced to be an active participant in doing it. I might zone out with a screen reader. But sounds like it works great for you and hopefully something like this will help Jessie.

    4. Melissa*

      I agree with this. I am a solo who has been diagnosed with dysgraphia since middle school.

      My practice would not work if it depended on attention to detail instead of systems to compensate for my shortcomings like using text to speech to catch the wrong word or reading a document sentence by sentence in reverse order.

      The issue for Jessie is many people who go to law school pride themselves on their technical writing ability and so they do not have the skills to share with someone who does have issues with document production.

      If you can’t mentor a young attorney who has a problem you don’t share that is not a personal failing. However, deciding it is on the young attorney with no network to find that person is a failure of a senior attorneys responsibility to the lawyer.

      Of course we are not trained in being bosses or mentors either so it isn’t surprising they are both failing but the letter writer can learn to do better and get someone appropriate to help.

  2. Heloise*

    I’m a little surprised that Jessie didn’t develop the skill of carefully checking the client’s perspective against the evidence while in law school! In some ways that’s what’s difficult about realizing she’s a poor fit with the role–she’s already invested years and thousands of dollars into pursuing a career as an attorney.

    1. Not Elizabeth*

      I’m not surprised at all. When I was in law school (granted, many years ago), I learned about reading case law and understanding what the court decided, and I learned a lot of valuable legal writing skills, but I was not taught how to evaluate evidence. I suppose I could have taken a clinical course and learned that, but I wasn’t obligated to, so I am guessing Jessie wasn’t either.

      1. badger*


        Everything I learned about working with clients and evaluating evidence, I learned from internships and on the job. Law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer. It doesn’t teach you how to practice law.

        1. DanniellaBee*

          Yes, thank you! I am not a lawyer but I did work in Big Law after college for a bit and that is exactly what I observed about first year associates. They needed mentorship and help from the experienced attorney’s on evidence and how to practice.

          I feel a bit defensive of junior attorney in this thread. She is being called a dolt in the comments when she graduated from law school and passed the bar! Needing help, direction, and coaching does not make you an idiot in your first year. It makes you human.

          1. I AM a Lawyer*

            I agree. I made a ton of mistakes in my first couple of years as an attorney because it is an on-the-job training type of job. A partner reviewed every thing I did, including more substantive emails, for the first several years so that these things wouldn’t happen. That is the case everywhere I’ve worked (and one firm still was having partners review a lot of my work when I had been practicing for 15 years). I eventually developed the skill of being detail oriented and stopped making almost all of the mistakes I’d made earlier on. I think she can learn with the right coaching and with close supervision.

            1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              Based on your comment, it seems fair to suggest that the LW probably ought to review Jessie’s work before it gets to a point where the errors would cause problems. Jessie didn’t notice the evidence issues, but nobody else caught it until it became a big problem.

              1. She of Many Hats*

                The proofreading is easy to do. The challenge is needing to fully redo the evidence check to ensure Jessie didn’t miss critical details. When an attorney is held to billable hours, redoing a time-consuming task like that with a more experiences (and expensive) employee isn’t as feasible.

                LW – would a template or checklist based on the types of cases handled by the firm listing common and critical details work in that situation?

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            Some people are book-smart and just cannot handle the practical aspects of their jobs at all, regardless of how much you invest. I have worked with a lot of first-year associates, who, by and large, are useless because law school didn’t teach them anything practical. My former firm invested a lot in in training and development for new lawyers. Some of them got better; some of them did not. All of them received a JD from a top-tier school and passed the bar, some were were shockingly inept.

        2. KatKatKatKat*

          Same! I only had a few writing classes, but it would be very easy to slip through the cracks in law school. Jessie’s problems as a new associate are actually quite common – she will get better with time, it’s just a matter of whether or not your firm wants to offer her the time to improve.

    2. Delta Delta*

      That’s not what anybody learns in law school, unfortunately. As a lawyer and law school instructor, I see this firsthand. When I assign my students a practical-type assignment their brains sort of short out and they simply can’t do it. Not everyone takes a class like mine, so there are some newbie associates who are doing it for the first time on the job. Not great.

    3. Tomato Soup*

      Law school teachers next to none of the practical aspects of lawyering. Only academic/philosophical aspects with a small bit of procedure thrown in. Most of what they taught only even kicks in during trials, which are a minimal percentage of most attorneys’ practices. Even after graduation, you still need a separate course too pass the bar exam.

      1. Reality.Bites*

        I’m not a lawyer, so I’m wondering if it has to be this way. Is there a reason why law school doesn’t teach this stuff, or is it not teachable? Is it a problem with teaching or is it a good practice.

        1. JimmyJab*

          My guess (as someone who went to Law School) is that they want to teach you enough law to pass the bar and there isn’t time to teach (to the extent you can), attention to detail and proofreading and evidence evaluation.

        2. GreenDoor*

          This is the problem with college in general. I have an MBA. So they taught us marketing, accounting, generic leadership, general HR stuff, etc. But I learned NOTHING about practical every-day management: how to have a progressive discipline conversation, how to shut down office gossip, how to have awkward conversations about hygiene, how to avoid ADA violations, etc. I learned more about that stuff here on AAM than in college! I would venture to say that this is true of most fields – you learn the big picture stuff, but not the stuff you actually need day-to-day.

          1. Roland*

            Studied computer science, work as a software engineer, co-signed. I learned how to do the job in internships. My college skills were required, but in the same way that you have to know how to read to do the job.

          2. Inkognyto*

            I’m in Information Security, no degree teaches anything remotely close to what you need in this field. It changes to fast. I’ve got over 2 decades of experience and I still get interviewers asking me why I don’t have a college degree or go back for one.

            I have to tell them “The resource cost of time and money would not be worth it. I’ve trained interns and new employees in the field from my 2nd year, whether or not they have an MBA or a degree.”

            I’m currently a Senior Data Security Analyst, I had an intern assigned to me 2 years ago that had a basic IT degree, and he was interested in Information Security.

            I have on Data Privacy/Data Governance/Data protections.

            This poor guy should not have been assigned to me, as my role is specialized and requires a few years just to understand the basics. He had no idea what Role based security, identity management, or even how to assign basic NTFS permissions, or even permissions in windows on a computer or a share.

            Those aren’t my roles or job but some grounding in those concepts is needed. I’m working above that. I wrote our data classification policy, data transfer policies. I review any data transfer in or out of the org. Apply specific rule permissions to alert when data could be compromised.

            Luckily he was only applying some time for me. Working for a Healthcare org with 5 hospitals he was physically in a hospital and had to do some basic things with all interns. He also then took what he learned and was showing it to others in the internship program. I had him listening in and watching some of our install with the vendor on the Data Governance/Privacy mgmt app. This was a multi week process and complex installation. Once the installation got far enough I wrote a list of requirements for the security roles I wanted. I went through concepts like least privilege, and role-based security by having him design roles based on the various employees that would need access. I then reviewed them and walked through the choices and my thought process. I had to reinforce the least privilege concept. As he tended to over assign “as they might need it”. There is no might, choose ‘no access’ verse some or any.

            I did explain that what I was doing was above starting paygrade. He really should have been with Identity Mgmt assigning access. My guess is because in order to assign the hospital software’s access he would have needed to get a certification that would take months. He could have assigned network access but that’s above my paygrade. I had a fairly frank conversation with my manager (Director level), that I was struggling to find actual security work he could do. It seemed like someone promised him an information security internship, this was close to it.

            Then I find out after that he’s going to get his Masters in something in Information Security. I was thinking someone should get ‘some’ actual experience in the career field first. I think it’s more of “I don’t know what to do but go to school, let’s do more of that”.

        3. SpeckledBeagle*

          I just finished law school, and I can assure you it’s a problem and something lawyers and students are very well aware of. There’s a lot of discussion about it, and some trends have been made recently at some schools to counter this, like introducing practical courses to curriculums and encouraging internships. But those efforts are a drop in the bucket (most schools don’t mandate these courses and even if they offer them); the institutional momentum is just so weighted in favor of continuing the way it’s always been. People will tell you outright that most of what you learn will have very little relevance for most lawyers, and you will learn this on the job.

        4. Michelle Smith*

          It’s teachable, but it’s not how it’s done. There are a lot of people, myself included, who BEG law students to take control of their own practice while they are still in school by getting as much real experience as possible (clinics, externships, internships, pro bono projects, etc.). This is not mandated or encouraged for the vast majority of students (or at least wasn’t when I went to school) and it’s a huge, huge shortcoming of the curriculum. They claim their goal is to teach you to think like a lawyer (know how to evaluate arguments, know how to make arguments backed up with some kind of coherent logic, understand where the holes are in claims, understand how to address those holes, etc.). How to practice though? They seem to think that’s someone else’s job.

          1. Bee*

            This is sort of mindboggling to me as all my friends who are attorneys went through the extremely competitive Big Law internship gauntlet where if you land an internship for the summer after 2L you’re basically guaranteed a $200k job (or a high-level clerkship) on graduating. I realize I know a very specific subset of lawyers but I can’t imagine not spending the summers doing the work – in part because you don’t want to finish with all those loans and realize you hate practicing!

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              By the time you hit your 2L summer, you’re already in 2/3 of your total law school debt and are stuck practicing or living with perpetual loans for a degree you didn’t finish. I used to run the paralegal program in a BigLaw firm, and most of the kids I had were there to try before they bought. I had a dissuasion rate of nearly 50% at one point, though it had dropped to 35% when I left.

