Let’s get straight to business: in this article, we’re explaining the nitty-gritty practicalities of a T-shaped lawyer. If it was a recipe, here comes:
Goal: T-shaped lawyer – who’s this?
Key Ingredients: What does it take to be a T-shaped lawyer?
Method: How to become a T-shaped lawyer?
However, this is more of a blueprint with useful information, rather than a strict formula. So, read up and get inspired.
For an intro to the T-shaped lawyer concept – the question of all questions, “Why?” – check out the already posted Part 1.
WHO? A LAWYER.
“A lawyer” is a single-word, yet extremely capacious, a term. It refers to “many different types of legal professionals who provide a variety of services to a multitude of audiences”, as Elaine Mak (the author of The T-Shaped Lawyer and Beyond: Rethinking legal professionalism and legal education for contemporary societies) presents. A judge – a public decision-maker – is a lawyer. A solicitor (barrister/ attorney/ advocate/ legal adviser) – counselling and representing clients – is a lawyer. A law professor – analysing existing regulations, proposing desirable developments, teaching – is a lawyer. Any law school graduate, even when not practising, is a lawyer.
So, do all lawyers need to become T-shaped? No.
We recognise that primary societal and professional demands regarding the specific legal roles are different. And so, the current need to become T-shaped lawyers varies for each type of legal professionals. For now, the pressure is lesser on judges and academics, yet far greater on in-house counsel and business lawyers. Equally, while all lawyers could benefit from the gained versatility of skill, the utility and return on investment is the most significant for counsel and advisers (internal or external). In this post, hence, I mainly present the goals and paths to becoming T-shaped for the latter category of legal professionals.
T-SHAPED LAWYER – CLIENT FOCUSED, BUSINESS READY, TECH SAVVY.
By now, you’re probably familiar with the general concept of a T-shaped lawyer as a “T” metaphor: deep domain expertise in legal knowledge and skills as its vertical basis and the top, horizontal, bar containing a variety of in-demand, “non-legal” skills.
On a macro level, the ethos behind the T-shaped lawyer refers to the combination of legal with business and tech knowledge. This fusion of “more than just law” is clear. As Mark Cohen puts it:
“Corporate legal delivery has morphed from legal expertise to a three–legged stool supported by legal expertise, technology, and business.”
At first glance aiming to gain knowledge in all these areas seems like a lot. Unrealistically a lot. Stop. This is seeing the matter through the lens of legal perfectionism. The goal is not to become an expert in every field nor a master of every relevant skill.
The T-shaped lawyer’s objective is, overwhelmingly, a mindset of flexibility and openness. Secondly, it’s achieving the ability to collaborate effectively: crossing the boundaries between disciplines, working with “non-legal” experts. To be adaptive innovators. Only, lastly, it means specific business and tech literacy. That’s enough skill and knowledge of, and appreciation for this “non-legal” toolbox. So much as to be better problem-solvers for your clients, more effective collaborators for your colleagues and, hopefully, more fulfilled individuals. In a legal function delivery setting, it also means placing humans – your clients – at the centre, to focus on satisfying their needs and expectations. It so happens that attaining the desired macro-scale mindset and collaboration ability occurs organically along developing the T-shaped lawyer’s skills.
THE SKILLS OF A T-SHAPED LAWYER (WHAT?)
As identified by R. Amani Smathers, there are five categories of specific skills that a T-shape lawyer needs, at least, to be familiar with and, preferably, well versed in some.
What do these skills entail?
How are they relevant to lawyers?
And, how to apply them in business and practice of law?
If the legal world had its Word of the Year competition (whether Oxford or Merriam-Webster style) “legal design” or “legal design thinking” would definitely make the 2019’s shortlist – based on the hype. Though, juxtaposed against reality, “fine words, butter no parsnips” comes to mind. That’s because these concepts remain unfamiliar to the majority of lawyers. Let’s, then, explain.
In short “Design thinking is a process for creative problem-solving. A people- and customer-centric approach to drive innovation.”. That’s according to IDEO’s Tim Brown and David Kelley, who repurposed this concept from the world of design to business. The idea, since, gained sweeping popularity. Currently, the majority of the most successful and innovative companies, such as Amazon, Google or Samsung, use design thinking to improve customer satisfaction and stay ahead of the curve. That’s not to mention Apple – in a class of their own, given they’re considered pioneers and a perfect case in point for how design thinking turned a company and its products into a market disruptor.
