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Historically speaking, although not in a closed system per se, human knowledge and ideas have been inspired from, reshaped and recycled into one another into an attempt to better express the underlining concepts. Major masterpieces such as Shakespeare’s Othello, Hamlet, Romeo&Juliet, van Gogh’s Starry Night, Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues and, supposedly, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven were somehow inspired by other works but that in no way diminishes their worth. It was the added value the artists brought to the originals that made these works so remarkable. I am not implying that all human endeavour is a prisoner of the principle of mass (in our case, idea) conservation but rather that building up concepts and models on preexisting foundations is a constant in human evolution.
The interest in perfecting the legal industry is not new, but innovation, interdisciplinarity and human-centrism are elements that have only recently started being used. Relevant stakeholders have gradually understood that purely legal skills are necessary but no longer sufficient to ensure that lawyers provide legal services in a manner consistent with clients’ expectations, social needs and their own aspirations. The focus has shifted between skill-centred models, from I-shaped to T-shaped & +-shaped. The topic of current interest is the so-called Delta Model of Lawyer Competencies but, to be fair, rapid developments within the industry and beyond seem to indicate that this is also another, although important, stepping stone in the efforts to swiftly adapt this profession. That is why, for the scope of this article, we will focus on the Delta Model which, albeit built on the previous models, is nonetheless a pioneer in incorporating and giving equal weight to three categories of skills that, I dare say, are critical for lawyers’ success in today’s globalised society: substantive legal knowledge, business & operations (encompassing tech savviness, data analytics and project management) and personal effectiveness (including characteristics like entrepreneurial mindset, emotional intelligence and character). The beauty of this model resides not only in its plasticity but also in the vast spectrum of stakeholders benefiting from it, from individuals (such as law students and lawyers) to actual entities (law schools and organisations). Notwithstanding some concerns that all this skills-model hunt distracts us from real, more acute problems in the industry, the Delta Model managed to attract much attention and was generally hailed as innovative and thought provoking.
This article will be a journey through space and time so fasten your seatbelts and let’s take off! 🚀
Trying to predict what tomorrow’s lawyer will look like is a difficult task as there is not just one right answer. Many forces are acting on the legal industry as a whole, and the only way to be in the avant-garde of change is by keeping a finger on the pulse of our profession and observe its metamorphosis. Technology will surely be a game-changer, but this is merely one piece of the puzzle yet no less an area where lawyers can gain a strong competitive advantage by developing the required tech-savviness. Nevertheless, as analysed in this article, other skills are just as necessary for legal professionals to become future-proofed.
Let me now take you a few steps back to the origins of legal skills theory.
Up until several years ago, the dominant model used to be the I-shaped one, a model predicating that a lawyer should have deep law-centred expertise. For this traditional lawyer, skills beyond core legal perimeter were considered secondary and, from a client point of view, perhaps unnecessary.
Recently, the first major overhaul was the development of the T-shaped lawyer concept by Amani Smathers. Key elements such as tech prowess, project management, design thinking, the use of business tools and other competencies were added to the core knowledge of law. This way, the model enhanced the role of lawyers and challenged the conservative paradigm of law-centric skill sets (see our previous post on T-shaped lawyer here and here).
This model was further adjusted by Fernando Garcia in 2017, by adding another piece atop on the “T-shaped” model and thus creating the “+” (plus) shaped lawyer. This standard basically took the T-shaped one and added skills such as emotional intelligence, being able to value and work within diverse & global workplaces and other interpersonal skills needed to adapt the lawyers to the challenges posed by the ever-changing spectrum of contemporary demands. Essentially, the added box contained “critical interpersonal and empathy skills” along with recognition of the “value [of] diversity and inclusiveness”.
Most recently, building on these two concepts, a new model, called the Delta Model of Lawyer Competencies (“Delta Model”), has emerged. Developed out of a design thinking conference in 2018 hosted by Prof. Dan Linna, now at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and further polished by a core team of five (Natalie Runyon, Alyson Carrel, Shellie Reid, Caitlin “Cat” Moon, Gabriel Teninbaum) in collaboration with leaders in legal education and training, this standard places deep knowledge of the Law (the “I” element ) as the base of a triangle and assigns the remaining two sides to the multi-disciplinary skills from the T’s horizontal piece and to the expanded version of the interpersonal skills found in the “+” Model. The result is an interactive concept, both visually and strategy-wise.