              A close friend of mine who’s still in the industry is working with a mid-level associate now who never did a summer associateship and then clerked for several years. The attorney is a nightmare – they are considered a 4th year (halfway to partner), but they have the skills of a summer and are terrorizing the staff and a lot of their peers who have more practical experience but less year credit. My personal assessment, from what my friend has described, is that they feel threatened that non-attorneys and people more junior to them know more and are simply handling it very poorly.

        5. Bagpuss*

          I’m in the UK and here you do your law degree, then you do a one year ‘ Legal Practice Course’ (or Bar Practice Course) . It’ a long time since I did mine but it did include some more practical stuff – we did some role playing (taking in turns to be the client) and a bit about communication, plain English etc, as well as more of the more academic stuff .
          But it’s the same in that in the initial degree you don’t really do anything about the practice of law.
          And then after the LPC you have a 2 year vocational training contract where you are employed but still under training – with our last trainee I would check everything she prepared before it went out, I now have a direct report who is about 1 year qualified and I still review a lot of her stuff.

        6. rivkah12*

          It also depends on what courses you take in law school–I knew I was going to be a trial lawyer, so I took lots of classes in evidence/trial practice and advanced legal research/writing.

          I agree that learning to evaluate/weigh evidence could improve with experience, but numerous basic typos speak to a lack of attention to detail that may or may not improve.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            As a technical writer I’ll agree there’s a fundamental problem with this employee’s evidence check.

            But I have a simple, counter-intuitive trick to try for the typos: turn off spell check and auto correct.

            When those are on, people rely on them — and the tech is fallible. Names, places, and products are often nonstandard words and get auto-IN-corrected. (Alison/Allison)
            Doubled words get removed …and for a lawyer I’d say that THAT can be critical.
            It’s easy to enter a new word into a dictionary or an autocorrect list, and it’s not always easy to view a list of the custom entries. (Samsung I’m looking at you.) So accept an odd spelling as a Name for one case and it’s accepted next time….helpfully capitalized.

        7. Another lawyer in the comments*

          It’s really hard to teach things that you don’t know yourself. Lots of law professors never really practiced law themselves, any so they never had to know the ins and outs of actual law practice. Adjunct professors are usually practicing lawyers so they’re generally better about this stuff.

          In my younger days one of the things a more experienced attorney told me about law professors stuck with me: “Their views on the law are untainted by exposure to actual courts.”

    4. Heloise*

      Correction taken! I’m a doctoral student in a law-adjacent field, and the research side of academia is so much about being thrown into the deep end of research, teaching, and “service” and either sinking or swimming, so it’s helpful to hear that that’s not usually the case in American legal education.

    5. Joielle*

      Adding my voice to the chorus saying that unfortunately, they really don’t teach that kind of thing in law school. General critical thinking and analysis skills, yes, but you don’t learn how to actually practice law unless you specifically seek out that kind of experience, and many people don’t.

      On the bright side, there are a TON of jobs you can do as a non-practicing attorney. I may be an outlier but I know a LOT of lawyers and a majority of them don’t actually practice law – most are in public policy or government roles (me included). So it’s not like all that education and money are wasted, but Jessie probably needs to rethink her career path.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        All the lawyers I know are now in insurance claims roles or are in finance. Jessie needs to pivot to something else.

          1. The Real Fran Fine*

            They absolutely do and I didn’t suggest they didn’t. I just said Jessie needs to go do something else – lawyers don’t have to stay in the legal field.

    6. Law*

      They don’t teach that. My husband wanted to be a criminal attorney, so he passed the bar and immediately went to a DA’s office to get as much trial experience as possible. 15 years later he’s a very successful defense attorney.

  3. Raging Iron Thunder*

    This employee needs to be fired. As a client, I’d be livid with my (non-existant) legal team if they kept a dolt like this around.

    1. DanniellaBee*

      This comment is a bit harsh. This junior attorney is clearly smart. She graduated law school and passed the bar! Neither of which is a small feat. Regarding spelling mistakes, that could be dyslexia and those mistakes can be corrected with the use of software programs for proof reading. Paralegals also spend time proof reading actions for attorneys. The evidence issues can also be corrected by having sessions with more senior attorneys to ensure the legal reasoning is sound for arguments for a set amount of time to acclimate her more. Both of these issues can be overcome with coaching and hard work by the junior attorney.

      Full disclosure: my first internship in college was at a law firm and the senior partner was dyslexic! He overcame both of the described issues from this letter and became hugely successful.

      1. pope suburban*

        I agree that she seems capable, and I wonder if this is an issue of stress from dealing with real-world stuff instead of school? I’ve known a lot of people who are very good in the classroom and with academic assignments, but who have anxiety over more hands-on things, or things where other people are relying on them for a certain outcome/product. If that’s the case, it’s of course her thing to manage, it’s just the first explanation that jumped out at me for this situation.

        1. DanniellaBee*

          I agree! Jumping to the conclusion the junior attorney is a dolt instead of learning to practice law in her first year as an associate, is the very definition of ungenerous. It also lacks understanding of Big Law culture.

      2. RagingADHD*

        Mixing up the plaintiff and defandants’ names isn’t a misspelling or an effect of dyslexia. And a spell check program won’t catch it.

        It’s an error that can be made carelessly but is substantive.

        1. Timothy (TRiG)*

          Mixing up names is a thing I see surprisingly often in self-published fiction. It does seem to be a thing the brain does fairly frequently.

          1. RagingADHD*

            Oh, I’ve seen some whoppers of editorial misses in traditionally published books, too. Everything from having a character’s major injury switch from the right leg to the left, to having a character briefly mistake spilled wine for a bloodstain, when it was previously established that everyone was drinking white wine.
            There is no limit to the mix-ups people can overlook when they are mentally fatigued, in too much of a hurry, trying to multitask, or have executive function issues.

            But of course, in a book there is nothing at stake but reader enjoyment. In a legal brief there can be a lot on the line.

        2. EPLawyer*

          Mixing up names is SURPRISINGLY common. I’ve had my client called the other party’s name in court by the judge. I’ve mixed up names in the courtroom. Tranposing who is Defendant and Plaintiff happens a lot too.

          Typos are one thing. They happen. Not matter how hard you try some of them slip through.

          The big problem is not being able to issue spot. THAT is taught in law school. You are taught facts and how they apply to the law. Your entire exams are: Here are the facts, now explain the law. You HAVE to be able to connect Fact A with Fact B so you can get to conclusion C. You have to be able to evaluate Fact A and Fact B to see if they support conclusion C. If you can’t, the law is not the field for you. Because that is literally all the law is.

        3. Well...*

          I often mix-up two names if I learned them at the same time. My brain puts them in the same bin, and I know they are related but I can’t disentangle them. This happened once when I had three classes of students simultaneously, all with one really tall guy in them. It took me ages to remember the three tall guys’ names, I kept permuting them between each other (on top of memorizing the other 90+ student names). It didn’t help that I never saw them saw them at the same time, so I could only compare them in my mind to help distinguish their names.

          I imagine if you only see the names on paper, it’s the same issue.

      3. Snow Globe*

        While I wouldn’t have phrased it so harshly, I think Raging Iron Thunder is right to think about the clients. Sure, she is smart and may have dyslexia or adhd or something else. But you can’t expect clients to accept mistakes like this that could result in them losing their case. She knows she’s been making mistakes and still hasn’t been able to fix the problem; how many more clients are going to have to deal with this?

        1. Well...*

          IDK, this perspective feels to me like prioritizing the customer over the worker. I get that legal work (and healthcare work) are extremely important to clients’/patients’ wellbeing, but dumping the responsibility onto overworked, underpaid (drowning in student loans counts, and for some lawyers it’s really a struggle) workers isn’t the answer. The answer is investing in more workers so that there is time for people to work slowly and carefully. Minimizing costs and giving people high workloads inevitably leads to this kind of thing.

          You can only select high-level superstars with very specific brain types that can handle this workload and attention to detail, or you can invest more money and hire more workers so the workload decreases. This allows people with different brains to participate, which may benefit the field in unexpected ways (while attention to detail might be less, creativity might go up, etc.) I think seeing people as human beings, not slaves that do exactly what you want, when you want it, is the better way to approach these problems.

          1. Trillian*

            Human nature being what it is, as long as it is the client who suffers the consequences of the lawyer’s/law firm’s problem, nothing will change. The problem has to be given back to its owner.

          2. NAL*


            We don’t know the workload the person has. Some people are just…bad at detail for whatever myriad reasons. But you absolutely SHOULD care about it in the legal field! If your paralegals screw ups cost your client major money or jail time (depending on your field) that matters! I want my doctors and lawyers to have more attention to detail than I do!

      4. Temperance*

        Honestly, speaking AS a lawyer, I know plenty of people who graduated from law school and have a law license who frankly aren’t all that smart or suited for the profession.

        She is misreading and misinterpreting case documents. That’s really bad.

        1. EL*

          Agreed. The comment is harsh, but this is someone who is not suited for the practice of law. The typos and attention to detail is something that could maybe be worked on, but the other issues show this is simply not the job for her. She is demonstrating that she is unable to properly review evidence, anticipate challenges, and think critically about the case. As a lawyer I would not feel that I could responsibly keep her employed working on my files.

        2. Jen*

          I am also a lawyer and have seen very sloppy work from even graduates of good schools who had good grades.

        3. Bagpuss*

          YEs, I’m not in the US but in my experience you do get people who can do very well at studying law and be hopeless at practicing it, (and equally, people who barely scraped through the degree but are excellent practitioners)

          But errors and failures in relation to evidence and checking it is a big problem – much more so that spelling errors or even getting names the wrong way round, and I think it’s a harder skill to learn. I think you can *improve* a lot if you have the basic skill, but if you don’t have it in the first place I’m not sure if you can teach it to someone who doesn’t have it at all.