The term has two basic meanings: of a technique and a way of thinking. In the first sense, it refers to a set of processes – cognitive, strategic and practical – applied by designers who develop concepts into solutions to identified problems. With its own established methods, it forms a system of working. It’s an iterative – repeated until satisfied with the outcome or, more likely, with no end – process consisting of three phases:
(ii) exploration; and
Within them there are six steps:
5. test; and
As an approach, design thinking focuses on a human at its core, seeking to understand and respond to the needs of the user. It’s aimed at challenging the existing assumptions, redefining problems and identifying novel strategies and solutions in response to people’s wishes. It’s learning by doing. Creativity is key, as it refers to both the outcome of the design thinking process and is a crucial attribute of the process itself.
How does it fit in with the law and lawyers? At the moment, it doesn’t very much. That’s despite the recent huge popularity of legal design thinking. So far the reality doesn’t (yet?) match the hype. Quintessentially, lawyers seem almost antithetic to experimental exploration and tolerance for failure on the way to improvement. Perfection, winning and being right are widely coveted amongst lawyers. Also, traditionally, their clients need to listen, rather than are being listened to. Equally, on a broader level – law is not designed in a user-friendly manner. It’s inaccessible and hard to understand by “regular people”. Results? Interactions with lawyers and the law are frequently perceived as frustrating, scary or disempowering.
Yet, to remain successful in today’s business and practice of law, where the balance of power shifts and the client-customer becomes king, this needs to change. Lawyers and the way law is delivered need to change, to be precise. Design thinking – or, more broadly, the ethos of human-centricity and creativity – is a great strategy towards bringing this change. Design thinking can be applied internally, to improve the functioning of legal businesses and job satisfaction. In turn, it will result in enhanced performance of individuals and the organisation as a whole. Externally – it creates a better client experience, makes businesses competitive and feeds innovation. Along with the ongoing mammoth task of a legal culture shift much can be achieved with incremental, systematic, tweaks on the ground. For starters, try having a more curious attitude, where you question the way things are (especially those “that have always been like that”). Look for ways of improving them. Begin by discussing with your colleagues and clients and then try (implement) new approaches. It will surely bring positive outcomes. Start small, great results will come in time.
Project management (PM) is paradoxical. On the one hand, it seems straightforward. It’s common sense. We all do it. On the other, given how many projects fail to be delivered on time, within budget and satisfying all stakeholders, there’s clearly a mismatch somewhere. Where’s the catch? In legal, the usual culprits for not managing projects (successfully) have been:
- lack of pressure. Just like with many facets of legal function delivery, for decades lawyers dictated the terms. Why would they self-impose this extra burden?;
- lack of know-how and/or awareness. There’s virtually no training in PM provided as part of the classic legal education. Its contents, at its face value, appear far removed from the law.
With a recent shift of power in legal this has changed. Clients now recognise PM as one of the key firm differentiators and factors in firm selection. Lawyers must deliver.
“Project”, as coined by the Project Management Institute, is “a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result”. It has defined and measurable characteristics, such as beginning and end, scope, resources. Its goal is singular and specific (as opposed to routine operations). Its management requires oversight and delivery of results on-time and on-budget, taking into consideration their integration into the organisation. It includes applying specific methods (drawn from varied areas such as HR, procurement, communication) and knowledge – rooted in technical, strategic and business know-how, together with taking on a leadership role. Project management (PM) means following a process of:
4. monitoring and control; and
Recently, modifications departing from this “classic PM” have gained popularity, for example, lean or agile project management.
In sum, project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities in order to meet the project requirements. Legal project management (LPM) is, then, applying project management in a legal context.
“LPM is a process of defining the parameters of a matter upfront, planning the course of the matter at the outset with the facts you have at the time, managing the matter, and, at the end, evaluating how the matter was handled (from both the firm or law department perspective and the client perspective).“.
Through the lens of LPM, a case becomes a project. It’s important, given that clients generally do regard their matters as projects, whereas for lawyers, typically, they have been processes. The difference is crucial.
