Mistakes lawyers make

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O'Grady Research on Lawyers and Mistake-Making Featured in New England Law Review

Tracy Mueller

Cathy O'Grady University of Arizona Law professor and behavioral legal ethics scholarAll lawyers occasionally make mistakes, but is there room in the profession for acknowledging that reality, confronting the mistake and moving forward? And if not, what are the ramifications? Those are some of the questions University of Arizona Law’s Cathy O’Grady, a behavioral legal ethics scholar, explores in her latest research.
 
O’Grady is a professor and associate dean for academic affairs, and her article, “A Behavioral Approach to Attorney Mistake and Apology,” is the keynote article in a forthcoming symposium edition of the New England Law Review.
 
The paper has been praised by Georgetown Law’s Donald Langevoort as “important” and “insightful.” Mitt Regan, also of Georgetown, wrote, “Professor O’Grady provides the most systematic and sophisticated treatment of the topic that has yet to be done.”
 
As part of the article, O’Grady and her two research assistants interviewed 24 attorneys—mostly in Tucson and Phoenix—about mistakes they’ve made in their practice. The attorneys surveyed represent a cross-section of employers: large, medium, and small firms as well as government practice.
 
In addition to analyzing behavioral principles, social psychology, and decision-making, O’Grady’s article is sprinkled with revealing and thought-provoking direct quotations from the attorneys she interviewed.
 
“I should have known better—I don’t like to make any mistakes at all; but in this case, my client’s freedom was on the line,” said a new lawyer describing a mistake made in the second year of practice. “I felt terrible.”
 
O’Grady will present her paper Nov. 10 at New England Law | Boston as part of a panel introducing the law review symposium.