        4. Becky*

          She is misreading an misinterpreting documents and it is not at all clear, at least to me, that this is something she can improve on with assistance and mentorship or if it is something that is just not a skill she will become sufficiently competent in.

          I am not a lawyer, but I do work in a field where attention to detail and creative/critical thinking/analysis is required. It takes imagination, it takes practice, it takes a thorough grounding in background knowledge. It sometimes takes willingness to be wrong or ask stupid questions. To look at something and see the holes or see where an avenue has been unexplored or where questions need to be asked is a skill, only some of which can be taught.

          1. Sparrow*

            I’m in a role that requires a similar skill set, and I fully agree with you. But it is possible that her lack of attention to detail is the heart of the issue and she’s missing those connections simply because she’s not looking at the evidence thoroughly enough. If she hasn’t already done so, I think it would be a good idea for her to come up with a list of prompt questions to use when reviewing evidence. What does this piece of evidence tell us? Does that align with what the client said? Does it align with other pieces of evidence? etc. (or whatever is appropriate; I am not a lawyer!)

            I evaluate proposals as part of my job and have a mental list of issues to look for. I don’t use a physical list, but I have created one as a training tool for others. For some folks, it’s effective in getting them in the habit of systematically thinking through the potential issues, and with practice, finding those holes becomes second nature to them. There are others who struggle to make the connections even with those questions to prompt their thinking. If this attorney falls in the second category, there’s probably a fundamental misfit here, but I think there’s a chance that with more structured guidance she can learn to consider evidence more thoughtfully and improve in that aspect of the job.

        5. NotAnotherManager!*


          When I worked in BigLaw – and that was with people who went to big name schools and were the top of their classes – there were people I was surprised could tie their own shoes. I had a few career paralegals I’d have trusted more than every junior associate and a few of the mid-levels/seniors plus a handful of partners.

          People like Jessie are a malpractice case waiting to happen. I wouldn’t have tolerated the paralegal misspelling parties’ names, much less not knowing which side of the case we were on.

      5. Hannah Lee*

        IDK. This seems like a fundamental skill/capability mis-match between what is required to be successful in the role and what the employee’s skills are. It would be like a brain surgeon who was super smart and had great knowledge of surgical practices and brain/neurophysiology but who had not so great fine motor skills. To some extent, focusing really hard and practice might improve it, but it’s still hard to imagine that she’d be the right person for that particular job, responsibility on an ongoing basis. And it’s not fair to expect patients relying on her to perform critical operations to be like “well, I’m hoping she having a good day and that her job aids are up to the task”

        Maybe if the junior attorney realizes that this is a critical element and they will not be considered successful, promotable in their role if they aren’t able to improve their attention to detail, she can deploy some tools and failsafes to catch her own errors before they go out to someone else. Because there may be some element of her or someone else viewing it as NBD, just easily correctable mistakes. And maybe there is some additional training or an accommodation that would enable her to improve in this area. But if she’s just not able to work that’s reliably error free (or at least up to some standard) and there is no process change that’s reasonable that would reduce the errors or catch them before they create rework or errors in casework, it doesn’t make sense to keep her in that role.

        LW’s role would be to first reiterate that this is in fact a big deal and direct the employee to come up with ways that can prevent these errors from happening or at least catch them earlier in the process. Some of that likely will involve the LW in terms of training, setting up processes for proofing, maybe moving some content generation earlier in the process so it’s not at the 11th hour with no time to catch mistakes (I know I know, maybe not realistic) And also it should involve some measurement of improvement, so the employee knows it is something included in her performance assessment.

        (Maybe it’s just that this hits a pet peeve of mine: I’ve been part of maybe 8-10 real estate transactions over the years, and there is not a single one in which the closing documents did not contain at least one material error in key data in the hours before the closing was scheduled. Not talking minutia deep in the legalese, I’m talking names of sellers or buyers, address of the property, or the sale amount were just wrong in ways that weren’t on any of the prior versions I’d been sent for review. Sometimes several of those in one document. So there we were, with a closing scheduled (and the bank of course scheduling it at the last possible time for the rate or calculated interest or whatever else makes delaying the closing by a day impossible and likely to cause the whole transaction to fall apart) and having to follow up repeatedly with the law office to get THEIR errors fixed in time. It was very much a “you had one job” situation, where preparing accurate closing documents was the main point of their involvement. )

      6. Raging Iron Thunder*

        You are being too generous reread this quote:

        “Her lack of attention to detail means that she has failed to pick up holes in cases — 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.”

        This can (and maybe has) cost them legal cases.

      7. NotAnotherManager!*

        From decades of personal experience, doing well in law school and passing the bar does not mean you’ve got the skills to practice or are well-suited to practice.

        Paralegals can proofread, cite-check, and verify parties are in the right place, but they should not have to correct arguments, facts, or the actual lawyering of the document.

        Assuming dyslexia here is also a weird jump based on the information provided. I’ve worked with a number of very successful attorneys with dyslexia, ADHD, and any variety of medical conditions that made the effective practice of law harder for them. The difference is that they all learned strategies or had medical accommodations to manage their conditions and still managed to make cogent, legal arguments on behalf of the right party.

    2. cabbagepants*

      I’d be even more livid that the senior lawyers were continuing to trust her. If they want her to write first drafts or whatever, that’s fine, but her firm cannot continue to just send out the documents she produces without careful vetting.

        1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

          For the client, there may be way more than a job at stake – while capital cases are fortunately fairly low, mpre typical cases in criminal law can be about years of your life, or in civil life e.g. foreclosure on your home. There is no excuse for sloppy work.
          The firm could put her on lower-stakes work (like case law research, maybe?) under close supervision to see if she can improve, or let her go.
          Careers that are more suitable may be in legal libraries, legal tech, or potentially insurance (more structured, predictable work might help).

    3. metadata minion*

      It sounds like this person may fundamentally be in the wrong job, which sucks after going through law school, but “dolt” is an extremely unkind way to refer to someone who is simply bad at one skill that happens to be crucial in their chosen field.

  4. Parcae*

    Ugh. It’s bad enough when someone is a fundamentally bad fit for a job. But to have this happen with a new attorney, where the person has already invested so much time and money in credentialing? What a nightmare.

    OP can and should try all of Alison’s advice, but I suspect the bottom line is that Jessie just isn’t suited for the work.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      Looking back, one of the kindest things an ex-manager did for me was to fire me. It was extremely upsetting at the time, but so was the stress of never being able to meet the job’s expectations.

      I’ve since shifted into a different role in the field that is a better fit and far less stressful; as a result, I’m doing really well in my new job and up for a promotion.

      My understanding is that a law degree and passing the bar can qualify you for a lot of different types of law practice. Maybe Jessie should switch to something like contract law, where there is more time for double-checking written work and the ability to critically analyze evidence isn’t required.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        No. Attention to detail is also important in contract law. She needs a non-legal career where the stakes are much lower and her issues won’t necessarily negatively impact clients.

        1. Avery*

          I agree, with the clarification that “not working directly in the legal field” and “being able to practice law is a helpful qualification” aren’t mutually exclusive. Maybe there’s a think tank or government job where her lack of attention to detail will be less of an issue, but her law degree and passing the bar will still be useful credentials to have.

      2. Cat Lady Esq.*

        Alas contract law is even more detail-oriented than litigation and often has just as tight timelines. Critical thinking and attention to detail are fundamental skills in basically every attorney job – Jessie will need to shape up quickly or she’ll want to start exploring JD plus roles.

  5. Healthcare Manager*

    I think these are two seperate issues.

    Attention to detail
    Comprehension ability

    Attention to detail you can work on, such as proof reading, using technology to read out loud etc. but it requires a lot of extra time which needs to be weighed up against the cost of the role.

    I personally have found it impossible to teach people how to improve their comprehension. Familiarity can help, but again need to weigh up the cost of investing in this.

    All combined it sounds like to me this person doesn’t have the skills to do the role. Especially in law.

      1. KayDeeAye*

        HealthcareManager didn’t call anybody a “dolt.” They said that the junior attorney may not be suited for the job, and…they may be right. You can be smart and energetic and so on – and have spent a lot of money to earn a degree – and still not have what it takes to practice law. I mean, I’m smart and energetic, and I generally spell quite well, and I wouldn’t do well as a lawyer.

      2. Temperance*

        That’s absolutely not “normal” or expected for a first-year. An intern, maybe. A summer associate, maybe. But absolutely not a practicing, showing-up-to-court attorney.

      3. Observer*

        normal first year associate issues with evidence and some misspellings.

        Except that what the OP described do NOT fall into that category. Repeatedly doing things like mixing up the names of plaintiff and defendant, and failing to check significant document issues like a mismatch between their client’s claims and their client’s evidence are SOOO different from making minor spelling errors in a casual discussion, that it’s hard to believe that these comments are being made in good faith and with full understanding of the issue.

    1. Well...*

      I’m puzzled by this claim that people can’t learn reading comprehension (both in this comment and in AAM’s answer). Isn’t that like, one of the major goals of the majority of primary school and undergraduate eduction? We, as a society, invest so much money in this pursuit. Is the claim that we are wasting our $$ and this is all somehow innate? I think that claim needs pretty strong evidence to be taken seriously…

      1. Don't Call Me Shirley*

        I won’t claim one can’t learn it, but it may be a fundamental prerequisite for this job, not something to pick up on the job.

