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Core lawyer function not special knowledge, but managing hard problems – Mauboussin: a thinker about that

Farnam Street recently called attention to Michael Mauboussin‘s observation that the capability of IT-enabled networks, which can harness the wisdom of crowds, reduces the scope for experts to add value.

A much narrower but related point has been made here before in the context of law firms. The growing ability of smaller firms to network with each other and harness combined wisdom, diminishes the advantage of larger firms. Much of the value that large firms bring can be replicated by networking; and technology is rapidly enabling better networking. This does not eliminate the need for law firms, but it reduces the need for so many large firms, and it affirms the growing opportunity of mid-sized firms.

Mauboussin extends this thinking beyond the observation that problem-solving is no longer something that must always be handed over to subject matter experts. He suggests methodologies for solving problems, including solving problems with networks that include experts.

This is important learning for lawyers. Subject matter expertise is not what’s at the core of lawyering. Problem-solving is. Lawyers are not so much possessors of key knowledge as they are professionals who know how to confront and manage hard problems. Mauboussin provides useful thinking about how to think about thinking about these problems.

Knowing when and how to hand things off to subject matter experts and then how to use what you get from them, is an important part of solving problems. As computering advances, this kind of competence will be a larger part of lawyering.

Copyright © 2022, Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard LLPNational Law Review, Volume V, Number 194
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About this Author

Edward C. Winslow III, Brooks Pierce, Greensboro, Banking Lawyer
Managing Partner

Ed Winslow represents business and corporate clients with an emphasis in the fields of banking and financial services. Principal clients include bankers associations, banks, savings banks, insurers, and other financial services firms within and outside North Carolina. He is a frequent speaker and writer on topics involving financial services law and authors a blog on law practice management, called MidLaw and Divers Items. 

(336) 271-3112
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