My Biggest Mistake: Paul Rhodes

THERE was a day in September 1978, when I thought that my greatest mistake was deciding to change my career and take up the law. The mistake I made that day was one that taught me a great deal.

I was a 36-year-old articled clerk at Dibb Lupton, having just completed the course for the Law Society Part II examinations, my first exams for 15 years. My first spell was in commercial property conveyancing. In those days the exam course gave you no practical understanding of what work was like in a solicitors' office. It taught some law, but nothing of practice and procedure.

On my first completion Dibb Lupton was acting for the purchaser. I was given the file and instructions on what I was to collect from the vendor. But first I was sent to the firm's bank to pick up the bank draft for pounds 65,000. I had been given a lecture on bank drafts, and told they were as good as cash. So I put it into my inside pocket.

Then it was off to the offices of a firm of solicitors. I went through my checklist of what I was supposed to pick up, and gave what I was supposed to give, namely the duly executed conveyance - and the bank draft. My hand went to my inside pocket - but no bank draft.

In the past I had faced a howling sales force over commission arrangements and had to explain to an executive committee why my division was behind its profit forecast. But I have never experienced such a feeling of panic as I did when the bank draft was not in my inside pocket.

I went through the file and through every piece of clothing I was wearing - but still no bank draft. The solicitor on the other side was sympathetic, but said, of course, that completion could not take place - there was no bank draft. He suggested I call my office and explain the situation. I did, and was instructed to return.

In fear, and more particularly embarrassment, I reported in and was told that never in the 240-odd year history of Dibb Lupton had any articled clerk been so stupid as to lose either a bag of sovereigns or a bank draft. I took it like a man, though I felt like a mouse.

My only concern was, having been told that the draft was as good as money, what was going to happen about the pounds 65,000? On an articled clerk's salary of pounds 3,750 per annum, I was facing penury for the rest of my life.

All, however, was not lost. The draft had been found in the street outside the bank by a passer-by who handed it in at the bank. Contrary to my belief, it was possible to stop payment on a bank draft, and this had been done by the office within one minute of my trembling phone call.

There had been no loss to the firm: everybody enjoyed the incident and the transaction was completed later that day. For me, it was a relief to suffer the indignity of being laughed at, rather than the termination of what I had hoped was the start of a promising legal career.

I did not just learn humility. I also became a champion of electronic banking.

But most importantly, I learned that the law is not just about processing bits of paper; it is about creating and preserving client wealth and providing solutions to problems. As a result of that mistake, I am certain that I became a far better lawyer than I would have been.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Guru Careers: Application Support Analyst / 1st Line Support

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Application Support Analyst / 1st L...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£45K - £55K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a full stack .NET D...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence