What do you do if the smartest person in the room is the room?
David Weinberger asked this question in his book Too Big to Know. What he meant was that the technology in the room—everything from the computer to the light switch—is connected to the network. When you can tap into all that the internet knows, you’re officially the smartest person in the room.
And the significant question for lawyers who want to become known experts: when the smartest person in the room is the room, what do we need experts for anyway?
What do experts know that the network doesn’t know?
Owning a Chunk of Knowledge
We talked yesterday about specialization. One of the key drivers of specialization in societies was divvying up what the group knows among different individuals.
The farmer knows farming, the medicine man knows medicine, the scribe knows how different chisels work on different stones, etc. No one knows everything and everyone knows something.
In the ancient world, your job was defined by the chunk of knowledge you owned. When chunks of knowledge become irrelevant, jobs become complicated.
In the modern world, even the tiniest chunks of knowledge are impossible to know because they’re all interconnected.
A Profession Built on Exclusivity
The split between Only We Know and Too Big to Know is especially poignant in law, because we turned exclusivity into a system.
As law became more and more formalized, legal publishers secured exclusive contracts with knowledge creators. Legislatures and courts produce law and precedent every day. The publishers offered them a deal: we’ll publish that for you, but we get exclusive ownership of the content as well as the ability to resell it.
Under the Langdell Model of legal education, lawyers changed for logicians to researchers, using a “science of law” approach to practice in every area as long as they had access to the primary sources. That meant that the whole model relied on access to those sources.
Carl Malamud and Public.Resource.org have done a ton of work to undo that exclusive access, but it was a heck of a business model while it lasted.
A New Role for Legal Experts
Much has been written about how the Langdell Model doesn’t work in the modern context. I won’t rehash that.
But I will say that, though this shift feels like a threat, it can be an opportunity. It all depends on whether you find a different basis for your claim of expertise.
You can’t make it about exclusive access to knowledge anymore, so what do can you base your value on?
David C. Baker is a writer I often cite on this issue. His book The Business of Expertise is excellent and I highly recommend reading the whole book several times with a highlighter in hand.
At the center of his argument for expertise is the idea that seeing repeated patterns leads experts to find things no one else can find. These insights are a service more valuable the exclusivity, and they’ll be the basis for your expert business.
As we continue this series, we’ll explore the ways that you can see repeated patters and use your writing to pull insights from what you see.
I’m looking forward to it.
The Help You Need
As I’ve mentioned, writing is key to becoming a known expert. But as a writer, I 100% know what it’s like to feel like you don’t have the time or skill.
We’re here to help if you’d like it.
Throughout the remaining 90 days of this series, I’ll share how to turn your writing into known expertise. You will be able to do that work yourself.
But if it feels too overwhelming or unfamiliar, we want to help.
Just click through to lawyerforward.com/knownexpert and you’ll learn more about the content support services we offer to would-be experts.
If we can be of service, feel free to reach out.