LPM responds to the law firms’ clients pressures, bringing greater efficiency (including reduced spend), predictability and transparency. It can also help align law firms to the new legal delivery models, with alternative pricing structures and a more wholesome approach to solving clients’ business problems. Mostly, as better communication (within the team and with clients) lies at its core, it contributes to forming and sustaining relationships and increasing satisfaction. LPM requires that lawyers understand their clients’ needs, objectives and expectations. For example: what does success in the matter mean? Prevailing in litigation, no matter the cost or safeguarding the least disruption to the business, hence willing to settle, preferably quietly and fast? Only then it’s possible to develop the scope of work, deliverables and a budget, as well as to plan staff and other resource allocations.
Today many professional bodies recognise project management competencies as required core skills for lawyers. For example, the English Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in its Solicitor Competence Statement explicitly mentions specific LPM’s tasks of scoping, resource management, budget management, monitoring progress, communicating progress and managing project change.
Hence, given the practical needs – clients’ expectations and internal drivers for process optimisation, as well as professional competence requirements; legal project management is becoming bread and butter for most firms, especially in big law. Yet, not every firm can hire dedicated project managers. Luckily, catching up in the LPM area and achieving a basic level proficiency, in order to improve client service, is within reach. It doesn’t have to involve expensive technology and training. Awareness and mindful application of the well-known tools and techniques, such as planning, scoping, budgeting, reporting and closing, to your legal matters, will yield a great result. And, as always, remember that communication is key.
Among the “non-legal” skills we’re presenting, business know-how appears to have become the most internalised and natural to lawyers (right next to risk management). Hence, there’s no need to elaborate on the already familiar. Instead, I’m pointing out a few interesting facts and observations.
Business know-how has a dual nature. Firstly, it includes the broader, more general “commercial awareness”. That is familiarity with factors affecting the success of an enterprise, the ability to look at a legal issue from the client’s perspective and provide legal advice which is aligned with achieving their business goals. It means thinking like an entrepreneur, putting yourself in their shoes, along with the analysis of the matter from the perspective of the law. Secondly, it comprises specific industry know-how. That is a specialised domain and practical knowledge – most likely of your clients’ industry, for example, life sciences or financial markets.
Industry knowledge is, clearly, essential for corporate counsel. They must stay up-to-date on developments in their sector. Equally, they need to be well versed in general commercial law and economic principles affecting businesses, such as competition and antitrust regulation. The same, however, applies to the outside lawyers advising these counsel and, more importantly, their boards and managers. Here’s a great example from the excellent paper Why Your Firm Needs Sector-Based Strategy – and How to Build One by Harvard Law School’s Heidi Gardner and Law Vision’s David Harvey:
“The general counsel of a major U.S. health care provider summed up the fundamental client-counsel disconnect: ‘Nine of our 10 executive team members are physicians. My outside counsel is giving me legal advice in lawyer-ish and I need to translate it into doctor-ish. Not just the terminology, but my lawyers need to demonstrate that they know how health care executives think, what worries them, why [certain] issues matter for our industry. That’s not happening nearly enough.’”
It shows first-hand that GCs expect their lawyers to deliver business know-how consisting of broader market knowledge combined with insights and context particular for their clients’ industry and business.
Financial acumen is particularly important within the business know-how. That’s according to the Harvard Law School’s study. It indicated that the most important skill an aspiring lawyer can acquire is the ability to analyse financial statements. Other top-ranked skills included understanding financial markets, business strategy and industry analysis.
The primary role of a lawyer is to avoid risks – is often said. Risk avoidance is considered the lawyer’s second nature, right next to the equally cherished label of “lawyer as a problem-solver”. Yet, in today’s reality of constant change, many risks cannot be completely avoided, but only managed. Numerous new types of risks arise (like cyber or climate) and intertwine. Risks require being taken care of as part of the larger picture, strategically. Last but not least, accountability becomes more imminent and severe, whether in the legal, business or personal capacity. To name a few possible consequences: penalties and sentences; consumer boycotts or decreased sales resulting in profit losses; reputational damage, especially in the consumer activism and #metoo era.
And so, risk management has never been so important. Luckily for lawyers, legal education and training give us a head start to successfully act as risk managers. Having said that: it is only a start. Risk management goes far beyond legal risks. Moreover, it has a well-established protocol (standards, frameworks etc.) and a vast body of knowledge – in which, unfortunately, not many lawyers get trained.
