Placing blame is easy.
Somebody else wrote that brief, checked the facts, argued the motion, forgot the comma, forgot the appendices, forgot the filing.
And, these days, clients are eager to blame the lawyers when things go awry.
Take, for instance, the recent financial faux-pas at Hewlett-Packard Co. (H-P). This week the company claimed it had been duped into overpaying for one of its largest acquisitions.
H-P acquired a U.K. software maker for $11.1 billion. H-P claims this amounts to approximately $8.8 billion more than the company’s true value, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Law Blog.
So who is to blame?
First, the accountants. Financial representatives at Autonomy—the software maker—are on the chopping block.
H-P wrote in a statement, “HP is extremely disappointed to find that some former members of Autonomy’s management team used accounting improprieties, misrepresentations and disclosure failures to inflate the underlying financial metrics of the company, prior to Autonomy’s acquisition by HP.”
Third-party accounting auditors, Deloitte UK and KPMG, are second in the blame game. After H-P hired these firms, many are wondering, why didn’t the companies uncover any irregularities?
Finally, the lawyers are being questioned. The WSJ asks, “Should they have unearthed the alleged problems at Autonomy during their due diligence on the deal?”
Although lawyers are not trained accountants, did these law firms do too little to advise H-P?
With the flip of coin, lawyers are suddenly being blamed for doing too much.
Today, the WSJ reports that lawyers are potentially responsible for obesity and risk-aversion in our youngest generations.
“Some child-development experts and parents say decades of dumbed-down playgrounds, fueled by fears of litigation, concerns about injury and worrywart helicopter parents, have led to cookie-cutter equipment that offers little thrill,” states a report in the Wall Street Journal (via Above The Law).
“The result, they say, is that children are less compelled to play outside, potentially stunting emotional and physical development and exacerbating a nationwide epidemic of childhood obesity.”
First, lawyers are inattentive. Now, they’re overly so.
“Some psychologists suggest that not exposing children to risk can result in increases in anxiety and other phobias. Children who never climb trees, for example, are more likely to develop a fear of heights, according to a study in Norway.”
Apparently, your child’s fear of heights comes from playing on overly safe schoolyards and overly litigious lawyers. You should sue.
Once again, placing blame is easy. At least, it’s easy when you lose your common sense.
Sometimes placing blame—in the world of torts—is necessary. But, on a micro-level, within the law office, accepting responsibility is better.
When individuals accept responsibility for their actions, a plan for reparation can be made more quickly and efficiently. If there’s a problem with a filing, memo, or client matter, it’s best to address the situation immediately and honestly.
With this in mind, for their part, law firms should remember to be lenient and reward open communication.
Forgiveness will not encourage mistake making—that’s just a fact of life. It will, on the other hand, keep your firm from being sidetracked by the blame game instead of strategies for recovery.
When disaster strikes—a merger or monkey bars gone wrong—stop worrying about who is to blame and start planning what to do now.