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New skill-enhancing models to become tomorrow's lawyer in 2019

As another year passes and a new one begins, people start to wonder what tomorrow will bring. Challenges create opportunities and those that are prepared are best able to take advantage of these opportunities. Whether by being the first to strike or by establishing a niche in a growth area, risk-taking and preparation result in rewards. Unfortunately, those who stand still are left behind.   

Similarly, in our profession, forward thinking lawyers stand to benefit the most from the fundamental changes that are taking place within our legal profession. I have discussed on several occasions my strong opinion that technology will be a game-changer in our profession. But this is merely one piece of the puzzle and one area where lawyers can gain a strong competitive advantage by developing a skill-set in this area.

The difficulty of trying to predict what the lawyer of tomorrow will look like is that there is not just one right answer. Often, reality is a composite of many different ideas and perspectives. This is why it is important to keep a finger in the pulse of our profession and how it is changing. The first major recent shakeup, in my opinion, was the development of the T-shaped lawyer concept by Amani Smathers. By adding critical components such as technological, project management, design thinking and other competencies to the core knowledge of the law, the model enhanced the role of lawyers and challenged the traditional notion of what the critical skill-sets of the lawyer of tomorrow will be. To this model, I then added another piece, creating the “+” shaped lawyer. This model basically took the T-shaped lawyer and added emotional intelligence, being able to value and work within diverse and global workplaces and other interpersonal skills that in my opinion are critical to become an effective lawyer of tomorrow. 

Now, building on these two concepts, a new model has emerged, called the Delta Model of Lawyer Competencies. Developed by Natalie Runyon, Alyson Carrel and Shellie Reid, this model enhances the T-shape and the “+” shaped lawyer by combining the horizontal bar of the T-shape into what it calls the “Process, Data and Technology” and the emotional-intelligence component of the “+” shape into the Personal Effectiveness Skills.

While still at its infancy, I look forward to seeing how this model evolves and is applied. There is no doubt that this is the direction that the legal profession is heading. The days are gone when book-smart lawyers trained and highly skilled in the law, but possessing little to no capabilities in the two other elements of the Delta Model are able to develop or work within a law firm or are able to achieve a successful practice. Similarly, such lawyers are unlikely to be successful within an in-house department, where the legal team is expected also to be a strategic business partner.

And yet, the model is also still evolving. On such evolution is the Dynamic Delta Model. This adaptation recognizes that not all legal roles are created equal. For example, a more senior lawyer may focus more on building and maintaining client relationships, so their Personal Effectiveness Skills will be more pronounced than a more recent call to the bar that may be more heavily weighted toward the legal knowledge and skills.

So what does this mean to you as a junior, mid-level or senior lawyer? What can you do with this information? It is important to recognize that your strengths and your capabilities will grow and develop as you advance within your career. Certain paths will enhance or require more of one skill set than another. That being said, in the formative years, it is my recommendation that new lawyers try to develop an equally balanced triangle. One way of doing this is by enrolling in a joint degree (such as an LLB/MIR, LLB/MBA) or through obtaining a minor in a technology or business related subject area to build on some of the Process, Data and Technology skills. Students can also build their personal effectiveness skills by becoming involved with legal associations, student and community groups, and focusing on building professional and social networks.

Until such time as law schools catch up and start providing law students with legal training consistent with the Delta Model of competencies, it will be the law student and young associates’ obligation to fill in the gaps.

While it is impossible to tell the future, we have very clear signals of where the profession is heading. A wise and proactive lawyer must be self-conscious of their strengths, where there are gaps within their skill sets and should take necessary steps to close these gaps. By doing so, you will not need luck to develop a successful legal career, rather you will just need to be ready to answer the call when opportunity knocks.

I wish you and yours a prosperous, healthy and successful new year!


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