“Risk” does not have one definition, yet typically contains as common themes uncertainty (probability aspect) and negative impact (consequences aspect). For example the Oxford Dictionary’s: “The possibility that something unpleasant or unwelcome will happen.”. Though, negative effects are not inherent, as some risks can create opportunities and ultimately bring positive changes. That’s how the UK’s Orange Book of Risk Management presents the term: “uncertainty of outcome, whether positive opportunity or negative threat, of actions and events”.
In general, there are three categories of risks: preventable, non-preventable and, in between, strategy risks. Preventable risks are largely internal and hence avoidable. On the contrary, non-preventable are frequently also non-avoidable, overwhelmingly external (such as political or environmental). Strategy risks are those that a “company voluntarily accepts […] in order to generate superior returns from its strategy”.
Through the topical lens, among the currently widely identified risk categories there are: financial, reputation, regulatory/legal, political, health and safety, environmental, cyber, societal/consumer activism, shareholder activism, human rights (View from the top 2019 by the Economist Intelligence Unit for Clifford Chance).
Risk management is the process of identifying, assessing and actively controlling risks throughout the lifecycle of a project, in line with the best interests of its objectives. It implies proactive attitude, although, within varied approaches, such as avoidance, reduction, retention, sharing and transferring. For example, where elimination or avoidance of the risk is not possible or desirable, risk management instead provides frameworks to prepare for the inevitable with techniques of dealing with the risk (like containment and mitigation including minimising exposure, impact or likelihood of being affected).
Risk management forms a part of the general project management. And, just like PM, it has an established process, consisting of specific steps. These are (as one leading compliance portal presents):
1. context establishment;
2. risk identification;
3. risk analysis;
4. risk assessment and evaluation;
5. risk mitigation;
6. risk review and monitoring;
7. communication and consultation.
Risk control is becoming more prominent, especially as a task of the general counsel. Lawyers are expected to deal with a variety of risks as part of providing more wholesome business advice. Simultaneously, at the times of the “more for less challenge”, it transpires that many lawyers do not even have enough resources to manage properly their core area of responsibility – legal risks, least the numerous others.
As a final observation: let’s remember that there are two sides of the lawyers & risk coin. The almost infamous attributes of lawyers – being extra cautious, risk-averse and prone to firewalling everything, frequently make lawyers bad entrepreneurs. That’s a popular view, based on life experience. As always, there are some exceptions to the rule (and plenty rebuttals, mainly from… yes, you guessed it: lawyers). So, when approaching risks, whether acting for a client or yourself, be open to finding some middle ground. It’s negotiation – something that lawyers are, generally, also good at.
Technology & Data
Picture this scene:
Location: law firm. Characters: two men (a lawyer and a businessman). Action: talking.
Senior Partner: Please liaise with my assistant, she deals with ‘the email’ for me.
Any guesses as to when this dialogue could take place? Circa 1999? Well… not necessarily. Sure, this is a dramatised [read: imagined] “throwback scene”. A hyperbole, given that exchanges like this rather do not happen often these days. Yet, the bittersweet joke here is that we all heard something along these lines fairly recently. Way too recently.
The actual zone of “technological and data competence” we shall aim for lies between the coding digital natives and the old schooled ink-and-paper lawyers. Let’s unpack.
Being Luddites is not an option anymore. But will lawyers soon need to learn to code?
It depends 😊 On the whole, not necessarily.
In the digital economy coding is still one of the most sought-after skills. Hence, knowing how to code can create a great competitive advantage. In the legal capacity, for example, when advising clients from the tech sector. More generally, it allows for greater flexibility and diversity of a career path, should you decide to leave law. It is especially important to all the legal and law tech entrepreneurs, who, ideally, shall be well versed in both law and code. Though for a “typical lawyer” (in the business of law or the practice of law) it is by no means realistic or necessary, and for many might not even be useful in the delivery of legal function.
The level of expertise in tech to be acquired by all lawyers is the working knowledge of the tech infrastructure. So you:
understand technological tools (essentially what do they do and how they can help your practice and your clients); and
know how to use them.
