Publish date: 18 December 2020
Jemma Barnard

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop where the presenter (Bruce Williams) spoke with great insight about optimising feedback. Bruce raised an excellent point about getting the most out of making mistakes by recognising the opportunity to grow through receiving that feedback.  

During our schooling and university studies, we are awarded points for the correct answers and are penalised for those that we get wrong. I know that I am not alone when I say that I have sat through many exams worrying about how many questions I needed to get right in order to pass the class.

Whilst I was at university, I remember receiving feedback on a jurisprudence essay where my tutor had very tactfully suggested that I had ‘got hold of the wrong end of the stick’ when discussing Aristotle’s theory of law! And I’m sure that collectively as lawyers, we have all submitted a piece of work to a supervisor which we had thought was top-notch, only to receive an edited version with almost as much red ink as black!

It occurs to me now however, that guilt or feeling a bit foolish are the most unproductive of emotions – they do not motivate us to drive towards growth and the acquisition of knowledge.

Many law graduates and young lawyers who come out of university and dive into their first legal roles, set incredibly high expectations for themselves. Travis has previously written about the need for leaders to support young lawyers, and I believe that good leadership involves sharing knowledge and providing helpful feedback.  Becoming an expert in any profession takes years, lots of feedback and multiple learning curves. At the very same time, mindset is key and understanding that receiving feedback from someone with experience that is more than your own is always an opportunity to tune our ever-evolving skillset.

There is a body of research out of the University of California which reveals that students who make an unsuccessful attempt at a question before receiving the answer, remember the information better than if they had simply studied that information.[1] So by getting the answer wrong and then having the opportunity to receive feedback from a supportive leader, are we not better for having made the error?

With all of that in mind, graduates and young lawyers shouldn’t be afraid of not knowing the answer or of getting something “wrong”. Our learning journeys do not end once we have thrown our mortarboards in the air. Keep your mind open and treat every piece of feedback as an opportunity to develop your knowledge and to advance your skills.

After all, other than by making mistakes, how else are we to identify what we don’t yet know?

I recently had a chat with Damon Laffin who hosts The Young Lawyer Podcast and we discussed this idea of learning, growing and my entry into law.

Interview with Jemma Barnard
The Young Lawyer
Listen on Apple Podcasts

[1] Nate Kornell, Matthew Hays and Robert Bjork at U.C.L.A.  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition

Jemma Barnard
Jemma Barnard
Senior Associate
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