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Avoiding the intelligence trap


As a disputes lawyer in the energy sector, you’ve naturally developed a keen sense of the expertise needed in your niche. That’s good, of course. But it can limit your options.

In one of our previous editions, we mentioned a very large case in which a law firm requested us to provide a piping expert. We were perhaps too eager to satisfy the client’s short-term need, rather than pushing for their own long-term gain. After several months, the firm recognized the need for more breadth and depth. Analyzing the situation together, we deployed a multidisciplinary team of experts.

On such large and technically complex claims, a single expert is rarely enough—for three key reasons. First, one person can’t cover all the angles. This can lead to ‘expertitis’ (which we’ve written about before), where an expert believes their deep experience entitles them to broader opinions beyond their skillset. Often, experts do have ‘T-shaped’ experience—a generalized understanding of several ‘horizontal’ domains combined with ‘vertical’ specialized knowledge—but mistake this for genuine expertise across all domains.

A multidisciplinary team allows not only for deep technical expertise for every area of your claim. It also enables a more holistic view as various experts bring an informed-yet-outside perspective (from the top of their ‘T’) to their specialist colleagues’ views. This helps uncover entrenched assumptions, countering the overconfidence bias that can sometimes beset specialists. David Robson’s excellent book, The Intelligence Trap, provides ample evidence of these risks and how to build a ‘dream team’ that can overcome them (spoiler: it’s less about loading the team with star players and more about interpersonal skills).

Second, law firms naturally want experts with 20-30 years of experience—for their accumulated knowledge, for the gravitas they bring to the courtroom, and for their experience of withstanding cross-examination. Except in a few newer technical domains, decades of experience do pay dividends. But it gives rise to another challenge, which is the third reason you probably need a team.

Large, complex cases often unfold over years. Experts may find their involvement includes sporadic high-intensity periods. People get sick or burn out. Or a new opportunity may arise during a down period, which appeals more than the uncertainty around whether they’ll be retained moving forward. Will the case settle before they even set foot in court? In short, life happens.

Spreading the risk among a team therefore makes sense. While it may be apparently more costly at first sight, the ‘collective intelligence’ gained, to use Robson’s term, justifies the investment. And when experts share a common background, as in our firm, you increase mutual respect and reduce the jockeying for status that can derail groups comprising independent experts.

However, those multiple experts need to be managed and all their insights recorded and coordinated. This is the realm of deliverables management, which we’ll turn to in the next issue.


[Image credit: facets, Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash]