Becoming an Expert – when it’s NOT a waste of time

So I proposed in a recent article that becoming an expert was a waste of time.  And I was right.  Sort of.  As was astutely pointed out by some people that article was written almost entirely from a perspective of marketing.  That is, that from a legal marketing point of view the perception as an expert was more important than the substance of being that expert.

But there is, as always, another side to the story.

When is Becoming an Expert necessary?

The fact is that being a lawyer is, by necessity, a job where you need to be an expert.  If you go to Court completely unprepared, or try and do a deal in an area that you simply don’t understand properly, then you will be failing your client and probably committing an act of professional misconduct in the process.

After graduation, you have scratched only the surface of legal studies, and you have about a million things (yep – I made that up) still to learn.

So, I guess the point here is that you DO need to become an expert.  But the real questions are:

  1. What do you want to be an expert in; and
  2. How much expertise is enough.

I’d Like to Be an Expert in…… something

Excellent.  Congratulations on your goal, which is both nebulous and unobtainable.

Can I politely suggest, however, that perhaps you might want to drill down your goal into a slightly more achievable one?

Here’s the thing, and in line with the priorities of this site, I’m not necessarily suggesting that you need to be an expert in a particular area of law.

I’m also not suggesting that your goal need to be a gigantic one: something like “I want to be an expert in taxation law” for example, for young lawyers, is likely to be a very difficult goal to achieve in the short term.

Perhaps you can aim to be on a program of constant improvement, with a view to building up expertise in a particular area?

Try this path:

  1. First, set your bigger picture goal;
  2. Next, find some basic small steps that you can implement now which will work towards that goal;
  3. Finally, focus on those steps each at a time, gradually building the knowledge and habits into that process which will allow you to grow, rather than just stretch yourself thin.

How Much of An Expert do I Need to Be?

The answer is: enough to do what you need to do.

Bit of a wobbly answer, right?  But it’s true.

You see, expertise for the sake of it is hardly beneficial.  I mean, I could go and learn every single provision of the Corporations Act and then learn every single case dealing with them (it might take a while) but what benefit would I be offering?

None.  Because my expertise is only useful so far as I am helping people with it.

So I encourage you to pick a goal and individual tasks that are not just plucked from the air, but in fact are useful and beneficial for your career and for your clients.

Do I need to Become an Expert or Not?

Yes and no.

For marketing purposes, it is the perception of expertise which is important.  However, to actually function as a lawyer you need sufficient expertise to diligently perform your duties.

So it’s up to you really.

What do you want to be an expert in?  Let me know in the comments!

Happy lawyering!

  • I’m thinking of becoming an “expert” in healthcare law since it will compliment my current practice area. But I am not sure where to start. I’m also concerned it’s such a broad topic and it will be hard to get a grasp on it. How would you suggest narrowing it down to something more manageable?

    • Hi there IB and thanks for the great question – I think the first question when looking to specialise is always whether you should do it at all. By all means build up your experience in healthcare law and your knowledge, but if you narrow your practice too much too early you may find you miss out on some broader knowledge and experience which can actually help you no matter what area you end up in.

      That said, one way of narrowing down a specialisation is to focus on a particular industry. Perhaps healthcare law from the point of view of a particular client category or participant in the industry might be a good way to start (eg patients, doctors, hospitals, insurance companies)? The more you can understand the particular needs of the target client base the better – and because within healthcare the needs of the different participants vary widely, I would think that starting with a particular sub-set of potential clients might be a good way to start. That doesn’t mean you can’t branch out over time, but just gives you a place to start.

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