First Week at the Firm: What to Do When You Embarrass Yourself

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 04, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Welcome to "First Week at the Firm," a new FindLaw feature for beginning associates, focused on helping you navigate the transition into firm life. We hope you'll enjoy this new series and come back regularly for more insider tips.

There's no way around it. You are going to embarrass yourself at work. Whether it's something simple, like forgetting a name, or something more significant, like botching a client meeting, embarrassment is bound to get you sooner or later.

While you may feel like you want to crawl into a hole and die, realize that this too shall pass. In that spirit, here are some things to do when, not if, you embarrass yourself:

Remember, Everyone Else Is an Idiot Too.

While it may feel like it at the time, you're not the only moron at the firm. Embarrassment is a universal human experience. There's the time the Notorious RBG fell asleep at the State of the Union, for example. Or when attorney Steven Lechner, arguing before SCOTUS, got called out for reading from his notes, to which he could respond only with embarrassed silence. If you really want to put your cringe into perspective, listen to this attorney attempt to convince the Seventh Circuit to help him distinguish Supreme Court precedent.

Pull Yourself Together, Then Acknowledge It

Take a deep breath and gather your thoughts. It's cliche, but it's good advice. If you feel your face turn red and your mind go frazzled because you can't get the AV equipment to work during a big presentation, stop, breath and compose yourself.

There's nothing wrong with saying, "Oh, this is embarrassing." It certainly beats ignoring a faux pas, only to be overwhelmed with uncomfortable silence. If you've called someone by the wrong name, forgotten where an office is, or spilled coffee all over a pile of your colleagues paperwork, acknowledge it, with a simple "how embarrassing."

Don't Over Apologize.

Make an offensive joke that didn't land? Apologize, maybe profusely. Call someone by the wrong name? A quick correction and a sorry should do. Get caught with a wardrobe malfunction? Brush it aside.

Over apologizing is a sign that you're still hung up on something after everyone else has moved on. Don't relive an embarrassing movement over and over when the rest of the firm has put it behind them.

Laugh it Off

Don't wait until your next cocktail party to turn it into a humorous anecdote when you can laugh at it in real time. Self-deprecating humor, the "I'm such a moron" kind, will help you turn something that might be annoying or even offensive to others into good-will.

So when you're embarrassing moment comes, and it will, don't freak out. Pull it together and move on. You'll embarrass yourself again in no time.

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