We rely on experts – doctors, accountants, electricians, plumbers, lawyers, etc. – a great deal for a variety of reasons, though not always for reasons we are ready to admit.
We rely on them, obviously, because they know how to do something that we don’t, and the risk of us trying to do it anyways and failing miserably is far more concerning than devoting the right resources to get an expert involved.
But another reason we rely on experts is that we’re just plain freaked out or too riled up by the circumstances we find ourselves in, and we need someone who looks like they know what they’re talking about to calmly identify what needs to be fixed and to provide a plausible solution.
My experience is that the second reason is far more significant than we are prepared to accept. Occassionally, in those cases, the call to the expert is justified, but quite often the scope of their advice is not. I don’t mean dentists giving you accounting advice along with a routine cleaning, or an electrician suggesting you invest in shares of Walmart. The issue here isn’t necessarily with what they say or with them at all. I am talking about our failure to put their advice in perspective.
A dentist can suggest certain dental work be done, but ultimately it is on us to decide how that advice will affect the rest of our priorities (e.g. how much work will I need to miss, and how much will the work cost me?). A dentist can be really good at answering dental questions, but it doesn’t relieve us of the burden of trying to make the dentist’s answers fit with our other, possibly competing, responsibilities.
This concern applies specifically to legal advice. Dental work usually only affects the patient, but legal work is almost by definition something that is intended to impact others. I have been fortunate to see clients who treasure their family above all else, and who scrutinize legal advice to carefully consider how it will affect their family in the short-term and the long-term and whether any other relationships important to them can be harmed by legal action.
But, as parents, our reliance on lawyers in the appropriate circumstances should never involve delegating our responsibilities as parents to people who are not experts in parenting. Lawyers, even those that may be perfectly wonderful parents themselves, should only be expected to figure out one piece of the puzzle: to identify the legal problem and to provide a plausible solution that puts us, their client, in the best possible legal position, often to the detriment of others.
From what I understand (and I would love to be proven wrong), parenting never gets any easier, no matter how old your children become. Whether your child has a legitimate claim against an educational institution, or a dispute arises between family or community members, it is essential to remind yourself that a lawyer can make suggestions, but ultimately you are the one in the captain’s seat.