Column: Watch out, experts are everywhere
February 3, 2013
My wife and I like to start our morning with the “Today” show (assuming our rambunctious 2-year-old will allow it). It amazes me, the people that come onto the show and claim to be an expert on this or that. The common theme, in my perception, is that the majority of these so-called “experts” are titled such by virtue of resume only. Now, please do not take this as an attack on education. My point is merely that any businessperson or professional will be the first to tell you that the vast majority of “expertise” is acquired after years of performing a specific job. My favorite example on the news is Dr. Nancy Snyderman, a very well-spoken M.D. who is routinely referred to as a “medical expert” on the morning news. In this capacity, Snyderman opines on a myriad of issues that range anywhere from interpreting medical studies to advising people of treatment possibilities for acute illness. A quick Internet check of Snyderman’s past reveals that since receiving her degree in 1983, she has been primarily engaged in broadcast journalism. Medically, Snyderman’s practice has been limited to surgery of the head and neck. Now, here is the problem. The media presents us with a given expert the way a cop flashes his badge to a street thug. In turn, people wrongly put too much trust in the advice presented, when in reality there is rarely a one-size-fits-all approach to most problems.Turning back to our NBC medical expert, Snyderman has raised some controversy recently over advisements she gave concerning everything from autism and vaccinations to the appropriate time to get a mammogram. Surely, the good doctor’s remarks are well-prepped by a staff of dedicated researchers – but preparation and research do not an expert make. On the other hand, I would absolutely be inclined to listen to anything that Snyderman had to say about surgery of the head and neck, as I am sure she has accumulated a wealth of knowledge after 20 years of practice. This brings me to the greater topic. Our society gives too much deference to individuals based on academic titles. Receiving the letters M.D., Esq. or Ph.D after your name is only an indication of completion of graduate-level education. There is an old joke that asks what you call the person who graduated last in their med school class. The answer? Doctor. The same can be said for lawyers, CPAs, financial planners, and the list continues. In my own practice, I am amazed at how trusting clients can be based solely on the fact that I am a licensed attorney. In reality, I think that it is good practice for professionals to tout the credentials they obtained while actually working. Providing insight into my background allows my clients to make a more informed decision as to whether I can handle a given legal issue.As the old adage goes, buyer beware. There are many unscrupulous professionals that will do or say whatever it takes to earn your trust and/or your business. A problem arises when people decide that they “need a lawyer” but don’t really know what kind of lawyer. Lawyers, like all professionals, are specialized creatures that rarely do all things well. For the same reason you would not have your pediatrician examine your broken arm, someone with an employment dispute needs to find an attorney with experience in that type of law. The reasons for this are twofold. First, while most attorneys can “study up” on a given topic, the result is a much higher bill for the client, as the lawyer is basically being paid to learn a new area of the law. The second reason is much more intuitive. When a professional works in a given specialty, they learn the rules of the road that cannot be found from a basic brush-up. More times than not, it is this previous experience that gives a particular attorney an advantage in resolving the issue.At the end of the day, you are your best defense. Ask questions before engaging a professionals and do your homework to learn more about their reputation. Michael Brownlee is a partner with Thompson, Brownlee & Voboril LLC, a local civil litigation firm. For more information, contact Brownlee at 970-455-4226, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.thompsonbrownlee.com.