When the Domain Expert Always Wins

Monday, July 01, 2024

In The Bureaucrat, David Reed fields a question from an administrator whose boss keeps overriding him in favor of an attorney.

First, the piece has a concise and informative summary on why the lawyer has the boss's undivided attention about legal matters. Here is the first of three reasons Reed sees for this situation:

Image by August de Richelieu, via Pexels, license.
[L]aws are often vague, and as a practical matter they mean whatever courts have interpreted them to mean in previous cases. If you are looking at the text of the law, but the lawyer understands the precedents, she will have the better grasp of how a court or other lawyers would view your agency's action.
The second two reasons are a direct result of this very specialized knowledge, so I won't quote them here.

So the lawyer is the subject domain expert, and you are not. What to do? Work with the subject matter expert to make sure your input is at least in the realm of the possible or allowable, remember to draw on your own expertise, and present compelling evidence. Reed develops each of these, but I'll quote the last here:
You will be even more persuasive if you can show that the approach you are advocating has produced good results in the past. Pass around whatever evidence you have found: program evaluations, press coverage, etc. Evidence of bad results from not doing what you are suggesting also works. Was an agency head raked over the coals in a congressional hearing for some failure that doing it your way will prevent? Pass around a transcript of the hearing.
Many people feel intimidated by subject matter experts, particularly attorneys. But they should remember that they can draw on that expertise themselves and they have their own expertise, which is why they're part of the team.

This is both a good reminder of that fact and a nice primer for how to combine the knowledge of everyone on your team.

-- CAV

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