        Math can definitely be taught, but I’d still say an engineer who struggles with algebra can’t work as an engineer unless they fix that off the clock.

  6. Mellie Bellie*

    Attorney here. I suck at proofing my own docs, so I have my legal assistant read over everything before it gets filed to catch them. That’s not that big of a deal. It just requires me to not be last minute.

    The bigger issue is that an inability to analyze evidence is a pretty big problem if you’re a litigation attorney. And I don’t see any way around it. Litigation isn’t for everyone and there are lots of other things you can do with a law degree. Hopefully, the LW’s employee has found one.

    1. Jen*

      I train new attorneys as part of my job and I agree with this. Typos I can coach on. Failing to comprehend evidence? That’s a lot harder.

    1. Budgie Buddy*

      Reframing the evidence evaluation as “assume the client is lying until the evidence proves otherwise” is a brilliant hack. Looks like it didn’t help this employee that much, but hopefully it can help other new employees learn how to be critical when evaluating evidence and spot any holes the opposing team could exploit.

      1. Happily Retired*

        This reminds me of when I was teaching my kids to drive. I told each one, “Assume every other motorist out there is either trying to kill you, or is trying to commit suicide and take you with them.” As adults, they all have mad defensive driving skillz.

        1. Fanny Price*

          My mother told me this, and honestly, I don’t think it’s really that helpful, at least past the very beginning of learning to drive. It leads to driving that is so conservative that I think it is actually dangerous. Ok if you are counterweighting the natural overconfidence of a certain type of teenager, but not for an adult who has any judgment, and not for a person of any age who is naturally anxious.

  7. Diocletian Blobb*

    This is such an interesting question because I would consider “paying attention to details” a fundamental human skill for succeeding in practically any profession, but it sounds like this person is just bad at it. Assuming there’s not an explanation that could be solved by medical/psychological intervention (like ADHD), what should such a person do to improve their chances of succeeding in life?

    I myself have had the experience of what feels like running up against built-in limits in my cognition, and it’s unimaginably frustrating and demoralizing. To have the feeling that your brain just…can’t, and there’s no real explanation you can reach for or easy way to improve it? It can really make you feel like the lowest of the low, and I feel for this employee.

    1. Qwerty*

      There are different types of attention to detail, so I’m guessing it’s about finding out what type of data your brain latches onto. For example, I’m great in planning and execution with checklists, proofreading, noticing that A says B when six weeks and three days ago Dave said it should be C, etc and thinking through every little which way something could be used or trip up on. But QA? nope, can’t do it. Brain just glazes over when testing if I’m not actively developing that feature.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Well, I don’t think attention to detail is just one thing. The issues here are attention to written details specifically (maybe broken down into attention to spelling etc. and reading comprehension), and the ability to recall salient details from one source while reading another source, and to override your mind’s assumption that two internally-consistent sources are also consistent with each other. There are jobs that don’t require much of those specific skills but still involve attention to other details — last week’s ask the reader question touched on some of this, although that LW’s lack of attention to detail was a little different than Jessie’s lack of attention to detail.

    3. MigraineMonth*

      I’m very good at paying attention to detail as long as it isn’t names, dates and numbers. I can recount the entire plot of a series of novels, but I can’t remember any secondary character’s name.

    4. I AM a Lawyer*

      I was relatively bad at attention to detail when I first started practicing law, but I was able to overcome it. I would describe myself as detail-oriented now. I’m not even really sure how I did it, except practice and slowing down.

  8. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    This gives me vibes of someone who lied about their law degree. We had an individual make similar mistakes in my industry, things they should have learned in the first courses at uni. Turns out they never took those courses and bought the diploma.

    1. Roz*

      OMG this is what I was suspecting here. It doesn’t sound like she actually got through lawschool on her own. I’m curious whether she is actually registered with her jurisdictions legal practice regulator.

      1. Mockingjay*

        They might have, with tons of tutoring. Or maybe their law school was mediocre, so most people were able to pass. There’s any number of scenarios.

        Think of all the people in your life that you wonder “how the hell did they get their degree?” and yet – they got it.

        1. WillowSunstar*

          I would wonder what her GPA was. It is possible to get nothing but C’s all the way through and still technically pass.

          1. Kit*

            It’s like the old joke about “What do you call the med student who graduated bottom of their class?”*

            Not that GPA is necessarily reflective of someone’s ability to do a job, but certainly having attained a degree, even an advanced one, is also not a guarantor of on-the-job performance.


        2. Becky*

          Its like the old joke of “what do you call a doctor who graduated bottom of their class?”

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      I really don’t get the thought processes of people who try this kind of thing–do they honestly thing professions like law or medicine are like what they see on TV, where everybody works two minutes a workday and spends the rest of the time wearing great suits and having affairs? Do they really think they can fake that level of knowledge? That the actual licensed professionals around them aren’t going to realize they’re flailing?

      I mean, I assume they’ve got something going on mentally/emotionally, or they’re just hardcore fakers like in Catch Me If You Can… but seriously, what?

    3. ecnaseener*

      I know law school has a reputation for being really difficult, but it doesn’t seem so far-fetched to me that you could scrape by in a less-competitive program with poor attention to detail.

    4. LaLa*

      Meh, I sat on a jury this year where the attys on both sides did a pretty crappy job of presenting evidence. It possibly affected our decision but who knows, we’ll never know what we don’t know. Bad attys exist and are practicing law, it’s a reality.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        Last time I sat through jury selection I was frustrated by how poorly the attorneys presented concepts and asked questions. The judge kept hopping in to try to clarify because we didn’t understand what they were getting at.

    5. goducks*

      Is it even possible to do this as a lawyer? She’d have to have passed the Bar Exam, and be registered with the Bar in her state, right?

      There are definitely fields where you can get away with faked credentials, but I don’t think law is really one of them.

        1. STAT!*

          In Australia, generally you also have to complete post graduate training, & then be entered onto the Register of Practitioners with the Supreme Court of your relevant State/ Territory, & then have a practising certificate issued, before you can call yourself a legal practitioner. That said, it is easier to fake having qualifications if you are a barrister or sole practitioner: I can think of two instances from the past ten years off the top of my head. It’s probably harder to fake if you are working for a company, if for no other reason than HR will/ should check you are on the Register of Practitioners when you are recruited.

    6. DanniellaBee*

      You think she lied about having a law degree and passing the bar (almost impossible thing to lie about) because of misspellings and not being perfect with evidence in her first year as an associate?

      That is very unkind and a rude assumption. I worked in Big Law as a legal assistant and before that I interned in college shadowing attorneys. It is very typical for new associates to need mentorship and coaching around practicing law and evidence.

      Misspellings also happen! Labeling junior attorney a liar and a dolt is unfair and unfounded.

      1. I AM a Lawyer*

        Thank you! First year attorneys are not great attorneys, pretty generally. They need a lot of training – it’s like an apprenticeship. It’s actually not crazy that a first year associate would be missing a lot of things. She’s still learning how to practice law. (I’m also shocked her work is getting to the point of opposing counsel brining up the lack of evidence without a partner having reviewed her work and caught that.)

        1. Jen*

          I’ve trained first year attorneys who were quite sloppy. They had to submit bar documentation as part of the job.

        2. Anon For This*

          I did hiring at a Big Law firm and am now an in house lawyer. First years were given the lowest level of work and there was the expectation that at least 50% of their time would be written off the client bills because they were still learning. And certainly a senior associate on the project would review anything that was being summitted to the court or sent to opposing counsel other than some basic calendaring. You hire them based on potential and knowing some of them might not have what it takes to hack it in that environment. This type of law might not be for Jessie, or she just needs time to develop her skill…or LW is the lowest priority of the attorneys who Jessie is working for and LW’s work is therefore getting the short end of the stick because Jessie is frying her brain on Managing Partner’s case. The way the field works just allows for too many possibilities.

    7. CTT*

      I’m not saying that’s 100% impossible, but it would be very, very hard given the number of hoops one has to jump through to become a licensed attorney and the due diligence required of them. And the high-level of faking documents and credentials one would have to do is at odds with someone with poor attention to detail.

    8. The Green Lawintern*

      As someone who went to law school and passed the bar…there are absolutely lawyers like Jessie. Law school does not teach you a lot of the skills you actually need to be a lawyer.

    9. IT Heathen*

      I’ve been watching the Murdoch trial this week and both sides are allegedly experienced, high profile attorneys.

      Neither one of them seems to know what the fudge they are doing.

      Law school teaches you how to think, not always how to write. They assume that undergrad does that.

    10. NotAnotherManager!*

      Having a law degree does not teach you how to practice law. The level of effort my former employer put into turning top-tier, top-of-class law school graduates into functional, practicing attorneys was astounding. Personal, I think law school needs a big revamp to provide more practical skills, but the ivory tower is slow to change.

      My second-year paralegals were more useful than first-year associates, and none of them had been to law school (and most did not have a paralegal certificate either).

  9. Roz*

    I actually can’t comprehend how this person would have been able to complete law school given that knowing which client is the defendant and which is the complainant is so basic, and the lack of reasoning or comprehension skills to understand and accurately summarize evidence is so concerning. She needs to pivot away from law or policy work. She may thrive in a different environment and a law degree can take you far outside of direct legal practice.

