Cash And Carry Expert (Update)

There once was a time when people chose to be lawyers for a reason.  They wanted to defend criminals, or put them away. They wanted to try cases.  Their mother or father was a lawyer.  The reasons are endless; but the reason wasn’t to make money any way they could. 

Lawyers sometimes ended up in a practice area they didn’t anticipate. Life just worked out that way.  If they found that they enjoyed it and were good at it, great.  If not, they struggled to find their way into a different practice area.  Not everybody is cut out to be a litigator.  Not everybody is cut out to be a transactional lawyer.  Hey, we’re people. We have things we prefer to do, just like everybody else. Nothing wrong with that.

Once we found a niche in law that suited us, we worked at it. We developed the skills necessary to do our job well, to know our business.  After all, what good is a lawyer who lacks the capability of performing within his niche?  Worse still, clients would entrust this niche lawyer with their needs, and if the lawyer couldn’t produce, then he would fail to serve his clients adequately.  This is the antithesis of performing a lawyer’s duty, the taking of a fee from a client without the ability to deliver the quality of services promised.  This is law at its worst.

This is why I found Adrianos Faschetti’s post at Grant Griffith’s ignominiously-named Blog for Profit deeply disturbing.  Adrianos explains the background:

The thought of becoming an “expert” in 6 months may seem impossible to you. But I did it and I’m going to show you how.
But first let me share my story with you a bit because I think it’s instructive.

It all started in March of 2008.

I was struggling to make ends meet as a solo attorney and I was desperately trying to find a way to finally break through and make a better living. I did just about everything you can think of to generate income from typical networking to ‘harassing’ attorneys in the courthouse to rustle up some work.

I was at a really low point in my life. There is nothing like knowing that you have a lot to offer others and at the same time consistently finding it difficult to pay the bills.

I am certainly sympathetic, having long been critical of those who lie to struggling lawyers that solo practice is a panacea, pushing them away from unpleasant, albeit paying, work at firms and businesses and into solo practice with false promises of success and work/life balance.  Hungry lawyers become desperate lawyers, and desperate lawyers do foolish things.

Adrianos’ solution was to reinvent himself into an “expert”.  In his case, it was “internet defamation law,” the product of having been retained to handle an internet defamation case. 

I got hired to handle an Internet Defamation case.

That happened less than 2 years ago and now people call me from all over the United States seeking my advice on Internet Defamation. I don’t say this to brag. I say this to motivate you to find your own wonderful obsession and to share it with others.

Now I know some of you might be thinking, “I thought you would show us how to become an expert in 6 months. You’ve been doing this for 2 years!”

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.

Had Adrianos stopped before the penultimate sentence, I would applaud him.  While I’m not a fan of lawyers taking on causes which they are not already equipped to handle, at least his response was to study “like crazy.”  There are few substantive areas of law that can’t be learned by a reasonably intelligent lawyer sufficiently to provide competent representation. 

But Adrianos didn’t stop there.  His final sentence that blew me away:

And one thing is for sure: You are what Google says you are.

My alternate title for this post was, “I’m not really an expert; I just play one on the internet.”  Therein lies the fault, and a fatal fault it is.  What the balance of Adrianos’ post promotes isn’t the creation of expertise from hard work and study, but the creation of the appearance of expertise through manipulation of information. 

One might think that this is something he might prefer to keep under wraps rather than lay out on writing for the whole world to see, but there’s no reticence here to let everyone know that he’s elevated appearance over reality.  This is the marketer’s perspective.  Truth be damned, it’s all about appearances.

Adrianos gives a list of things he did on his path to becoming an “expert”.  The list isn’t exactly bad, or wrong for that matter, though there are some nits to pick.  For example, his first item is to select the right niche.  Absolutely.  But his right isn’t based upon finding a practice area you care about or are particularly good at.  It’s about finding a niche where you can cash in.

