Your speciality? The Generalist v. Specialist Debate

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What is your Area of Speciality?

I am very frequently asked this question in conversations immediately after I reveal the fact that that I am a lawyer.

It appears that the presumption behind this question is that “All Lawyers Specialise”.

I do have some areas of law where I have more experience and a stronger grasp of the intimate details than in other areas of law.

Q: Does that mean I am a specialist in these areas of law?

A: Not really.

The Law Societies are all clear and in agreement on this point

Unless you are a Certified Specialist you should not hold out to the public that you are a specialist.

Doing so is likely to mislead the public.

Deep Generalist

My personal preference not to specialise in any one area of the law.

This makes my practice of law much more difficult and at the same time, much more interesting.

My aim is to be a Deep Generalist.

Complex Legal Problems

What I tend to find is that legal problems have a tendency to become increasingly complex and rarely fit into a neat one size fits all category.

This means that having a generalist perspective can more effectively identify alternate legal issues + causes of action and take a broader view of the matter.

As long as this is done in collaboration with the relevant specialists (where appropriate + necessary) this approach appears to work extremely well and obtains the best possible results for our clients

In all seriousness, we can't all know everything

Generalist ➲ a person who knows less and less about more and more until finally they know nothing about everything …

Specialist ➲ a person who knows more and more about less and less until finally they know everything about nothing …

Taken from an interview by John Farquharson with Chester Porter QC in the Law in Australian Society Oral History Project.
[August 1-2, 2001]

What is a Deep Generalist?

From Andrew Sobel’s website:

"Who mentioned the concept of the “deep generalist” to me?
It was leadership authority and best-selling author Warren Bennis.
Bennis virtually invented the leadership book genre in the 1980s.”

He told me in a conversation:

“The professionals who develop into really great client advisors are deep generalists.
They develop a unique blend of knowledge depth and knowledge breadth.”

Deep generalists are:

➲ able to make knowledge connections that narrow specialists cannot make;

➲ good at synthesis not just analysis;

➲ very effective at putting their products and services—and the benefits they deliver—in the context of the client’s overall business goals and strategy;

➲ more interesting to C-Suite executives than narrow specialists; and

➲ tend to be better conversationalists over dinner.

If you are interested to find out more …

I have created a SmartList dedicated to this topic called: The Generalist v Specialist Debate ➲ SmartList


This FAQ was written by James D. Ford GAICD | Principal Solicitor, Blue Ocean Law Group℠.