To some, mainly colleagues practising in the US, this rings a bell of the “duty of technological competence”. American Bar Association (ABA) introduced this new ethical duty to its Model Rules of Professional Conduct in 2012. Now it’s been incorporated in most – 38 – of the US states (Bob Ambrogi is tracking this number here + provides useful information on the topic). Maintaining competence pertains to keeping abreast of changes in law and its practice “including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology”.
Regarding risks, as David Ries points in the ABA’s 2017 TechReport: lawyers need to safeguard their duties to protect client information (as regulatory and contractual obligations), especially when using technology. Compliance requires striving for beyond minimal required security, including, first, understanding our limitations and, then, obtaining a qualified, specialist, advice and assistance to protect clients, where necessary.
In the data department, there’s a similar story. There’s no expectation that lawyers suddenly, en masse, feed big data to their devices applying machine learning. Although there’s a huge and growing demand for tech and data science legal hybrids and legal analysts, there’s no requirement for us all to master data science for lawyers. The realistic general supposition is rather modest: for lawyers to safely and consciously start using data. Yes, any data, not necessarily big data. Collect, collate, analyse and act based on data. Also, always protect. Especially when it’s your client’s or any other privileged data.
What’s important: tech & data competence is a skill. Yet, a tricky one to rightfully claim its possession. This is due to the intrinsically dynamic nature of these fields. Competency requires constant updates, upgrades and checks that one remains relevantly skilled. Think of your mobile updating a slew of apps on any given day.
As some paint it: it’s more akin to an ethos, an attitude. It needs to be woven into the lawyers DNA.
HOW TO BECOME A T-SHAPED LAWYER?
There’s no magic formula. In fact, there’s no one road leading to this goal. Neither is the destination singular and clearly measurable. And, there’s no formal educational or vocational path, nor an exam or a licence for T-Shaped Lawyers.
There are some tried and tested steps which can bring you as close as possible to “guaranteed success” – becoming well-prepared to thrive in the current legal market; with varied and relevant knowledge and skillset.
On a meta-level, it can be summed up as: Be open-minded. Learn. Adapt. Train. Learn. Try. Fail. Stand up. Learn. Repeat.
On a more practical level, here are a few helpful tips and suggestions from experience:
There’s no need to get a degree in any of the fields. “Just” get the initial knowledge.
As lawyers, we like to do things properly. In terms of education: schools, grades, rankings matter. We have our LL. M’s. Then, MBAs got trendy. Don’t get me wrong, education means growth, professional and personal progress. Yet sometimes it’s worth considering the specific ROI (for example, MBAs are a significant investment). Unless you’re thinking of pursuing a new career path, there are some better options to gain the required level of know-how in the T-Shaped lawyers’ skills.
What’s even better: many educational options are entirely free and suitable for people who work and/or study. Think of self-paced, online courses.
Self-study – devouring books, watching online tutorials, participating in group discussions, getting a coach or a mentor are all an option. If you’d rather follow a path, then consider signing up for a specific course.
Note that these two platforms are a treasure trove for self-study (structured or not) in each of the T-shaped skills and generally are well-recognised and reputable.
On Coursera and EdX, you can choose from:
- single courses (with or without a certificate – which is a paid option; financial aid as a fee-waiver is available); through
- specialisations (generally including an educational module, such as a few courses and a capstone project – a practical task showcasing the knowledge gained); to
- micro degrees.
The courses are offered by/in cooperation with educational or professional institutions, from top universities to global companies.
In PM you can also take a mixed path: self-study and then sit an exam for one of the most well-known global PM certifications – PRINCE2 (more recognisable in Europe, with the US tending to prefer the PMI path).
Take design (whether on a graphic or user experience – UX – design side): Udemy has an abundance of design programmes. Among them theoretical and practical, geared towards gaining and/or honing specific knowledge or skills and teaching how to use professional software for designers. These courses are paid, but almost always have some kind of promotion and, typically, tend to cost, typically around EUR10.
In tech and data (besides previously mentioned Coursera, EdX, Udemy) there are specialised micro and nano degrees, such as those provided by Udacity. For example, in the field of AI or data science, if any of these becomes your passion. Note, however, that these require more of your time and money to pursue.
Last, but not least: there are numerous on-site and in-person courses in many bigger cities around the world if you prefer such a learning environment. They, too, come in different formats: weekends, evenings, one-week residential etc.
For the required level of knowledge, most of these will be enough or even more than enough!
In the creative industries, what matters is your portfolio. In tech, it is what you know and can do. Your real skills, experience and use-cases, not certificates!
Sure, law is not a creative or tech industry. But, for many CIOs (Chief Information Officers) or CTOs (Chief Technology Officers) – those at the helm of safeguarding the firms as #futureproof, it will most likely ring true. Test your knowledge by applying it to real-life problems. Show how you solved them (or would solve them, as these do not need to have been implemented) – how matters can be improved. How you bring innovation. This can be shown on a website, in a short video, a deck – whatever you find suitable. Remember that when it is out there, you’re opening your project up for iterations, receiving tips and critique from the users or other designers.
Luckily, this approach seeped into law and provides ample opportunities, especially for younger colleagues. For example, Clifford Chance now offers a dedicated IGNITE path – Tech-minded Training Contract for people who want to push the law forward. As Lex100.com reports on Who is it for?:
“As far as who the ideal candidate for IGNITE is, there really is no set list of characteristics that Clifford Chance is looking for. The firm is open to applications from individuals from a variety of degree disciplines and experiences. All that is a definite (and reasonable!) requirement is an interest in law and technology. You could be a computer science student or a graduate of biochemical engineering, be studying for a PhD in physics or be a non-law student or graduate that’s developed an app or learnt how to code on weekends. As long as you’ve got a genuine interest in law tech and believe you have skills that could be of benefit to the firm, the IGNITE training contract is open to you.”
Unfortunately, currently, it is only available in the London office. Fingers crossed it spreads further – to other locations and firms!
Test your knowledge and skills in a team, under pressure. Participate in hackathons, sprints and boot camps.
Knowledge is a means to an end, not an end in itself (in becoming T-shaped context). It’s only a first step. So now, when you’d gained some knowledge, it’s time to apply it. Before using your skills on the “real battlefield” – at work – you can test yourself in some safe space. There the goal is still to solve real-life problems, yet in an outside-of-work setting, hence with no related pressures. Namely, you can try:
Broadly speaking, these are gatherings of people from various walks of life (with differing experiences and skillsets) who, in a given time-frame, work together to creatively solve a problem. Hackathons do not need to involve using technology. However, these days, this is a popular understanding of the term: overwhelmingly associated with software development as a short event in which computer programmers, UX and UI designers, domain experts (and many others) collaborate to create usable software. Ultimately, the goal is to turn this software into a functioning product.
On hackathons and business: check this McKinsey post worth reading in full.
In the legal arena, hackathons are becoming increasingly popular. They’re organised in various locations around the globe, often by international firms in cooperation with innovation hubs. A great example is Baker McKenzie – claiming to have started the trend in 2018 when an event in collaboration with the Schoolab innovation studio took place in Paris. The firm continues with many more events, such as a recent 2019 Legal Tech Startup Challenge in collaboration with ReInvent Law in Frankfurt. This Legal Innovation Hub also organises their hackathons, like the IP Hackathon.
These are only examples. Many firms are joining in and it’s worth staying on the lookout (by signing up to relevant newsletters, following Linkedin, Twitter etc.).
The Global Legal Hackathon, undoubtedly, has become the most popular and the largest event of this kind in the legal field. It’s a brand in itself. Since 2018, on the same weekend, yet in various locations worldwide, thousands of enthusiasts aiming to make law better work on their solutions. For 2020, get ready to join the movement on March 6-8th. Check your nearest location!
- Design Sprints
Design sprints are similar to hackathons in purpose and format. Only, as the name goes, design thinking approach and methods play a crucial role. Hence, you should also keep an eye on these, especially under the heading of “legal design sprints”. They, too, get organised more and more frequently. Either on the side of big events, like legal conferences or on their own. There are, especially, some university-hosted examples, such as 2019’s City University in London – which was organised year on year (so fingers crossed for 2020) or many workshops and sessions in local languages – like the one from Wrocław (Poland) at the SWPS University.
- Boot Camps
That’s another name – and a tag to look for. These are effectively hackathons and sprints, only typically more extended (so, instead of an afternoon design sprint meeting or a 24-hour hackathon these would be a few days of turning your idea into a workable product/solution).
