I just bumped into a brilliant website called Expert Enough, with a tagline of [Expert Enough] Just enough to be dangerous. This got me to thinking about our industry taboos on the topic of lawyer “expertise.”
As a lawyer writing to a lawyer audience, I already know what you’re thinking.
“We have ethics rules against calling ourselves experts.”
“There are no experts in law except those crazy tax and family law lawyers who take special certification exams.”
“Blah, blah, blah [insert excuse here]“
If you’re a lawyer whose brain went right to any of the above, I invite you take a minute and consider the issue lawyer expertise from another angle.
First, I’m not necessarily suggesting that you swing from rooftops screaming “I am master of X.”
Second, I’m not even suggesting that you write those words.
You Are More Than A Two Word Title
What I’m advocating is that you recognize that you, my lawyer friend, are more than a “corporate lawyer” or a “litigator” or any other bland title that our profession has attached to you and your firm proudly proclaims on your website bio.
You are the sum total of your life’s experiences, and each of those experiences makes you different than the corporate lawyer or litigator in the next office. And being different means that you are going to appeal to different audiences as you climb your way up the law firm ranks and grow your client base.
This might still be news to some of you, but the secret to success in our field is not to figure out how to out-lawyer that person in the next office. The secret is to figure out what your unique differences are and who those differences are going to appeal to. (That’s the first secret. The other is letting that audience know about you and your differences, but that’s a whole other topic for another day).
Out-lawyering is nice, but I’m here to tell you from my tour through the Big Law trenches as a recruiter that when it comes time for a firm to choose between supporting the best technical lawyer or the lawyer with the most clients, the one with the clients wins hands down every time.
It didn’t used to be this way, but (cue the violins) the Great Recession has bestowed a new normal on the world, including law firms.
How Expert Do You Need To Be?
How expert do you need to be to claim your lawyer expertise? As an example of my point, I’ll put myself out there for your consideration. I tried my darnedest to be a litigator for the first 12-ish years of my career, and I pretty much hated it.
There were aspects that I really liked and at which I excelled (including the relationships with my co- and opposing counsel and distilling complex subject matter into readable briefs for judges who couldn’t care less about the intricacies of semi-conductors), but only in hindsight do I realize that I was meant to market, not practice, law.
On the topic of being expert enough to teach lawyers today about marketing, I’m pretty sure that there is somebody somewhere (or several somebodies) who will tell you that I don’t know enough about x,y or z to be a “lawyer marketing expert.”
I accept that. I don’t know everything.
But there is probably not another person on the planet who has practiced over a decade, started a web marketing technology company, was knee-deep in the web marketing world when social media took root, spent three years talking to hundreds and hundreds of attorneys at all points in their careers about the challenges of growing those careers, and eats/breathes/lives on the social web, all during a time when the social web is becoming the place to build professional reputations.
Can you think of a better person to evangelize digital reputation building?
If you can, cool, there is room for both of us.
We Are All Experts At Something
My point is that you too have a unique set of life and professional experiences upon which to build a “brand” for yourself, and this brand in any other profession is called ”expert.”
You don’t have to place a “lawyer expertise” title on your LinkedIn profile or any other place that will get you in trouble with your governing bar association, but if you’re the best darned veggie-eating, Prius-driving, composting, green living corporate attorney you know, and you want to grow a practice around the sustainable living industry, you should own your uniqueness and start writing content directed to that audience from your unique point of view. Playing small is a disservice to all of us.
Demonstrating lawyer expertise is not the same as proclaiming lawyer expertise. Our professional rules of conduct are not a hindrance to showing what you know through the publication of articles, blog posts, white papers, books and thoughtfully written comments to other people’s web content. The rules are intended to prevent you from blowing smoke and misleading consumers.
But you don’t need me to remind you of that. We all took the exam.
To keep you inspired as you explore your own personal definition of your lawyer expertise, I’m sharing The Expert Enough Manifesto below. It’s meant to remind you that (1) expertise is a moving target and you shouldn’t procrastinate while you wait to attain that perfect level of “good enough;” (2) expertise is relative anyway and means different things to different people (as in your intended audience); and (3) brilliance lies within each of us.
To truly keep yourself on the path, consider ordering the manifesto as a poster to hang someplace prominent. For $20, you can have a visual reminder to keep you on the path of your unique brilliance.
No, I’m not an affiliate looking to make a couple of cents. I believe in this guy’s manifesto that much.