    1. Anon For This*

      Ok, so, in Jessie’s defense, the party names can actually be pretty complicated. Let’s say Bob sues Carol. In that case (Case A), Bob is the Plaintiff and Carol is the Defendant. But then, Carol counter sues Bob (Case B). In Case B, Carol is now the Plaintiff and Bob the Defendant. BUT, if those cases both involve the same set of facts and circumstances, those cases would be joined together. Then, beyond that, when parties appeal cases, they can often switch those titles multiple times depending where they are in the appeals process. Therefore, if Jessie is messing up what is called the “procedural practice” (that is, what the parties are called) then I think that falls into an “attention to detail” or “check your work” problem….if she spends pages talking about how Bob was stopped at a stop light and Carol crashed into him when was Carol who was stopped at the light, then I have much bigger concerns that Jessie is not catching that error.

  10. Butterfly Counter*

    When I was younger and considering law, I interned at a law office and the sheer attention to detail is what put me off the idea of law as a career. I read dozens of depositions where the smallest turn of phrase resulted in an objection and I just wanted to get to the point where the question was answered! It felt like a game where someone kept stopping the action to consult the rule book and I found that way too frustrating for me. But that’s literally the job! Luckily, I found this out before I had too much at stake.

    I agree with Alison that this seems like a fundamental problem with Jessie’s ability to do this job. Aside from games or puzzlers where you can quiz someone on “who’s lying in this scenario,” or “find what doesn’t belong,” the critical thinking also doesn’t seem to be there.

    Perhaps, there’s another role Jessie can play in the office? Finding research, doing background, etc. that relies less on precision and more on fundamental information gathering.

  11. ijustworkhere*

    A person can learn ways to compensate for their weaker areas . However, when the areas that you are weak in are the primary and fundamental requirements for success in your chosen profession, then it takes a lot of work to maintain a high level of functioning.

  12. e271828*

    As a client, I would be so angry to be billed for preparation of bad documents like these. As a coworker at any level, I would be so so tired of being unable to trust her work.

    LW seemed like they were being too nice about it, especially as a peer and not a manager. How much time out of their day were they taking to unofficially train their incompetent coworker? “Incompetent” seems harsh, but “attention to detail” is a fundamental requirement for law work.

    1. Apples and oranges*

      Yes. This is very unfair to both the clients and the coworkers. I have a coworker like this. They cost our clients time and money and in some cases cause personal harm.

      I have to recheck all their work so I have to work longer hours and skip my breaks. And I have to deal with irate clients.

      My boss does nothing aside from wave off their mistakes.

  13. jezebella*

    I can’t speak to the larger issue, but a lot of younger people only proof their documents on a screen. There is nothing like ink-on-paper for forcing a fresh look at a document. I would suggest she print things out to proofread them.

    1. Jen*

      Many places will push back on you nowadays if you’re printing that much. Generally you have hundreds to thousands of pages per case, and doing it with pen and ink may be helpful to a certain extent but you lose the benefit of things like spellcheck and text-to-voice aids.

      1. WillowSunstar*

        Yes, my workplace recently has started actively discouraging printing because it’s not green. Well, technically it isn’t, but there are times when printing is needed.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      Let’s not make this an age issue. I’m Gen X and I proof all of my documents on a screen. (I’m as paperfree as possible.)

      Some people can effectively proofread on a screen.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same. GenX, have always proofed on-screen, and I find reading things aloud (or aloud in my head) is just as effective for me as paper. We don’t discourage printing, but I know many people who prefer proofing on the screen so they can put their edits directly into track changes. (In law, time is money, so printing, hand-editing, and then transferring those edits to electronic is pretty inefficient, especially for very long briefs.)

    3. Qwerty*

      Let’s tweak this to say that the norm is proofing on a screen and that it doesn’t work for everyone? It’s not age specific – I’ve caught errors written by smart people in their fifties who have embraced the screen for efficiency. Some people are even better with the screen version because their brain translates print to “final copy”.

  14. KatEnigma*

    It wasn’t legal, thank goodness, or anything at all that high stakes, but I had a Jessie. I used to proofread for her, and then she’d go in and edit it before printing, without me proofreading a last time, and introduce errors that weren’t there before. I tried approaching the issue from multiple angles, trying to coach her in various ways, and in the end, I had to suggest to her boss that he could either get rid of the multiple embarrassing typos every week, or he could fire her. He opted not to fire her. I moved on and her boss retired and the very first thing the new manager did was fire her, after a few weeks of seeing her in action (and being given the history by those who were still there, who knew how I’d tried to coach her and by someone higher up who knew that I’d recommended she be fired) She was a nice person- that had nothing to do with her ability to do the job! She is the direct cause of your clients losing cases! I really don’t understand why you’re worried more about her feelings than your clients’ legal problems.

  15. Mangofan*

    I wonder if OP can think about the mental process she goes through to assess the strength of the client’s assertions, and then explicitly spell out for Jessie that she needs to be doing that, and maybe practice a few items on a few samples.

    1. Kotow*

      I can’t be the only lawyer in the comments who’s dying to know what area of law we’re talking about! The “assume the client is lying” makes me instantly go to family law! I hope Jessie has done better in the last 5 years. Those areas of law where you really do need to assume your client isn’t telling you everything you need to know are challenging in multiple ways. It isn’t for everybody. That doesn’t mean people should leave the legal field entirely It’s a huge profession which can suit multiple skillsets.

      1. Anon For This*

        I immediately went to some sort of tort law, but this in the original letter:

        “An (sic) 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.”

        I’m with you on family law (specifically divorce). My other thought based on that quote was bankruptcy/insolvency but I am not totally sure how one could easily mess up the parties in that, unless they were confusing who the client owed money to and were discussing Client owing Party X $10,000 when they meant Client owned Party Y $10,000.

  16. Avril Ludgateaux*

    I hate to say this because I want to believe most anybody can be trained to do anything, especially if they have already trained extensively (assuming attorney in the US, which basically requires law school anymore), but this seems like a fundamental misalignment of a person’s skills and characteristics and the requirements of the job. Typos are one thing – as somebody above suggested, a screenreader can help a whole lot, assuming the person is listening more intently than they’re typing -, but mixing up names and not scrutinizing evidence sufficiently, or worse, not understanding evidence, is the kind of skills gap that really makes me question if Jessie is suited for the job…

    1. AFac*

      I think we’re more understanding of physical reasons a person can’t do a thing than non-physical reasons. People who are less than 5 ft tall generally aren’t likely to be professional NBA players in today’s NBA, and for the most part, we don’t consider that unfair or unexpected.

      But I think, based on my own history, that there are just some topics and skills that my brain just doesn’t understand, no matter how hard I try. And there are some concepts that just seem so easy to grasp for me that I have actively remind myself that they’re not easy for everyone.

    2. Allonge*

      For me it’s also: it’s nice indeed to think that anyone can do anything, but why go for a profession where you need to fight the most against your own brain / body?

      It would be a major issue for Jessie to change careers now, I get it – student lloans, etc. But is it really better to spend a whole work-lifetime being mediocre-at-best due to an initial error of picking professions?

      1. I should really pick a name*

        It’s possible the she could stay in law, but move to a different area where she’s not doing things like evidence review.

    3. Bee*

      Oh, I really disagree with this premise – I’ve seen this up close because my dad & sister are mechanical engineers, and their brains just function in a different way from mine. My dad talks through problems and makes leaps & connections I can’t comprehend. He’s *interested* in questions I cannot imagine ever asking (like I mentioned having to run the sink for a minute before the water got warm and he started calculating – in his head! – how long that should take based on how long the pipe to the water heater was). I was great at math until I hit AP Calculus, and then I simply couldn’t wrap my head around the concepts no matter how I studied. I could force-learn enough to pass the class, but I would not have been good at that job and the struggle to be passable every single day would have been miserable. People have different strengths! That’s a *feature* of humanity, not a bug!

    1. Legal Beagle*

      You can actually do well in law school and pass the bar without having great attention to detail! A ton of law school exams are open-book and many people learn “the law” for the bar in a 2-month cram session (literally, these are expensive courses specifically designed to teach you how to pass the bar basically from scratch). Unfortunately, a firm job may be the first that a new lawyer learns he or she is not best suited for the actual practice of law.

    2. Jen*

      Jessie is doing one small part of what they go over in law school, but it illustrates an issue that I’ve always had, which is that law school doesn’t do the best job of preparing us for the real world of practicing. It’s possible she got dinged by her professors for attention to detail, but she wouldn’t have gotten enough experience handing in work product to the same person for them to pick up on it as a pattern. Even if she wrote a mock legal document for a class, there was possibly one test worth 50% of her grade, quizzes at 25%, and 1-3 papers worth the final 25% or so. The reality is that the most feedback she could ever expect from one professor would be something like “…and you switched the names of the parties, minus one point” or “Unsupported argument, minus five points.”

      1. Anon For This*

        Honestly, in most of my classes the grades were decided only by a final exam or paper. Since most curves (at least in my era) centered around a B/B+, if she was getting B+s I doubt she would have even thought to ask her professors what she did wrong because essentially she did pretty much the same or better than her classmates. Plus, if it was required area of law she wasn’t interested in practicing, there would be no benefit to her better understanding the subject matter anyway. The only place I got this kind of feedback was in my one legal writing course.

    3. Anon For This*

      I think there are 2 key things to consider here:

      1. Law schools grade on a curve usually around a B+ average. Since the 1L courses are giant lectures, it means something like 75% of a 100 person class ends up getting a B+/B. The difference in comprehension of the material between the highest B+ and the lowest B is likely significant, despite seeming fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. So someone who graduates with a B average could absolutely have been in the bottom 3rd of every.single.course OR really struggled with their first semester courses but were otherwise in the top 1/3 in every other course.

