Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 40

ON FURTHER REVIEW
The Advantages
of Being a Generalist
By Lloyd Liu
C
onventional wisdom encourages
early specialization
in a substantive area of
the law. The argument for
specialization is straightforward.
If a company has a Food and Drug Administration
regulatory problem, for example, it will
likely seek an FDA specialist, someone who has
spent years steeped in the relevant regulations
and agency law. But when it comes to complex
and sophisticated problems, how would clients
benefit from substantive generalists? For generalists,
other practical questions arise: How do
you know your limits? How do you manage an
area of law that perhaps you can't claim any
expertise in?
This framing of the generalist versus specialist
debate fails to account for the upside of having
a broader experience. There is undeniable logic
behind deciding to become a specialist, but are
generalists a relic of the past?1
I spoke with Faith Gay, a founding partner at
Selendy & Gay PLLC and one of the leading
litigators in the country who routinely advises
Fortune 500 companies. Before launching her
firm, Gay served in the U.S. Attorney's Office for
the Eastern District of New York as chief of its
Civil Rights Unit (Criminal Division) and as
deputy chief of its Special Prosecutions Unit.
Gay's practice is diverse, covering commercial
claims, white-collar issues, and matters of constitutional
law, among other things. She is a
successful generalist with respect to substantive
areas of the law, but she also identifies as
a specialist in handling sensitive, high-stakes
litigation. " It's a matter of feel, a matter of
modesty, and a matter of being a good student
early to understand what you don't understand, "
Gay tells me.
40 WASHINGTON LAWYER * JULY/AUGUST 2021
This underscores two important traits of successful
substantive generalists: careful listening
skills and curiosity. That curiosity is fuel. To
quote Plutarch, " The mind is not a vessel to be
filled but a fire to be kindled. " Gay's diverse
experience speaks to her agility as well as her
interest in traversing new terrain.
But while a successful generalist roams, Gay
does not roam aimlessly. An effective generalist
understands what is important. So, while Gay's
practice runs the legal gamut, from antitrust
and securities litigation to complex contractual
and financial disputes to consumer class
actions, in addition to white-collar law, she
can distill the heart of any dispute to the questions
that determine a case.
" Trials come down to who's telling the truth,
who isn't, whose position passes the smell test
of being right or wrong. Who is hiding something?
Who is willing to change? Who is willing
to get better? Who wants to do the right thing,
even if they didn't always want to do the right
thing? " Gay says.
These are the kinds of questions that are critical
to the resolution of disputes, Gay adds. " In
order to convey the right answers to that, you
have to have a combination of confidence and
honesty. "
It is easy to get lost in the hypertrophy of regulations,
but, as Gay understands, most complex
problems have fundamental, straightforward
motivations. " We see ourselves in our firm as
lifetime students. We want to know as much as
possible, " she says. " Having handled cases for
plaintiff and defense, having been a government
lawyer, having been a private practice
lawyer, I feel pretty confident that I can distill
down whatever the story is to the basics. "
Indeed, broader experiences can improve our
judgment in tackling harder questions and
in evaluating risk. Our ability to integrate
broadly is our strength because as uncertainty
increases, breadth becomes more important.
Specialization can increase myopia, hindering
not only one's ability to evaluate risk but also to
resolve conflicts.
Gay raises a similar point with respect to how
gaining broader experience can help with
conflict resolution:
" We can't understand what [others are]
thinking and feeling. A huge part of that is lack
of proximity - the way we self-segregate by
living and working, " she says. " If we don't associate
with people who are different from us,
not only is our life duller, but also we can't have
anything close to an accurate perception of
what is going on ethically, morally, or culturally
for the population at large. Without that, how
can we claim to have wisdom in resolving
disputes? "
Gay touches on an underlying ethos that
seems to propel her: " If your main desire as
a litigator is to have control over a craft, that is
a beautiful thing. That is a respected calling.
But that is different than getting out of your
lane and being with people who perceive the
world totally differently. "
While there is no formula for developing
wisdom, Gay's suggestion seems to point in
the right direction.
Lloyd Liu is a partner at Bennett Doyle LLP, where
he focuses on white-collar defense, government
investigations, and complex civil litigation.
NOTE
1 William Henderson provides a historical take
on the evolution of lawyers from generalists to
specialists in " Three Generations of U.S. Lawyers:
Generalists, Specialists, Project Managers, " 70 Md.
L. Rev. 373 (2011).

Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Election Coverage
Practice Management
Toward Well-Being
A Conversation with Chad Sarchio feature
Ready for Reentry feature
LSC's Ron Flagg feature
Leadership Academy feature
DC Bar Annual Report
DC Bar Budget
Taking the Stand
On Further Review
The Learning Curve
ABA Delegate's Corner
Member Spotlight
Worth Reading
Attorney Briefs
Disciplinary Summaries
Speaking of Ethics
The Pro Bono Effect
A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 1
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 2
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 3
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Election Coverage
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Toward Well-Being
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - A Conversation with Chad Sarchio feature
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 11
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 12
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 13
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Ready for Reentry feature
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 15
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 16
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 17
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - LSC's Ron Flagg feature
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 19
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 20
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 21
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Leadership Academy feature
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Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 24
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - DC Bar Annual Report
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Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - DC Bar Budget
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Taking the Stand
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 39
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - The Learning Curve
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - ABA Delegate's Corner
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 43
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 45
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 47
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 50
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Speaking of Ethics
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 52
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 53
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 55
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - A Slice of Wry
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