- Legal Hackers
Legal Hackers in the legal tech & innovation movement has the status of an institution. Therefore almost a book – and, for sure, a dedicated post – could be written about it. Given our purpose, it’s added to this list as a great way to practise your skills and expand knowledge on a more regular basis. It’s possible by joining your local chapter (here’s a list) and participating in local events, amongst which there are workshops, hackathons and sprints. It’s a community where thinking turns into doing.
To sum up this point: there are many events where you can practise and expand your skills and knowledge. They are also extremely valuable on the networking and personal development side. Not only will you meet other lawyers but also – perhaps more importantly in the cooperation across disciplines context – people who do not speak legalese (and neither do you, yet, speak their lingo), with different outlooks, experiences and professional toolboxes. You will develop immensely in “people’s skills”, like collaboration, communication and empathy.
Customer experience matters. In any customer-serving capacity.
Before we became lawyers (or as a side hustle), most of us have done jobs that rarely land on our professional CVs and resumes. Waiting tables, serving pints, selling clothes, baby/dog/house-sitting, administrative gigs – the list is endless. Yet, what most of these have in common is serving customers. In the changing legal market landscape, this becomes very important due to two main factors:
- clients of law firms turn into customers. This is a result of, among others: (i) a shift towards the buyers’ market; (ii) greater competition, especially from the “alternative” legal service providers who are more customer-friendly; (iii) the legal industry catching up with the others, largely customer/user-oriented, industries’ standards; (iv) high expectations of legal users who demand similar level of attention and care, as found in other service-providers.
- being service-oriented, with a mindset of “my job is to help others” is widely presented as one of the #futureproof, highly in-demand, professional skills. For example, it’s identified as such (number 3 on the list of 12) by a well-known future of work expert Jacob Morgan. The focus on customers is the key to the success of the greatest global companies, such as Apple or Amazon.
And so, having some experience in a customer-serving role will help you apply the required mindset to your legal job. It might also be useful as a clue on how to deal with some unavoidable, yet typical to purchasing goods or services, issues. Given that the design thinking skill and the newly pursued legal culture shall be rooted in the user-centricity, these experiences are invaluable. And, most likely, you have (or have had) this skill already. Only that it requires some adjustments and updating.
You can, but do not have to, take specialised “legal” / “for lawyers” courses.
These tips present more general, rather than the law-focused, T-shaped skills’ acquisition. Hence, the described training paths with their educational offerings provide learners with, say, project management skills – for any domain (whether “legal PM”, “IT PM” and so forth). This is because, on average and for the majority of lawyers willing to get the 21st-century skills, these “general path” will be enough, and, highly likely, a better option, overall.
There are, however, dedicated “legal” – for law professionals and/or the delivery of legal function – courses. For example, “legal project management”. Frequently, they come in the form of “executive legal education“. This type of professional development is great in many ways, such as:
- content-wise: its programme specifically caters for the needs (and problems, use-cases, applications of industry-oriented practices and solutions) of legal service delivery, whether legal practice or the business of law;
- in delivery: faculty are highly experienced professionals and educators. These are frequently (former) lawyers and experts in both fields. They can advise on specific issues, they’ve “been there, done that”. They understand fellow lawyers and industry-specific pressures, goals and customs.;
- the format of these courses is adjusted to suit the lives of busy professionals – they are on the short, but intense side (such as a 1 to 3 days meeting, if delivered in person);
- participants are fellow lawyers – so you can exchange experiences, learn from each other.
Yet, there are also disadvantages. One, in my opinion, quite significant and fundamental. Consider the following: training in the legal environment, among lawyers, by lawyers and for lawyers, besides undoubtful specialisation 😊,
- dilutes the goal of gaining the “non-legal” skills and perspectives; and
- perpetuates the “legal exceptionalism”.
In a way, it goes against being more open, creative, design-minded, business-oriented and so forth. Instead of immersing ourselves in different work cultures, learning how other professionals/industries approach certain challenges, how they solved similar problems and then adjusting and transferring these practices to our legal industry, we risk further strengthening the “legal guild issues”. In other words, it feels like saying:
“We want to be less lawyerly”. [Great, a round of applause!]
