I’ve suggested before that a lawyer can know as much about the narrow subject of an expert witness’s testimony that hurts the defense than does the expert himself. Even when it’s brain surgery, it’s not rocket science. Being a trial lawyer means being able to learn enough about the topic at hand that ignorance is not a handicap.
But despite my ability to quickly get up to speed on the state of the art in a very narrow area of, say, medicine, I have never held myself out to be an expert in knife wounds (to give one example) or postmortem distribution of alcohol throughout the body (to give another).
Cue Adrianos M. Facchetti, guest-blogging at blog for profit:
Let me be clear. I believe I became an “expert” on the subject in less than 6 months because I studied it like crazy and few people knew anything about it. However, I certainly became an expert within 6 months because Google said I was.
And one thing is for sure: You are what Google says you are.
Um, NO! If “You are what Google says you are” is the One Sure Thing, then there are no sure things.
(In the “small world” category, Adrianos’s claim reminds me of Andy Nolen’s claim that he was “rated by Google and Yahoo as one of Houston’s best criminal attorneys”.)
I leave it to Scott Greenfield to point out the logical connections between Adrianos’s foolish statements and a misdirected focus on marketing:
However, the whole of the post presents a dangerous, and damning, proposition, that one can create the fictional appearance of expertise on the internet in 5 easy steps in 6 months. The fact is that Adrianos is quite right, the internet is awash in people who have fabricated the appearance of “expertise”, and most people can’t tell the difference between those who possess the expertise they claim and those who are total frauds. Indeed, many of the most prominent frauds have aggregated their voices to create a hosanna chorus around each other, carefully protecting each other so that no one will learn of the sham.
Instead of the Vast Marketing Conspiracy, this will be a critique of the very idea of the Six-Month “Expert”.
On Twitter, Adrianos clarified how he was using “expert” (the Investigative Discourse Analysis experts would have a field day with the fact that in his blog posts Adrianos encloses expert in doubt quotes as often as not):
Expert means to me“a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field”(Not the be all end all)
This is pretty thin gruel. From study, experiment, and life experience I have special skill and knowledge—more skill or knowledge than most people have—in hundreds of fields, from Porsche repair to theology. Yet to call me “expert” in any of those fields would be silly. Anyone who has been to law school is “expert” in many areas of the law—she has special knowledge of contracts, torts, criminal law, procedure. If that’s what “expert” means, then “expert” means nothing.
But that’s not what expert means to the public; if a wet-behind-the-ears lawyer were to hold himself out as a criminal law expert by virtue of having taken a couple of classes in the subject, that’d be fraud.
But wait, says Adrianos,
I didn’t make it up. Look it up in the dictionary.
I loathe the argument ex dictionarium. If your argument hinges on convincing people that a word means what your dictionary says it means, you’ve already, in my view, lost. English-language dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive, and vary wildly. My OED, for example, has two major definitions for the noun “expert”, neither of which accords closely with Adrianos’s. I won’t quote them because I’m more interested in experts’ function, in the context of the practice of law, than the word’s dictionary definition.
In the practice of law, the expert is not the person the media calls for a quote (to become that sort of expert takes not six months but four weeks, according to Tim Ferriss). In the practice of law, the expert is the person you would spend your own money to hire if you needed a particular problem solved.
In six months, can you become the lawyer whom people will want to hire when they need a particular problem solved? It depends on how narrowly you define the problem.
I don’t contest Adrianos’s assertion that he is expert (or at least “expert”) in internet defamation law. He says that he knows everything he can about internet defamation; people call him for advice on internet defamation cases. If the problem were, “might these facts support a defamation claim, such that I should spend some money investigating” I might call Adrianos myself (not that he would take my call).
But if I needed to refer a client to a lawyer to actually investigate or file suit or try an internet defamation case, I would look for someone whose expertise included actually investigating or filing lawsuits or actually trying cases. Whether that lawyer had studied internet defamation law would not be important—I would figure that he could get up to speed in the niche quickly enough to neutralize any advantage that someone with six months’ study would otherwise have. This is what trial lawyers do: learn enough about disparate areas of knowledge quickly enough that their former ignorance is no longer a handicap.
While it would be brazen of me to claim expertise, I am more than competent at picking juries and at cross-examining witnesses; that is after 14+ years of actually picking juries and cross-examining witnesses, and studying diverse related fields outside the law. Expertise in those endeavors could not possibly be gained in six months by anyone. Fourteen years in, I still get better every year.
There are many similars areas, in which six months is not enough to even make a dent in becoming an expert (or even an “expert”).
There are undoubtedly many narrow areas in which one can become a sort of expert in six months, but here is the problem with the sort of “expertise” that can be acquired in six months: it’s transitory. If it took you six months to become expert in a subject, someone else can do the same as quickly. The law is often adversarial, and if your adversary is as motivated to become expert as you are, he can attain superior expertise as quickly as or quicker than you, even if he has spent the past decade honing the trial skills that you lack.
Here’s my advice to the young lawyer who is (as Adrianos was) stuggling to make ends meet, trying to break through and make a better living:
It’s not easy. It never was easy, it never will be easy, and it never should be easy. Nothing worth doing is easy.
Work hard, study, listen, and—most importantly—don’t hold yourself out to be something you’re not even if you can make a few bucks doing so.
It is the quest for easy money in the practice of law that leads lawyers to lie, cheat, and steal.
Now, I’ve got to say something about marketing.
There is more than one former lawyer who, after finding disgrace with the bar for ripping people off, is making a living in the marketing dodge. Now they are leading other lawyers on the quest for easy money that led to their own downfall.
Adrianos found one of them after less than two years of practice, and now he’s an apostle of The Easy Way, seeking success through the wide gate of Blogging for Profit and down the broad road of Google “expertise”.
Don’t fall for it. Stand up for what’s right, tell the truth, work hard, and don’t surrender your reputation to the marketers after two years, and you’ll find a hundred more-experienced lawyers, true experts, eager to help you learn and succeed. Take shortcuts, and you’ll wind up swinging in the wind. The wide gate and the broad road lead only to destruction.