I chose Internet Defamation for a number of reasons:

  • I noticed that almost no one was writing about it. And even the blogs that did discuss Internet Defamation only did so on occasion (it wasn’t the main focus of the blog).
  • Internet Defamation seemed to be a common problem that had potential for growth. I saw that more and more businesses were going online (duh) and that more and more people were venting their frustrations about people/businesses online.
  • I knew I could master the subject in a short period of time because it was new. The internet as we know it is only about 15 or 16 years old. It’s not as if I was aiming to learn everything about securities law or real property law (which has been developed over a much longer period of time). This made it easy for me to become an “expert” in the subject.
  • I liked the subject. You don’t need to like something to master it, but it’s a lot more fun that way.

Notice his fourth reason,where Adrianos goes out of his way to state that you need not “like” your niche.  He had the opportunity to state that it was critical, when choosing your new “expertise”, to pick one that moved you.  After all, you could spend the rest of your working life doing it, and caring about your practice area could spell the difference between a life of professional satisfaction and misery.  The lure of easy expertise was enough to eschew whether one cared. 

His third item was to start a blog, about which he wrote:

This is obvious so I won’t spend a lot of time on it. Starting a blog on California Defamation forced me to learn about the subject. This forced me to become an expert on the subject. You should start a blog too if you haven’t already.

Cart, meet horse.  By definition, creating a blawg in a practice area suggests some degree of knowledge. Maybe even expertise.  What it does not suggest is that you know essentially nothing whatsoever about the practice area and will learn about it as you post.  It presents two analogous flaws.  First, the posts may well be wrong, and the blawger is providing misleading or erroneous information to others.  Second, the posts will serve as announcement to those who have a clue that you are by no means an expert.  It’s one thing to be thought of as an idiot. It’s another to put it in writing and conclusively prove it.

Assuming the purpose of a blog is to market, they are not means to becoming an expert. Blogs are means of using and displaying expertise already acquired.  For those of us legally entitled to use the title “attorney” and suggest to the public some modicum of specialized knowledge, doing so when we know we lack any is not merely ill-advise, but deceptive.  We know that we can pretend to be experts and to offer opinions that others may be inclined to believe, but we do not do so.  It’s wrong.

Adrianos next provides some sound advice on how to ingratiate oneself with others on the internet who can help you.

I suggest sending them a tweet letting them know how much you enjoyed one of their blog posts (only if this is sincere). The question I often ask myself is, “if I had nothing to gain from this, would I still do it?”

Another good idea is to offer to write a guest post. But make sure it is better than what you usually write on your own blog. If the guest post is well-received, you will gain the respect of the blogger.

The great thing about approaching internet relationships this way is that it will draw you to people who are knowledgeable, likable, and interesting. And if the feeling is mutual it will eventually lead to opportunities down the road.

I certainly made the right friends and they have helped me in so many ways. They’ve helped me with technical problems. They’ve helped me stay focused and inspired. They’ve given me marketing advice. They’ve invited me to speak at public events. They’ve given me a kick in the pants when I needed it. They’ve promoted my work. Why did they do all this?

What’s unfortunate about this advice is that it reveals that Adrianos didn’t focus on meeting defamation lawyers, but rather internet gurus and marketers.  This is a function of misdirected focus.  Remember, you are what Google says you are.  This conflation of expertise with the appearance of expertise left Adrianos connecting with those who could facilitate his appearance rather than his being an expert.  Acceptance as an expert by those accomplished in a field of law is more difficult than acceptance by those trying to sell you their services.  The latter can be had easily.  Regardless of whether they befriend you, they are available on a cash and carry basis.

Curiously, it appears that Adrianos did so many of the right things for the wrong reasons.  Hidden within his post are the details that reflect his accomplishments, selecting a niche that he cared about and was interested in, and working hard to learn the substantive aspects of his new-found niche.  While these by no means establish “expertise” in fact, they are certainly on the path.

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.

And most in the blawgoshere will applaud Adrianos’ post at Grant Griffith’s Blog for Profit, a name the speaks volumes, while hating me for being critical.  They want a quick and dirty road to success.  I only offer hard work.  Boo, Greenfield.

Update:  Mark Bennett, the Texas Tornado, addresses the other aspect of Adrianos’ post, what it really means to be an “expert”.  Hint: It’s not six months of blogging.