      2. Just like everyone who passes their drivers test is not a great (or even very good) driver, not everyone who passes the bar will be a great or even very good lawyer. And, while someone who always drives in cities and towns may be great at parallel parking, someone who never has an occasion to because they live in a very rural area may not be good at all. And yet both drivers passed a driving test where they had to demonstrate this skill.

      Therefore, it is very easy to graduate law school and pass the bar and not be all that good at certain things that any reasonable person would say are required for the successful practice of law.

  17. Check and Check*

    Would a somewhat standard checklist of what to look for help? Have a copy of it with every document. My spouse does quality review for legal-type documents and there are specific things that need to be checked every single time.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yep, I like checklists and build and use them all the time.

      The caveat is that the quality of your work depends on the quality of your checklist.

  18. ecnaseener*

    Oof. To spend all that time and money to become a lawyer, when it turns out you can’t hack one of the most important parts of the job.

    The one thing I would want to try is better scaffolding — “try to pay attention” and “do a final review” aren’t working, but maybe something more structured like a worksheet where she writes out the main points the client is making and exactly what in the evidence supports each point. It wouldn’t help if her comprehension is truly awful, because she’d just write down wrong things, but worth a try to see if it’s mainly an issue with attention to detail.

    It’s fairly similar to what LW said in the update, that Jessie would “mark any facts that didn’t have documents backing them up in her work” — the difference being I think she should mark down the ones that are backed up to make sure she checks them all.

  19. Echo*

    I’m not as familiar with the legal field, but given how important attention to detail is, and how many times you’ve brought this up, would it make sense to evaluate whether she is suited to the role?

  20. Velawciraptor*

    I’ve taught this baby lawyer before. There are some things that can help, but there’s a point where more coaching isn’t going to catch.

    To the extent additional coaching might help, I’ve found it helpful to go back to basics. For everything she touches, she needs to be asking herself:
    * What are the basic elements of our claim/our defense?
    * What are the basic elements of opposing party’s claim/defense?
    * For every piece of evidence you review, does the contents make any element more or less likely to have happened? How?
    * For every piece of your client’s evidence, does the contents support what your client has told you? How?
    * Are there elements that haven’t been addressed by any piece of evidence? Where would we expect to find that information? Why haven’t we found it? Where else can we look?

    Essentially, tell them to treat this like a law school exam/bar question and do the nitty gritty issue spotting. Sometimes that can help.

    I’ve even been known to create checklists, but those are most helpful when you know the person has the capacity to see the checklist as a starting point, not the entire universe of the case.

    This is also the sort of thing where the intangibles of working in the office (rather than remotely) come into play. Being able to see how someone else works by shadowing them for a little while may not generate billable time, but it can help you to see what you wouldn’t think to ask about.

    Good luck!

    1. DanniellaBee*

      This is a lovely coaching comment grounded in real legal experience! Thank you for sharing this. It is refreshing to see a comment like this that can truly help LW and junior attorney.

    2. Ben*

      This is an excellent response. The issue with typos is one thing, and seems to require that Jessie simply bears down and pays better attention. But failing to identify evidentiary problems can point to a more fundamental lack of understanding of what is important to a case or claim, and that can be fixed with coaching and training.

  21. RagingADHD*

    I would not put typos anywhere near the same category as failing to consider alternate interpretations of evidence, or failing to see logical flaws that undermine your case.

    One is a lack of attention to detail. The other is a lack of critical thinking. They are not the same at all.

    Can Jessie perceive the issue when it is pointed out to her? Does she continue to assume that the client’s interpretation is correct whenever she gets a new case?

    That’s not a matter of final read-through. That’s something she should be actively looking for on intake, and re-assessing as evidence is gathered.

    If she isn’t already working on developing this skill after having it pointed out, she may be in the wrong area of law.

  22. badger*

    From LW’s update, this person is in Australia, not the US, and the education and credentialing are very different.

    That said: others have commented, and I agree, that attention to detail and the evidence analysis issues are two different things. For the latter, I am an attorney in the US and I used to litigate (got burned out, total shift to something different). I currently have an intern and am working with her on the art of the client interview and knowing what questions to ask, and how to figure out what you need to know that they haven’t told you. When to take things at face value and when to remember that there is more than one side to every story and not assume that everything you are hearing is true. From LW’s update, it appears this is one of the things they worked on with Jessie – starting from an assumption that the client is lying and working backward from there. I don’t love starting from that assumption, but in litigation, the other side will, so you need to too. Some of this just takes practice. We want to believe clients. We don’t want to have to assume they’re lying, and some of *that* just takes growing up and getting burned a time or two.

    It is also possible that Jessie didn’t have much direct interaction with the client at all, and if you’re starting from what someone else has given you to work with, it is much more difficult. One might assume that whoever assigns the project did the vetting, but they might also have just turned over a box of stuff without a lot of direction. So I think you have to look at what is in the junior attorney’s control and what isn’t, and go from there.

    The attention to detail thing – yeah, these specific things are issues but there are strategies. I’m more big picture than detail too so I work with other people to make sure I’m not missing anything. For career success as a lawyer, the evidence piece is the bigger problem.

    1. badger*

      also fwiw: in legal research/writing my intern has done for me, her writing is inconsistent at times – she struggles a lot with verb tenses and things like that. But her legal analysis is excellent. That matters. Writing can be fixed. It’s harder to fix poor legal analysis.

      There are many different aspects to being a lawyer and many different types of skillsets. My BFF is a criminal defense attorney. She doesn’t have to do much writing and she’ll be the first to say legal writing is not her strong point. But she’s great in court. So she’s a great trial attorney and would be a terrible appellate attorney. I’m the other way around. So this particular job might not be for Jessie, but that doesn’t make her a bad lawyer.

      1. Sunshine's Eschatology*

        This is very insightful! There’s really nothing like on the job teaching by example and just the accumulation of real-world situations that build these skills. We’ve made checklists and things for client interviews, and they are helpful, but some of it is just getting that practice. I think so much of the practice of law is like that, and it can be taught. Writing has always been my strong suit, but even there, I had to learn a lot of refining and revising skills specific to law.

        Also a great point about different kinds of lawyers! I work for a very small firm that focuses on a couple practice areas, and it’s fascinating to co-counsel with other firms that do other work. There are so many different skills that I don’t have, either by inclination or training, and I am in awe. And then there are times when something seems really basic to me, but our co-counsel flounders. I hope Jessie can develop these skills and find a place for herself.

  23. Lily Potter*

    Oh boy. Jessie seems unprepared for the career she’s spent years pursuing. It would have been a kindness if one of her law professors had taken her aside and told her that before she spent who-knows how much money and time completing law school and the bar. And if she gets fired from this firm, it’s going to be an uphill battle to find another firm willing to hire her as a lawyer. I hope that someone in authority in that office explains to her the seriousness of her on-going sloppiness.

  24. Sunshine's Eschatology*

    When I was clerking for a federal judge, this was a recurring issue particularly during my first six or so months. A big part of the issue was just not really knowing what details to focus on, what parts of boilerplate I should or should not change, etc. For those saying that it’s hard to understand how Jessie passed law school and the bar… it’s really not! The day to day practice of law is just so much different, so much more nitpicky than law school or the bar. Law school teaches a range of subject matter and ways of approaching problems but much less day to day more mundane (but important!) skills. Fortunately, three years with two very detail-oriented judges gave me a lot of training and experience! I still benefit from a second set of eyes on my drafts, but who doesn’t?

    Now that I’m working with more junior folks, I see how frustrating this can be (and how frustrating I’m sure it was with me!) I can make specific changes and have broader discussions, but it can take awhile to see changes with even the most dedicated learners. Especially based on the update, I do think some improvements are possible. Jessie may never be a stellar lawyer, but maybe she will find some processes that work for her and eventually find a role that plays more to her strengths.

  25. CTT*

    It’s sort of charming reading this thread and seeing how many people think law school teaches day-to-day skills. I love your idea of law school! I wish that were the reality! I am a very happy BigLaw attorney who also liked law school but my practice versus those three years of reading state supreme court decisions about procedural details are like two totally separate worlds. Actual training happens at the job, and you have to hope that you’re working with someone who has the right skills and they haven’t atrophied during school.

  26. Delta Delta*

    As an attorney and law school instructor, I see 2 separate problems here: attention to detail and simply not understanding the job.

    Details/typos – these happen, which is why proofreading is necessary. How many times have I seen a pleading that has the word “herby” instead of the word “hereby”? They’re both legit words; only one of them is correct here. This means either Jessie needs to learn to slow down or proofread better or both.

    Not understanding – this is harder. It’s very possible she had no training in law school about how to use evidence. (This is sadly, all too common) And it might be that either she needs some intensive coaching on how this works, or maybe she needs a different kind of job. Both are possibly okay – there are plenty of lawyers who do work other than litigation and who just don’t necessarily function the same way litigators do with evidence. That’s not to say Jessie needs to be fired right away, but if it becomes clear that this simply isn’t her skill set, maybe she’d be more successful at a different kind of job.

    1. BellyButton*

      I was wondering if she doesn’t know how, why, or what is being used. Sometimes people need to understand the forest to see the trees.

    2. I AM a Lawyer*

      This is a good point. If she can’t hack litigation (lord knows, I couldn’t!), that doesn’t mean she can’t be a lawyer.

  27. Mill Miker*

    I’m wondering if there’s maybe too many layers of attention to detail all going on at the same time, without knowing much about legal documents, I’m imaging you have to watch for the details of at least:

    – Spelling and grammar
    – Document form/format
    – accuracy of transcription from other sources (quotes, etc)
    – Internal consistency of the document
    – Consistency with information from other documents and the details of the case

    I know personally, if I tried to keep track of all of that at the same time, I’d drop the ball across the board. I’d have to make myself take multiple passes where I try to focus on one type of problem at a time.

