Expertise and the arrogance trap

family law

Lawyers, as we all know, have a lot to say. Much of it, of course, is said with the aim of promoting themselves. But that is okay. After all, lawyers are business people, and have to earn a living. However, a great deal of what they say publicly is intended, or perhaps also intended, to inform those who lack their expertise, passing on legal knowledge to other lawyers and, in particular, to non-lawyers, i.e. the public.

As you may imagine, I read an awful lot of what lawyers have to say, whether in legal journals, blogs or other forms of social media. Whilst doing so I have begun to realise just how arrogant lawyers can sound, as they hand down their nuggets of wisdom from on high. I won’t name any names (well, perhaps one, in a moment), but I have now on a number of occasions had that awkward feeling when reading what a lawyer has to say: you sound just a teeny bit smug, as if you know best, in a superior sort of way.

I don’t think that this is a new phenomenon. I suspect that as a legal insider, privy to a least a little legal knowledge, I was for a long time immune to it, only seeing the giving of advice as a benevolent thing – lawyers doing their duty to pass on their expertise to others. It is, however, a phenomenon that is surely far more prevalent since the advent of the internet.

Now of course the arrogance trap is a trap that any expert can fall into, not just lawyers. Anyone can sound arrogant when they try to pass on their superior knowledge to the less well informed. However, it is perhaps easier for lawyers to fall into the trap, as advice is their stock-in-trade. They give advice to their clients every day. Advice is what people want and expect from them, isn’t it? It’s all too easy to keep doling out that commodity, without stopping to consider what it sounds like on the other side.

I said earlier that I would name one person who I believe may have fallen into the arrogance trap. This person has been writing about law for more than ten years, during which time he has tried on hundreds of occasions to pass on his legal knowledge to the public, in blog posts (including one here yesterday), online articles, and even in a book. For most of that time he did not stop to think how he sounded to his readers, simply believing that he was doing a public service. However, recently he has begun to realise that perhaps he was falling into the arrogance trap. Perhaps it seemed to his readers, or at least to some of them, that he was talking down to them. Maybe they felt he was underestimating them, even undervaluing them.

I’m sorry if I have sounded this way to you. It has not been intentional, just as I believe those other lawyers I’ve read have not intended to sound arrogant. We are genuinely trying to help you, especially those of you who can’t afford to instruct a lawyer. Please do not take our apparent arrogance as a sign of disrespect.

For my part I shall try to be a little more humble and respectful in future. After all, we are all ignorant about most subjects, and that certainly includes me, but that is no reason for anyone to talk down to us. In my defence, I have to say that it is not always easy seeing things from the ‘other side’, particularly after being involved in the law for as long as I have. But if I do notice myself slipping into a stance that may be interpreted as arrogant, then I shall try to correct myself.

Before I end, though, there is one important point to make: if I or any other lawyer fails in the aim of being respectful, that is most certainly not a reason to ignore their advice. Contrary to what some would have you believe, we do need experts in every field, and that includes the law. If you follow expert advice then your case is more likely to end in a satisfactory result, it is as simple as that.

Photo by Alan Levine via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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2 comments

Michele Simmons - August 31, 2017 at 5:37pm

Thank you for your article. I do read them with great interest.

Where you have said-

‘If you follow expert advice then your case is more likely to end in a satisfactory result, it is as simple as that.’ it is not always easy to find a Solicitor when you are representing yourself. Some people have been left disappointed where they have used a Solicitor/several before. This is not because they did not agree with the work they carried out for them as much as they did not agree with the work they carried out for them, where what work was done was found to be underhand. What would you advice be then? Thank you.

Paul Apreda - September 1, 2017 at 11:01am

I wanted to express my sincere admiration and respect for your comments John. I’m confident that we will continue to disagree on many of the specifics of Family Law but I genuinely admire the fact that you’ve posted this statement. I think it behoves those who have been critical in the past to applaud your actions now. Thank you, Paul

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