Jennifer Thomas is a bestselling author, psychologist, speaker, consultant & apology critic

An Attorney’s Apology Story

ONE OF THE MASKS WE WEAR—The Rich Value of Apology

There were lots of options I could have taken, but this one was not one I would have ever considered at the time. But I would come to see it was really the best option.  And the teacher of this lesson was the last person I would have imagined.

As a young lawyer, my best client had a claim against a consumer business on a debt guaranteed personally by another young lawyer.  Neither the business nor the lawyer could pay, and despite every reasonable effort to resolve the matter, it was necessary to file suit. I told the lawyer that, regretfully, the suit was coming, and I instructed the sheriff to let the lawyer accept service at the sheriff’s office.  It did not work out that way, despite my best efforts, and the other lawyer was furious.  He said some pretty rough things, none of which was true.  Instead of trying to put myself in his shoes and apologizing for the sheriff’s error, I instead focused on his comments.  Sharp words were exchanged.  Later, the matter was grudgingly concluded.

Years passed.  The lawyer and I had few matters together.  The event was largely forgotten, but there was always “that thing”. I had heard the lawyer had spent some time away from the practice contemplating his next phase.  After he stepped away from a business venture, he returned to the private practice.

Last year, the lawyer and I attended an event for a cause of common interest.  Quite unexpectedly, he approached me and volunteered he had acted poorly years before. He apologized he had said things about me he found out were not true, and he had been too proud at the time to apologize. I apologized, too, for my behavior.  As a lawyer supposedly trained to bleed away emotion and vitriol, I should have looked past the other lawyer’s comments at the time.

In retrospect, I have concluded my wrong was the larger of the two, a wrong compounded by the passage of the years.  I had a clearer sight line on the issue, but I squandered it on a cheap angle: my own pride and anger. In one of life’s shadowy twists, it was the other lawyer who came to possess what I did not: size.

“At the point of apology we strip off a mask and face our limitations. No wonder we hesitate,” said John Kador.  Marshall Goldsmith, a prominent executive coach, says: “I regard apologizing as the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make. It is the centerpiece of my work with executives who want to get better.”

What I’ve learned about life on the way to the courthouse is this:  In virtually every one of life’s disagreements and experiences, there is fault on both sides.  And size, if we work hard at it, will teach us to apologize, and to be first about it.  That’s when we drop one of life’s dark masks and catch the light.


R. Michael Wells, Sr.

Winston-Salem, NC

*Story shared here with Mike’s permission. Do you have an apology story to share?  Please comment below.


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