“But!” [Lawyers! There’s always a but!]
“But we’ll do it our own – lawyerly – way. We’re special.”.
In general, specialisation is natural. Other industries also develop their own unique and tailored standards, methods, training paths. Some will say that the specialised, legal, courses are precisely the outcome of “learning ‘how others do things’ and transferring it to our industry”. Or just like a partner who doesn’t do the research, but acts based on what others already prepared for her/him. The trainers, in this case, have done the digging and now present its most important findings to the delegates. Yet, give it a thought, when you’re deciding what to choose for a more first-hand, challenging and rewarding experience of going beyond legal.
The second disadvantage is much more circumstantial – it won’t be a problem for everyone. Typically, the executive education courses come at a price – a hefty one. Yet, given that you get what you pay for, and assessed versus lost working days/earnings etc. this is more relative and might be irrelevant.
Lastly, as the name goes – sometimes these courses will not be openly available, but only to those who fulfil certain criteria of experience or a seniority threshold.
Summing up the question of whether to choose the “specialised” vs. “general path”: it depends. On who you are, what are your specific goals and circumstances, preferences for the delivery methods, concrete paths and individual courses you’re considering and so forth. Yet, neither path is better in itself. Here, we approached the topic with the “average person” in mind: aiming to gain enough relevant knowledge and skill, at the rational expense of resources (time, money, capabilities). The “general path” in light of ROI seems safer and more flexible in terms of gaining the initial exposure, which then one can leave as is or top-up with further/specialist training. Though, equally, once you’ve been exposed to the legal aspect of a specific skill and you want to expand your knowledge further, you can undertake studies in the broader field. It really works both ways!
If your preference is for the specialised and/or executive legal training in the T-shaped lawyer’s “non-legal” skills and you’re looking for some suggestions – stay tuned for our next posts with a guide dedicated to this option.
WHAT’S THE NEXT BIG THING? DELTA!
The T-shaped lawyer seems to be the most popular model of lawyer development in the big law parlance. Yet, in pioneering academic circles, it’s already undergoing a makeover. Largely it’s an extension project. Building on the fundamentals of a T-shaped lawyer’s skillset a new layer of personal effectiveness is being added. It includes relationship management, emotional intelligence (EQ) and character. Some, like Peter Connor of Alternatively Legal here, emphasise that the “personal dimension” competencies and qualities, such as integrity and judgment, have always been part and parcel of the legal function. Connor also claims that it’s especially the case with the T-shaped lawyer given that in times of change “other competencies – like empathy, foresight, adaptability, resilience, creativity and emotional intelligence – become increasingly important.”. Yet, from our research and analysis, it appears that it’s stretched too far to claim that the T-shaped Lawyer Model places significant importance on the emotional aspect of lawyering. The T-Shaped Lawyer Model failed to effectively respond to the clients’ needs for better relationship management. Hence, we at the Blog, believe that while the T-Shaped Model is a great basis to guide lawyers in professional development, its upgrade – or rather an extension – focused on EQ is spot-on! So, we are great fans of the Delta Model.
No need to worry – we have you covered. In the post Delta Model of competencies – a theory of everything? Theodora explains it all. Also, you can play with an interactive triangle to see what’s your profile, so check it out 😊.
In the rapidly changing legal marketplace, the ability to adapt by acquiring new competencies has never been as important as it is now. The T-Shaped Lawyer Model is the first step on the required upskilling path – mandatory for professional advancement and enhanced customer satisfaction. It emphasises developing technical and creative skills suited to the digital economy. What’s more, this model promotes a mindset of collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication – the “4C´s of 21st-century learning skills”. The T-shaped lawyers’ transformative skills, topped up by emotional intelligence and cultural awareness, make lawyers more agile and ready for the roles yet to be created. For now, it definitely makes lawyers more client-aligned and hence likely to succeed in the delivery of legal services.
Looking forward to comments and questions – get in touch! Thank you for reading 😊
Karolina Jackowicz is a (re)inventor. With analytical mind – lawyer by education. As curious and empathetic spirit – mediator by profession. At heart, driven by creative urge with a get-go attitude – a habitual process improver turned manager, serving as legal tech start-up’s CEO. When not on the road: swimming, reading or walking basenji Amiś.