If one could gather a room full of industry professionals and ask them to achieve consensus on the definition of expertise, the process would be arduous. For many disciplines, this process begins with the development of standards. As those principles are adopted and implemented throughout an industry, they elevate professional practices. Often, standards and expertise go hand-in-hand when they are called into account in the high-stakes arena of the courtroom. In this article, we will discuss some of the critical elements of becoming an industry expert and apply the principles of legal testimony as guiding principles for aspiring professionals.
Experts and Standards
Many industries have developed industry standards and some of those disciplines are regulated. Involuntary standards are also known as regulations and carry the weight of the law for compliance failures. Voluntary standards of care serve as the consensus baseline practices by which professionals should perform their functions. In Rule 702 for courtroom testimony by an expert witness, one of the four elements for determining relevance and reliability includes, “The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods.” While consensus standards should not be confused with the highest level of expertise for any profession, they provide the baseline for industry knowledge and activity.
Levels of Expertise
The property restoration industry describes contractors who work on properties damaged by various perils and often includes the complexity of working with insurance companies. When the Restoration Industry Association (RIA) published the Body of Knowledge in 2017, they provided an outline for three levels of knowledge, all of which are color-coded throughout the document.
- Mastery (Red). Without reference material, promptly and correctly apply subject knowledge and skills to solve typical problems or address detailed issues in the subject.
- Working knowledge (Blue). With proper reference material, promptly and correctly apply subject knowledge and skills to solve typical problems or address detailed issues in the subject.
- Familiarity (Green). Comprehend industry-specific terminology and general relationships among activities or processes pertaining to the subject, without promptly and correctly applying knowledge and skills to solve typical problems or address detailed issues in the subject, even with proper reference material.
In achieving a level of industry expertise (or mastery), a professional is expected to reach a level of knowledge and skill where they are able to apply what they know without having to look it up. Similarly, when an expert witness is called into the courtroom, they are expected to answer questions from memory.
In a recent episode of The DYOJO Podcast, flooring expert Bob Blochinger shares his pyramid for expertise, “It’s a combination of training, education, and experience. You cannot become an expert without all three.” Bob also discusses how he has utilized industry events to elevate his level of education, exposure to networking with knowledgeable professionals, and pursue relevant certification to bolster his ability as a practitioner. Bob is no stranger to the courtroom where another element of determining whether an expert’s testimony will be received includes a review of whether “The expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.” Knowing how to do it right and being able to demonstrate the ability to execute upon those standards are paramount to expertise.
The Importance of Expertise
Expertise is essential for the relevance and endurance of an industry. The expertise of a profession is directly impacted by the ongoing commitment of the practitioners in that industry to define, develop, and implement expertise. In speaking to the process and importance of a professional body of knowledge, Purdue University professor Dr. Randy Rapp states that it, “Defines what members of a profession should know. If people doing similar work can generally agree about what they must know in order to perform well, then they begin to define the subject matter of a profession.” If a professional desires to achieve mastery in their chosen field, they are encouraged to associate themselves with those who have achieved as well as those who are seeking to achieve those elevated measures.