With few exceptions, lawyers want to be experts (so much they are terrified of being seen as incompetent). For that reason, becoming an expert is pretty high on the priority list, whether it be at property law, litigation, taxation, personal injuries, or whatever. But that goal is only half the picture in a legal marketing sense. Today we’re going to look at why.
Becoming an Expert is a Nice, but Useless, Goal
Of course lawyers want to be experts in their fields. I understand. It makes us feel more confident, useful, and generally helps with our charge out rates and pay scale.
However, for most rainmaking and legal marketing intents, expertise is dramatically over-rated.
In fact, you can be the most expert person out of all the experts in expert land, and still it will do you no good.
Because becoming an expert of itself is not useful, unless you have also managed to obtain the perception of expertise.
Perception of Expertise – the Other Half of Becoming an Expert
If nobody thinks you are an expert, then what good is becoming an expert in the first place? Answer: none, nada, zip, nothing.
However the perception of expertise will open many doors for you, that mere expertise by itself will not. This might be media attention, speaking opportunities, article prospects, and client referrals.
I should stress at this point that aiming for perception without any substance behind it is a bad idea for lawyers. Making claims beyond your actual experience or abilities is both unethical and risky. I know people have done it in the past, and I don’t advocate it one bit.
BUT, don’t underestimate your existing expertise either. It’s easy to compare yourself to lawyers with 30 years experience and believe that you are not an expert in anything. However, with 4-5 years of study, perhaps 1-2 more of training and even a couple of years of practice under your belt, you have accumulated a vast amount of useful information that can be presented to demonstrate your expertise.
Tim Ferris in The Four Hour Work Week suggests that if you read the 3 most well regarded books on any given topic you will have more knowledge and expertise about it than most other people. I heartily agree.
Think about how much you have read in your field? I’ll bet it is a tonne. The fact is that you have expertise. So now we’ve seen the point, the question becomes how to capitalise on it.
How to Be Perceived as an Expert
Here are a few pointers for you to start developing perception of expertise:
- Public Speaking – any time you get with a platform at your disposal should absolutely be taken. The more talks you have the better. Your preparation time will allow you to ensure you don’t look stupid, and in doing so you will both practically build your actual knowledge, as well as building perception both for your audience and anybody who reads your CV
- Article Writing – there’s every chance you’ll be able to write articles. Obviously they need to have your name on them to assist with perception of expertise. Assuming they can, again you can build both actual expertise and perception in one swoop with a good article on any given topic.
- Remember that perception of expertise is relative – it’s not whether you know everything in an area, it’s really just whether you know slightly more than the person on the other end of the conversation.
- Internally with your firm and your colleagues, make sure people know who you are and what you do. Have conversations, talk about matters (only among lawyers in your firm please – everyone else finds it boring as anything and it would probably breach your ethical obligations anyway). Just look for opportunities to talk about what you do and why you enjoy it.
Becoming an expert is a great goal to have, but combining it with being perceived as an expert will be even more beneficial for your career.