Instructing lawyers: Uncertainty and knowledge


I have in my career of now over twenty years worked with many lawyers. I work with lawyers from other jurisdictions, I work with barristers, I work with lawyers in other specialist areas and I work with colleagues. My gut reaction to lawyers who state positions with certainty has always been scepticism. My gut reaction to lawyers that are uncertain in a position has always been respect and confidence.


I remember speaking to a handful of barristers on a case I was working with and the decision on who to instruct was easy for me as there was only one who explained that it was not clear and that more thought was needed.


A teacher I had as a child in Abu-Dhabi said that if someone takes a firm and certain position on something, it means that they do not have enough knowledge on the subject yet. He said that certainty means less knowledge.


That has never left me and as I get older, it has resonated more and more. I miss the certainty I had on issues as a younger adult and don’t always enjoy that everything I learn more about becomes uncertain.


I know that that I have much more certainty in the areas I know least about where the source of my knowledge is perhaps an article or third hand. It may be about countries that I have not lived in or know people who have. It may be on beliefs and cultures I have not been exposed to. It may be on ways of life that I have not led or seen. It may be about science or medicine. It may be about food I have never eaten. It may be about political systems I have not experienced. I know that in all such areas, I have to remind myself that that my certainty has come from not knowing enough about it.


The more senior the adviser we are instructing, the more knowledge and experience they will have and often that will make them understand the uncertainty. If they are secure enough in sharing that, take comfort in the fact that it is knowledge that has led them there.

– Tania Tandon

Image courtesy of Jon Tyson via Unsplash
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