    1. Allonge*

      I am sure there are writing jobs when you need to do all this at the same time, but they have to be pretty rare. For most writing, you can start with the content, check sources, consistency in an editing round or two and then still proofread separately (sometimes by someone else).

      Now in some cases there is not a lot of time to get all this done. But doing it fast is not the same as doing it all at once.

  28. Samwise*

    A fair number of commenters are saying, you can’t teach comprehension or critical thinking.

    Actually, you can.

    You can’t teach these *quickly*, and it takes a lot of work for the student (a fair amount for the instructor too).

    “Critical thinking” isn’t one thing. There are a number of skills and abilities that comprise “critical thinking”, and they can be learned and practiced and improved on. I read the OP’s update and that’s just what OP did with Jessie — identified a key component of prepping a case that requires critical thinking: checking your assumptions, determining what kind of evidence is required, checking to see if the evidence offered meets the requirements. OP laid out for Jessie “here are the (critical thinking) pieces you need to address every time you prepare a case”, here’s how I go about these pieces, now you try, now I’ll check your work, we’ll discuss where you succeeded and where you didn’t, what do you Jessie think are next steps? Repeat, repeat.

    And you can do the same thing with other components of critical thinking.

    This is the process I used when teaching freshman writing, first year seminar, and undergrad literature courses. (I was unusually and exceptionally well trained in teaching like this while in grad school, and had an excellent supervisor in my first full time teaching job) I guarantee you, almost every student improved in their critical thinking skills. I”m a very good teacher, but I;m not a magician — the students learned these skills because I made them an integral part of every course, we discussed them explicitly, they practiced a lot, I evaluated their work and had them revise and re-try. A lot.

    Now, some people may not be able to learn these skills, or not learn them well. (Some learning differences or cognitive problems, executive functioning difficulties would make it harder.) I’d say that someone who had a law degree and passed the bar probably has the aptitude, and if they have the motivation and a willing teacher, they can learn them well enough to be competent at them.

    1. CrazyJob*

      I feel much better hearing this because I often hear that if someone doesn’t know X ,they might as well just hang it up.

  29. VaguelySpecific*

    On one hand, being on the receiving end of poorly checked documentation is one of my biggest pet peeves. I also work in document control and have to recognize that not everyone is as picky as I am but there are times when it’s very important, especially when the intent is for some outside party to be able to understand what you wrote.

    All that being said, I CANNOT proof read things effectively on a computer screen. I need to have it printed out in front of me and have a pen handy to make notes. It’s just how I work. I saw someone else recommended a screen reader which is another good idea.

    But also, some people just aren’t suited for detailed work, and that might be the case here.

  30. Sal*

    Mildly confused by the other people saying missing the import of contradictory evidence is normal for first-year associates. This is the application of law to facts–the key letter in IRAC, the most important thing they teach you in law school. Am also slightly curious about what areas of law one could work in where this isn’t the key skill.

    1. Anon For This*

      I think we are saying it is hard without knowing exactly what fact she is “missing.”

      If the situation is that she is writing something in a motion to the extent of “Client visited the hospital on October 3rd (see bill in Exhibit A) and subsequently had to cancel her non-refundable vacation scheduled for October 10th-15th (Exhibit B)”, then there are many possible “mistakes”

      1. If there are 5 hospital bills in Exhibit A but not one for the October 3rd visit, then that is an attention to detail problem and can be solved by Jessie slowing down and confirming she has all the documentation. Also, if Exhibit A is 90 pages long, it is understandable she may miss this.

      2. If the invoice in Exhibit B for the vacation says that, rather than being a non-refundable trip in October, it was a completely refundable trip in late November, now we have BOTH a not paying attention to details (i.e., not seeing the dates and descriptions weren’t the same between the exhibit and the motion) and a lack of critical thinking (if you are arguing for damages, the fact that the trip is refundable matters, as does the fact it was scheduled a month later than claimed in the motion). This is a much bigger problem because it is not so much that she is “missing” the issue, it is that even on a quick skim of the invoice, a red flag should go up on this sort of inconsistency.

  31. CLC*

    The typo issue can be fixed. I know it’s a bigger deal for lawyers, but as Allison and others have pointed out, there are many hacks she can try for catching these mistakes. Believe me when I say that almost every person with ADHD has trouble with this sort of thing–you pay close attention but somehow it still slips by. Many of us have found ways to at least minimize it. She may or may not be ADHD, but it might help her to read some of the online resources geared toward ADHD and executive function issues to help find ways to get better.

    On the evidence thing–my question to the LW would be: “how junior is this person, and do you have a lot of experience working with people with her level of experience?” I’m just wondering if this is something that gets better with practice and coaching. If she’s just out of school she might just not be used to thinking in this way and just needs to build the muscle memory in her brain.

    It just stinks because this person invested in three years of law school and presumably taking the bar. It would be awful if she just isn’t “cut out” to be a lawyer.

  32. Michelle Smith*

    Lawyer here! Attention to detail is critical, essential, mandatory if you’re going to avoid malpractice. That doesn’t mean this person can’t be successful, but they may not be successful working in a firm or agency involving court filings, contracts, etc. I think if you look up Alex Su, you’ll find some great information from a brilliant person who got fired from his law firm job and ultimately found a thriving career in legal tech and social media. I think you’ll get some insight into the mind of someone who was (1) really successful in law school but (2) has trouble seeing the trees for the forest and (3) found that jobs requiring attention to detail were not a good fit. She may be brilliant and her talents just need to be shifted into a different area than what you’re looking for in this position. Here’s one of his articles on the topic:

  33. Turanga Leela*

    Oh man. This is really bad. To be fair, a lot of lawyers have this problem–I’m regularly surprised by how many lawyers misstate what their evidence shows. But it will hold her back and make her bad at her job. Being able to evaluate the strength of a case is an absolutely key skill, and there’s no way around it.

  34. Tuesday*

    Just sharing a proofreading tip for anyone who has similar struggles: I read my professional documents over backwards, either sentence by sentence or word by word. It’s not perfect, but it does disrupt the “flow” state I sometimes fall into when reading back over things I wrote. Reading the sentences out of order and checking the words one by one that way helps!

  35. Emily*

    If working in the legal field teaches you anything, it’s that just because some passed law school and passed the bar, it does not mean that they are suited to be a lawyer. Even before reading Alison’s response, my first thought was, I don’t think this person can be kept in this role. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m currently working in the legal field, and the mistakes this person is making are huge. I do agree with Alison’s advice that OP should be more direct with this junior attorney, if OP has not been already. However, having good attention to detail is pretty vital for working in the legal field. Some attorneys can get away with it if they have paralegals/legal assistants/legal secretaries who are working with them and can catch that kind of stuff, but if something is done wrong that negatively affects the client’s case, it will be the attorney getting hit with the bar complaint.

  36. Beenthere*

    Hi. I have sat down and been talked to about my attention to detail more than once by a previous manager, due to a pattern of oversights and assumptions. It was a perfect storm of (1) my adhd: (2) having worked in previous companies where teams were accountable for their work and my job was not to scrutinize/critically assess every result before starting my work – there was an assumption that the work done was correct and didn’t need additional verification at every step; and (3) hours and demands that even the stronger performer would be likely to make mistakes. We’re talking 16 hour days, 6-7 days a week, for 4 months straight. I took the feedback to heart, created systems to check and double check and not leave anything to chance. I improved, was promoted, and am proud of my performance. I quietly managed my adhd with different medication, but even with that, there’s no chance of high performance without adequate rest, eating when hungry (not after working for 10 hours first before having a chance to pause), and proper systems and support. I remember making silly errors while speaking with my manager and her looking concerned. She asked what would help me sustain my attention to detail, and I explained not having these critical decision making meetings at 8pm after starting work at 6am. Needless to say, it hit me, that no one was set up for success and that pace was unrealistic and unsustainable.

  37. Coverage Associate*

    The OP is from Australia, where legal education is a bit different than in the United States.

    Speaking as a lawyer in the United States, I do wonder about areas of law where it’s all about relying on what your client says as better suited for this lawyer. Someone above mentioned criminal defense. I wonder about immigration. Definitely not coverage! I have work contrasting what the client said in 2019 v 2023, let alone contrasting that with opposing evidence!

    1. londonedit*

      They’re still a lawyer and they’ve still been through the education and training requirements to become a lawyer in Australia.

  38. Pink Candyfloss*

    This person is a bad fit. Do NOT cover for them. Escalate appropriately to someone in a higher position to CYA and consider whether she constitutes enough of a tangible risk to your practice (it really sounds like she already has been!) to be terminated.

  39. MerciMe*

    So, a) this sounds a ton like dyslexia, so I highly recommend looking into that. But also, b) there are teachable skills here. I actually recommend looking across to auditing/assurance practices or if you have access to a fact-checking editor, they may also have good insights – speaking as a 15 year compliance professional who is also in law school (Student! Not an attorney!), it really is helpful to have a methodology for approaching document review. Like, literally a checklist (thank you, Atul Gawande) that includes things like “run spellcheck,” “foot and cross-foot your number tables”, “have an experienced employee – lawyer or paralegal, but not another first-year attorney – proofread your final draft,” but also tactics like:
    – “save a copy and use replace-all on [plaintiff/defendant’s name] with the word “plaintiff” or “defendant,” then read through critically and ask yourself if 1) it still makes sense,” and 2) does anyone’sname show up that should have been replaced because that’sprobably a typo.” Guess you could do the same for moveant and other rule-based roles.
    – In the same “proofing copy,” highlight Every. Single. Fact. and add a footnote with your source and a note as to source credibility.” (Actually, that one is better if you build as you go then clear out your footnotes in your submittal copy, or document in a separate table, but whatev, do what works. I like being able to skim for un-footnoted highlights.)

