Shaping the 21st-century lawyer

In today’s modern digital era, traditional legal practice and long-established law firms are facing constant disruption and complex challenges. Lawyers are having to change the way they think, the way they work, and the tools they use, which begs the question—what does the future look like for legal professionals?

Author: Anna Marra, Project Manager, Consultant and Trainer. Director of IE Law School’s Executive Education Management for Lawyers programs

Have you ever wondered what kind of lawyer you want to be, what kind of knowledge you want to have, and what lawyer skills you need to develop? If you haven’t already done so, bear in mind that the 21st-century lawyer is being refined, redesigned, and ultimately reinvented as we speak.

The T-shaped Lawyer

The concept of a T-shaped lawyer has received a lot of attention in recent years, beginning in 2014 when Amani Smathers, Senior Practice Innovations Specialist at Chapman and Cutler LLP, introduced the notion in an article published in the ABA Law Practice Magazine (Big Ideas Issue, July / August 2014). Since then, the concept has been the subject of reflection and continuous development.

The model is symbolized by the letter T, in which the vertical bar delineates extensive legal experience and knowledge. The overhead horizontal bar represents knowledge of other disciplines such as technology, business, data analysis, security, project management, and design thinking. This kind of lawyer is therefore a holistic professional capable of dealing with the profound changes and challenges of the new legal market, which includes increasingly demanding clients, globalization, and new advanced technology.

The image shows the skills reflected in the T-shaped Model

Lawyer skills: Out with the old, in with the new

This model replaces model I, which suggested traditional legal practice acquired in a law school was sufficient enough to prepare lawyers for the profession. As you may have already guessed, this is no longer the case. The I-shaped lawyer could not respond adequately to the new demands of the ever-changing legal landscape, therefore it was necessary to create a new model for lawyers, which combined traditional practice with both the soft and technical skills needed to be a lawyer.

This is where the new T-shaped lawyer comes in. Comprehensive knowledge of the law still forms the core of this future-forward professional, but now knowledge of other disciplines complement the profile. Ultimately, T-shaped lawyers boast an elaborate knowledge of their client’s individual requirements and goals, ensure effective delivery of legal services, and apply the latest technology to their cases.

However, model T, as originally conceived, doesn’t include emotional intelligence. This is essential for meeting customer demand for better relationship management. So what next?

The Delta Model assumes that a lawyer’s competencies and skills will continue to adapt to the ever-evolving world around us and the skills set vary according to the legal landscape

The Delta Model

An evolution of the model T has recently been produced, known as the Delta Model, which incorporates personal effectiveness skills in a 3D mold. This model has already been developed and improved three times, thanks to the constant hard work of an experienced group of professionals, including Alyson Carrel (Northwestern Pritzker School of Law), Cat Moon (Vanderbilt Law School), Shellie Reid (student at Michigan State University College of Law), Natalie Runyon (Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute), and Gabe Teninbaum (Suffolk Law School).

It takes the shape of a triangle, with each side representing a different competence—knowledge of law, business and operations, and personal effectiveness. The first side depicts skills associated with traditional legal practice such as legal writing, legal analysis, and legal research. The second side, business and operations, involves business fundamentals, project management, and data analytics. Finally, ​​personal effectiveness is broken down into relationship management, entrepreneurial mindset, emotional intelligence, communication, and character.

The Delta Model assumes that a lawyer’s competencies and skills will continue to adapt to the ever-evolving world around us. As the center point moves, the skill set will vary according to the case, the client, and the legal landscape. Some roles may require greater application of a certain side of the Delta triangle and, therefore, greater emphasis on skills within a given area.

The image shows the skills exposed in the Delta Model

The O-shaped Lawyer

Dan Kayne, General Counsel (Regions) in Network Rail recently proposed a new model, the O-shaped lawyer, which has since been the object of great study in the LinkedIn group he created. It turns its back on the analysis proposed by both the T-shaped lawyer and the Delta Model, focusing more on a variety of wide-ranging skills needed to be a lawyer as opposed to knowledge. According to Kayne (The lawyer of the future is O shaped): “O Shaped Lawyers are the next generation of lawyers. They are well-rounded people who combine technical competence with a more human, emotionally intelligent approach. These ‘smarts and hearts’ will define the next generation of lawyers entering the legal profession.”

O-shaped lawyers are open, opportunistic, original and responsible (ownership), and optimistic. They have an open mindset and are eager to learn, aren’t afraid to take risks and work outside their comfort zone, and can handle criticism well. They are concerned with the common good, and believe expressing feelings and looking vulnerable should be considered a strength, not a weakness.

Collaboration in the educational system contributes to creating a fairer, more transparent, and more sustainable future for the profession

O-shaped lawyers are opportunists in the sense that they seek, take advantage of, and even create opportunities, and are characterized by curiosity, a desire to explore, and an overriding ability to embrace change. They are original because they use outside-the-box thinking to solve complex problems, adopting new ways of working and accepting error as part of growth. Additionally, they take responsibility for all of their work, taking into consideration the context in which they are advising and tailoring their advice to support the objectives of their clients. Finally, O-shaped lawyers are optimistic. Instead of fearing obstacles, they look for possibilities, working in collaboration with their clients to ensure the achievement of their end goals.

Shows the O-Shaped Lawyer skills

According to Kayne: “O-shaped lawyers recognize the importance of listening and understanding the needs of their clients. They will appreciate that providing a convincing service requires more than an acute intellect; they need understanding, compassion, and emotional intelligence. Currently, lawyers are too focused on what they do more than how they do it. This creates frustration and dissatisfaction with the General Council (GC) of their business colleagues who simply don’t feel they get the service they want.”

The model proposed by Kayne is based on a collaboration between various actors in the system, from law firms and legal service departments to universities and law schools, among other bodies in the industry. This invitation to collaborate is particularly addressed to the educational system, to ensure it’s open to all, provides an opportunity for the development of talent and lawyer skills, and contributes to creating “a fairer, more transparent, and more sustainable future for the profession.”

The Future of Law and the skills needed to be a lawyer

The skill-based O model is probably the most challenging. A skill-based education, rather than a knowledge-based education, is a completely new concept, but has great potential to lead change in today’s VUCA environment. As Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba said, “only by changing education can our children compete with machines.”

Are law schools teaching students to operate confidently in a world where the answer to most questions is just a Google search away? Where huge amounts of knowledge and expertise are accessible at the click of a button? Despite the advance of the digital age, lawyers of the future still need to be in touch with their human competencies. We therefore need a new educational paradigm, which matches the complexity of the global landscape while still emphasizing the core competences the legal profession has long been known for. Technology should be expanding 21st-century lawyers’ mindsets, not engulfing them.

Shows the picture of the author, Anna Marra.Anna Marra is a PM trainer and consultant for private and public organizations. Anna was a pioneer in proposing the discipline of Legal Project Management to improve performances in law firms and in-house legal departments. In 2017 she became Councilor of the LPM Global Advisory Council of the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM). Presently she is IILPM Accredited Training Provider (ATP). Anna is author of various publications on legal project management, corporate social responsibility, and strategy for law firms.

 Note: The views expressed by the author of this paper are completely personal and do not represent the position of any affiliated institution.