The need to get everything exactly right has long been identified as a threat to lawyers' mental health, but I haven't seen a better, more succinct explanation of why the legal profession's penchant for perfectionism also stands in the way of advancing toward the best legal future than this post from last week at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, which explains:
The kind of people who proclaim that mistakes are unacceptable even when they recognize mistakes are unavoidable do not really believe they are perfect. Rather, they believe that people like them are not supposed to admit imperfection. This remains one of the biggest impediments to change in our industry. As I try to convince law firms and law departments to engage in structured dialogue, I constantly run into people on both sides of the relationship who are threatened by the idea of an open discussion about doing better. If I concede that we might do better then I am confessing that I've been wrong. We have to get beyond the idea that improvement is an indictment of the past. Our job is not to be perfect. Our job is to do the best we can until we can do better, and then do better.
I think the trick to both better emotional stability and positive change in the profession is sorting out what we can and must get right (the equivalent of the airplane or operating room checklist stuff) -- the deadlines and key contract details, for example -- and what we can experiment with -- a different way of reaching a goal, completing a task, or organizing a project, for example. Knee-jerk perfectionism is a huge energy waster and may be just as much an obstacle to progress as sloppiness and inattention. For tips on how to manage perfectionism, see Tips for Lawyers to Exorcise the Perfectionism Demon.