    Look, the thing is though, people often don’t do this stuff methodically because they feel like they don’t have time. So there also needs to be a conversation about workload expectations. Good, cheap, fast, right? Fast is set by the courts, so good and cheap are what you can trade off. A shiny new lawyer who is doing all this for the first time will take longer to do the work than an experienced pro who already has the templates, habits, routines, and experience to support this. But if they – or their manager – are comparing their output to senior staff, absolutely they will feel that need to go faster, assume their resources are locked at just-themself, and compromise on quality to meet deadlines because what other choice do they have? And of course, that’s a trap, because once you start messing up, you have to spend more time un-messing things, which takes from other tasks you need to work on, which means even less time and more urgency, and…. *insert image of frazzled, overwhelmed & despairing employee here*

    1. Observer*

      this sounds a ton like dyslexia, so I highly recommend looking into that

      That is not on the OP – in fact it would be totally inappropriate of the OP to go there. It’s something that Jessie herself needs to think about.

      As for the rest, it’s pretty clear from the OP’s initial letter and follow up that workload was not the issue.

      1. MerciMe*

        I don’t think the question of pressure facing deadlines is as clear as you do, especially as I specifically include self-imposed pressure to overperform, which is a thing I notice younger/less experienced employees struggle with all the time. Slowing down to be methodical requires the skill of recognizing what it is reasonable to expect from ourselves, not just from our subordinates.

        And OP is in a mentoring role. As someone who is myself wildly neurodivergent, that is exactly the role in which I want people to recommend things like “Hey, you may already have considered this, so ignore me if it isn’t helpful, but a lot of these mistakes feel like the kind of things folx with dyslexia or other neurodivergence sometimes struggle with. It might be worth looking into whether there are mental tools or reasonable accommodations that could be helpful to you, whether or not you de ide to seek formal diagnosis.”

  40. Moonlight*

    I saw it through out the comments a bit already but OOF! to invest all that time in becoming a lawyer (a massive time commitment, huge financial expense!) only to struggle with pretty fundamental parts of the job? That’s brutal. I, like other commenters, am wondering how she got through law school if this issue exists. It sounds like there’s some kind of litigation law going on here? Maybe she’s just in the wrong kind of law and would be better off as internal counsel for a corporation or doing real estate law or something? I don’t know if you can just get out of litigation as a lawyer, but surely there’s fields that are less about reviewing evidence and more about say, settling disputes from the sale of a home or something?

    Obviously this isn’t for OP to solve; but if it comes to the point of having to fire her (presumably this already happened, or the lawyer improved? as it’s an old letter), I am wondering if it might be a kindness to mention doing a different type of law? You could totally argue that that’s not OP’s job, and it’s not, but OP seems to care about their employee.

    I had a similar crisis where I went to school for a graduate degree and got licensed only to have to reconcile that major parts of the job were not for me (think something in health care or law where, much like the lawyer OP is dealing with I just wasn’t good at something that was sort of a side piece to the job). I took my education and went a slightly different route (think being a sociologist/statistician/researcher versus being a social worker).

  41. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    This is probably just my project management brain kicking in. Is there any opportunity to make templates for things like evaluating evidence that the reviewers need to fill in? Even something basic like a table that has columns for the client’s claims, the evidence supporting, the evidence undermining the claim, etc. It’d force the evaluator to think critically about the claims and evidence. It’d also be a good tool to discuss what the evaluator sees in the evidence; basically, it’s ideally not just busywork.

    Similarly, are there any checklists that could be put into place for processes where it’s important that nothing gets missed?

    I’m pretty good at avoiding typos, but am not perfect, and I leave the squiggly lines on in Word to catch mistakes.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      The story of my top suggestion is from a class in my undergrad. Our major assignment was to critique the approach of one theorist as if we were a different theorist. Like what would B.F. Skinner say about Freud. To help us, the prof gave a template to organize our thoughts. To start, we had to describe the key principles of both theorists. From there, we could start looking at where they agreed (e.g., substantial role of the unconscious in behaviour) and where they disagreed. It gave us the building blocks to figure out our angle.

  42. Legal Beagle*

    Also, how much time is LW spending coaching/reviewing/redoing the junior’s work? If I’m billing 10+ hour days (or, let’s be real, 15 hour days sometimes) and then spending untold hours handholding another lawyer, I’d burn out or get questioned for running up the bills.

    It’s terrible to think about firing someone who is perfectly nice and trying their best, but sometimes people just are fundamentally unsuited for the jobs they picked and a good manager balances the needs of the individual, the needs of the client that is paying the bills, and the needs of the other employees who are picking up the slack/taking on more work.

    1. Kotow*

      Absolutely, and it’s why I personally won’t hire someone at this point who has been licensed for less than 3 years. The issues described sound *very* much like “new attorney” issues because I definitely did the same thing in the first 3 years. They just need a lot of direct training and many (most?) attorneys simply aren’t able to provide it. Not only does law school not teach you how to interpret evidence, it definitely doesn’t teach you how to supervise! I think this letter is a few years old though and in the last few years I do get the impression that law schools are focusing a lot more on skills requirements–which means that newly licensed attorneys are much more capable of functioning independently than they were in the past.

  43. Kat*

    There are plenty of Jessies out there who can do the job properly. Hire one. This level of mistakes are not sustainable in the law profession. It’s up to her to make sure her work is correct.

  44. Nodramalama*

    I’m in the law and this is one of the reasons why nobody I know works by themselves. Everyone’s work gets reviewed by someone else. Both because you want someone picking up mistakes and so you can make sure your advice and work is doing what it needs to do. If her work is leading to mismanagement of cases at the very least she needs someone else looking at her stuff

  45. Kotow*

    Attorney who does a lot of family law litigation. I made a lot of these same mistakes early on and now operate my own practice. There are two separate issues:

    1. Typos: **Numerous** attorneys even those who are extremely skilled and respected do this. They fall into the trap of “pull up the last one” and just work off of an old pleading. Having a good forms directory where you have to type in parties’ names instead of doing “Find/Replace” will help. Otherwise, doing an additional read-over to make sure she catches all of those issues will help. In fact, tell her right at the beginning “if you are using a template from another matter and you usually look over it twice, look it over three times.”

    2. Evidence: if she’s a new attorney, and it sounds like she’s in the first 3 years of practice, she likely doesn’t understand how to interpret evidence. Does she actually understand the facts of the case, what the cause of action is, what the issues are that need to be decided? The way I would go through this with an associate in say a custody matter is something like this:

    – Who are the parties? Is our client the one asking for custody?
    – What type of proceeding is this?
    – What does the decision-maker need to see?
    – What statutory requirements do we have to establish?
    – How does this piece of evidence support the custody factors supporting our request?
    – What is the overall “theme” of our case (why is shared custody in the child’s best interest)?

    When you’ve been litigating for years, this process happens automatically. But if it’s a new attorney, you truly do need to break it down that specifically. Law school teaches you the Rules of Evidence. It doesn’t teach you how to gather and interpret evidence. That’s something you only learn by doing it over and over again. Another commenter said to treat cases like a class in law school and that’s the perfect way to describe it. Newly licensed attorneys really do need that much direct training and supervision at the beginning.

  46. BeeKeen*

    The attorneys I used to work with set up a peer review for all their briefs – even the partners. There were 4 pairs of attorneys and they switched partners every month. This seemed to work out very well. It’s completely nonconfrontational and you get a second pair of eyes on your work before it goes anywhere.

  47. Rainer Maria von Trapp*

    She’s *tried* to give it a final review but it hasn’t worked? It sounds like it’s time to pull a Yoda here. There is no “try” anymore — do or do not. This is a courtroom, not a lemonade stand. It sounds like Jessie needs to make herself a chart organizer that I give my 7th graders for their argument essays. Match the evidence to the claim and cross-reference it to make sure it makes sense.

  48. raida*

    I don’t know how someone got all the way through a law degree without the attention to detail and conscientiousness that you need in this role! Which could mean she’s not sufficiently trained – what’s the onboarding process?

    I’d say you need to rotate through people doing final reviews of each others’ work – you could find plenty of tiny things overall – it’ll find issues before court. And then, if no matter what her work is not reliable, she isn’t suited to the role.

    I would incorporate into this review process some training from experienced staff as to how they determine evidence, to start to build the background she’ll need to draw from in the future.

  49. wear floral every day*

    I am a medical editor so I both proofread and synthesize data. Everyone makes mistakes; however, a good professional will set up processes to catch these mistakes (typos, wrong names, etc) before sending the material to their client. I have my own lists and processes to double- or triple-check important points in the documents. I have had colleagues showing insufficient attention to detail and an inability to set and/or follow preventive processes for various reasons. After many months of discussions and training and re-training, I realized that this was unfair to our clients for getting a bad deal out of our business. Also unfair to anyone that took up the extra work of correcting and catching errors in these colleagues’ work product. And, finally, unfair to these people that did not get harsh yet honest feedback from their manager. They probably would have thrived in another profession. Unfortunately, my bosses did not see it this way so I had to quit (for this and other relevant reasons).

Comments are closed.