The Four Stages Of Knowing

People are often surprised at how much professionals charge. It is not unheard for a highly skilled and experienced tax lawyer to charge $1,500 an hour. You could of course find a tax lawyer for $400 per hour.

Would you get the same result? Maybe, but the final bill would not be so different.

How people learn

There are four stage of knowing.

  1. The first stage is where everyone is at some point. Unconscious ignorance. They not only don’t know, they don’t know what they don’t know.
  2. It is a big leap from there to conscious ignorance. The person still would not know much, but they would have a pretty good idea of what they don’t know.
  3. Conscious knowledge is the next stage and that is the material you can learn from a book. It is far better than ignorance but it is too cerebral. Often without much nuance. This is where the lower priced tax lawyers are. In tax law, the nuance is added by case results, rulings, and things that have failed.
  4. The last stage is the unconscious knowledge level. These are the people that have had so much experience and study that they know at an intuitive level. They know the answer but frequently don’t know how they know. They can find the why as needed, but they are more capable at moving in the right direction as their first step.

So why is the end bill the same?

Because the less skilled lawyer will take a lot longer to get to the right answer. If they get there at all.

Why make life difficult?

Life is easier if it is reasonably predictable. Higher skill improves predictability.

If you think do-it-yourself works all the time when you work at it, you will have a more complex life. Complexity is not predictable. It is a bit like playing the game of real life for the first time at the “HARD”  setting. You are unlikely to win without a lot of time and lot of frustration.

You can buy your way out of that situation. You should not believe it is cheaper to do it yourself. The price is only part of the cost question. The price will be the same or more if you keep track of your own effort and you won’t have any idea at all if you are right. Similar price but unknown cost.

Not smart.

The bits to take away

My late friend Moe’s advice, “I can’t afford anything that cheap.”

Be very careful with how you deal with problems that matter. It is okay to be a do-it-yourself cake maker, not so smart to be a do-it-yourself tax lawyer setting up your international corporate network.


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I build strategy and fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways and alternate timing to achieve both spending and estate distribution goals. In the past I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning, have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email to don@moneyfyi.com

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