Grinding Out the Expertise

This week, I received an email with this opening line: “Researching the topic of contract drafting, I seem to keep stumbling across your content as the subject matter expert.”

And yesterday I noticed that the ACC Docket has designated my article with Michael Fleming on reviewing contracts (here) as one of 2022’s Most Read Docket Articles.

This sort of recognition doesn’t come as a surprise. I reckon I am, in fact, an expert. Allow me to suggest what that means, and what it doesn’t mean.

You’re not an expert because you say you’re an expert. And you’re not an expert just because a social-media clearinghouse says you are. (See this blog post for more on that.) Instead, expertise is won, over time, if you’re able to be useful enough, and if you make enough sense, for enough people to notice you and consider you an expert.

Being an expert isn’t a function of what hat you wear. Teaching a subject doesn’t make you an expert. Cranking out deals doesn’t make you an expert. Instead, being an expert requires a drive to explore your subject in ways others haven’t. It requires scholarship of some sort, so it would help if you enjoy your own company and are able to be your own worst critic.

Being an expert doesn’t mean you’re always right. Instead, if you ask questions others aren’t asking, you’re likely to make mistakes. When hacking through the undergrowth, sometimes you take wrong turns.

Being an expert isn’t like being given some award that’s yours to keep. Instead, experts are always swimming against the current. If you’re tired, out of ideas, or complacent, you risk being swept out to sea and becoming irrelevant.

Is artificial intelligence a route to expertise? Well, AI tells you what’s out there, so you might stumble into second-hand expertise, but mostly AI is driven by some combination of efficiency and expediency. (For more on that, see this blog post about how ChatGPT won’t fix contracts.)

What you do with your expertise is up to you. Maybe it’s a sideline. Maybe you’re able to build a career around it. Heck, it can even be fun.

Why bother saying this? Because expertise matters. We need experts. But with varying degrees of virulence, the world has cultivated a disdain of expertise. Given the cacophony of the marketplace of ideas, it can be tempting to throw everyone in the ditch. And if you just want to watch the world burn, you don’t need experts.

But if you want to make things better, cultivate expertise. Heck, become an expert yourself. Find some question that interests you. Be tenacious—worry on that bone. Aim to make a difference—being an expert can be a revolutionary act.

Perhaps you could do with some help. If you’re serious and you’d like someone to bounce ideas off of or someone to review a draft, you’re welcome to contact me.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

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