Published on:

Skeletons in the closet of an online list of subject matter experts (SMEs)

I have a bone to pick, and two other bones, with those who expect their law department intranet site to include a directory of resident experts in various areas of law. “If you have a bankruptcy question, call our guru, Rees,” and that kind of listing.

Much like many lawyers reluctantly add documents to a knowledge repository, because it feels arrogant to claim that the document is worthy of recognition and widespread reliance, they shy away from being described as an “expert.”

Bone two is that many lawyers know quite a bit about an area, for example export compliance, but they may not want to be tagged as a SME (subject matter expert) where a colleague could plausibly lay claim to that exalted status, because of the poor reaction of the competitive colleague.

My third bone concerns the demands on the SME’s time if that person has a day job, yet still feels obligated to field all the calls tapping into the brain trust. One law department I worked with had a lawyer possessed of considerable anti-trust experience, but that person also led a group of business-unit lawyers. No one can serve two masters well.

Some issues arise with dubbing people “experts,” make no bones about it.