To reach legal expertise takes a decade of concentrated work, plus relentless further effort

A decade plus of committed involvement in a subject is the pre-requisite for expertise. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management (Harvard Bus. School Press 2006) at 93 state that Anders Ericsson’s research across many domains leads to this conclusion: Expertise results from “approximately 10 years of nearly daily, deliberate practice, for about four hours a day, by people who somehow (e.g., coaching, skilled peers or competitors, or books) have access to the best techniques” (See my posts of June 12, 2005 on Herbert Simon’s 10-year rule on expertise; July 15, 2005 on how to increase “deep smarts.”; and Nov. 6, 2006 on effortful study.).

I wonder how this threshold for expertise could be tested for in-house counsel. I also wonder whether the bar might be rising – does it now take a dozen years? – as the world becomes legally more complex and there are more people competing for expert status.

Moreover, Pfeffer and Sutton continue, “Once achieved, exceptional performance can’t be maintained without relentless effort.” Doesn’t that mean that fluency and understanding in an area of law withers if not used? In-house counsel who want to stay on top of their game must put forth unabated effort.

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