A group of young lawyers seated in rows listening to a woman speak from the podium

Stay Calm! Lawyers make mistakes

  • March 13, 2024
  • Nancy Bediako

Perfection was what I believed I needed to be, to become a great lawyer. But I learned that the quest for perfection may be fruitless after attending "Tales from the Courtroom: Mentorship through storytelling". From the panel of experienced litigators consisting of Tom Curry, Gerald Chan and Linda Rothstein and the illuminating stories they shared, I gained important insights on putting things in proper perspective, recovering from mistakes, and following my own path.  

Develop your own style!

Linda Rothstein, Paliare Roland, said unconsciously we want to be like our mentors but we each need to find our own path and style of litigating. As someone who has not practiced, my mentors are fictional or famous lawyers. My vision of the type of lawyer I would be was a great advocate for justice and equality for vulnerable populations through the law, inspired by Michelle Pfeiffer’s character Rita Harrison, a lawyer in I am Sam, and the advocacy from the ARCH Disability Law Centre. I too could make change for others through the law; if she could be great, nothing can stop me from being great. However, Rothstein was saying that as great as mentors are, you have your own journey and style so adopting someone else will be a disservice to yourself.

Get comfortable with losing

This lesson the panel mentioned next made me feel like I ran into a brick wall. As lawyers, we need to get comfortable with losing. WHAT!! How am I going to be a great advocate if I am losing more than I am winning? The panel agreed that how you pivot from a loss is more important than the win. Tom Curry, Lenczner Slaght, mentioned a case where he was surprised that he lost, and the judgment was entered before he could collect his thoughts. He won the motion to set aside the judgment and retry the case. The important lesson he learned was asking for five minutes to collect his thoughts and to the client before the judge enters the judgment. Many things can be learned through a loss so not taking it personally will enable you to see the lesson.

Not all mistakes are deal-breakers

Linda Rothstein said that young lawyers wrongly think that senior lawyers do not make mistakes.  It is important to remember that not every mistake is a deal-breaker, so best to communicate and find a way to rectify it. I bought into this delusion that lawyers are perfect and can get out of any mess that is made. I watched fierce and tenacious lawyers such as Annalise Keating (How To Get Away with Murder) and Alexandra Cabot (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) get out of every issue in an hour-long TV drama and thought of course I could do that too.  Wanting to be perfect or excellent at everything you do is a hard lesson to unlearn. Making mistakes can be the lesson. Linda Rothstein told a story about working with Ian Scott (former Attorney General of Ontario) on a construction lien case in which she put a lien on the wrong parcel of land. She was outside of his office for about 10 minutes pacing because she made this grave error. When she told him about her mistake, he laughed and worked with her to rectify it. In the end, it was not detrimental to the client. She did change the way she reviewed construction liens so she could catch any errors in the future. What I took from her story is that, as much as I want to impress my mentors and leaders, mistakes do happen. The lesson is that how you recover from a mistake can be more valuable in the way you practice.

Look calm

Gerald Chan, Stockwoods LLP, told a story about, right before the judge walked out, when opposing counsel informed him that the case that he relied on had been overturned in the Court of Appeal. Inside he was freaking out, but he could not show it. Anxiety is my best friend, so staying calm is not my strongest suit; even as I was listening to the story I freaked out. All the speakers agreed that you need to look calm even if everything is going wrong, like nothing bad is happening. Body language and non-verbal communication say more than verbal communication, as the jury, the judge and opposing counsel will notice your reactions. Either I must train my face or get Botox! It will be a skill that develops through experience, and each speaker shared stressful cases that taught them about looking calm.


Perfection is not achievable; instead, set a high standard to achieve excellence. There are many lessons that could be learned from experienced lawyers. A mentor offers support to the mentee as they go through experiences that shape the way the mentee comes into their own. In the end, experience is the best teacher, and going through the challenges of legal practice will help you refine your skills, improve and excel.


head-shot photo of author Nancy BediakoNancy Bediako graduated from the University of Liverpool and completed the NCA process. Currently, a licensing candidate and policy analyst working on funding reform for adult developmental services. Accountability and transparency sparked my interest in the law. As the Chair of the OBA's Student Section, advocating for diversity, inclusion and accessible mental health services are key goals for this year.