Thus, the interest for the skill sets necessary to legal professionals is a rather old one, but for some time it was largely influenced by a traditional, law-centric modus operandi. It was not until a few years ago that the need was felt for a more novel, innovative approach. Bear with me and let us focus on the latest tendencies by diving into Delta Model’s key components!
2. What’s in a name? The Delta Model
The last decade or so has witnessed tectonic movements in the way legal services are delivered as the market has become more data-driven, transparent and atomised. A Thomson Reuters survey recently cited reveals that almost 50% of 100 general counsel surveyed had changed their legal advisers in the previous year. The reason for that was not the price practiced by their legal advisors but, as the interviewees put it, their feeling that the law firms did not understand the business. With the power sliding towards the buyers’ side, it is only natural to wonder what skills and attributes are required of lawyers for them to ensure their clients’ satisfaction.
First and foremost, it is difficult to imagine a modern legal practice that does not, in some form or another, rely on technology. This makes T-shaped the preferred model for the lawyers interested in being well suited for the latest shifts rippling across the industry. However, the market is continuously evolving and it now seems to be moving towards a different approach, one promoting strategic partnerships between lawyers and clients. Essentially, this means that the T-shaped needs readjusting to preserve its relevance for the recent developments. That is because the T-shaped Model falls short to meeting two ongoing challenges: (i) clients’ demand for better relationship management; (ii) a method to empirically measure the skills and qualities.
It was against this background that the “Delta Model” initiative from Thomson Reuters’ Legal Executive Institute was created and further refined, in an attempt to identify key competencies for a successful 21st century lawyer. The brain child of several legal industry professionals with different backgrounds, the Delta Model incorporates three categories of skills that are critical for lawyers’ success in today’s world: substantive legal knowledge, business operations (which encompasses tech savviness, data analytics and project management) and personal effectiveness (including characteristics like entrepreneurial mindset, emotional intelligence and character).
Intrinsically, regardless of the variations, the Delta Model was built upon key features of T-shaped and +-shaped models, notably on the underlining interdisciplinarity between areas of expertise. The aim was to show cast that purely legal skills are necessary but not sufficient for a lawyer’s success, as efficiency in delivering legal services (by mastering both legal prowess and related areas such as technology, data analytics and process improvements) should no longer be an attribute of just a few. However, the added value brought by the Delta Model consisted in adjoining emotional intelligence and communication skills to complete the triangle. Legal professionals are thus challenged to take into consideration complex societal issues and have a rather “holistic” perspective, integrating knowledge from different academic disciplines and seeing their social role from a broader perspective.
But Delta Model is more than just playing with basic geometry. The sign is not only a symbol of the difference (or the change needed, if you will) between the current state of play in the legal profession and the point of full adaptation to the 21st century challenges, but also about how law and technology can work together for the stakeholders to acquire a comprehensive understanding of lawyering. At its core, the Delta Model is both an educational instrument and a professional development tool.
As lawyers play different roles in society and in their organisations, it is important that this model be designed to meet all skills and roles requirements. That is precisely why the creators of Delta Model chose to split the skillsets into three main areas: Law, Business & Operations and Personal Effectiveness.
Designing the Delta Model was a tedious task, as its creators wanted it to be as empirically grounded as possible. To begin with, the graph below depicts how Business Fundamentals (which recruiters cited as the most important skill in this category) and Project Management & Workflow were the top competencies singled out by the interviewees in the Business & Operations category. Technology comes third as the discussion around technology was not so much about having expertise in technology but rather “understanding technology tools and knowing when to use them”. Only 50% of our interviewees named Data Analytics a top 10 competency.
Personal Effectiveness skill set encompasses not only Emotional Intelligence (such as resilience, and taking responsibility for one’s wellbeing) but also Relationship Management (which 92% of the hiring managers cited as a top-10 competency). Notably, it includes a skill that is mostly wanted among lawyers – an Entrepreneurial Mindset: agility, efficiency, adaptability and keen problem-solving abilities. It should come as no surprise that 91% of managers from law firms and corporates cited Entrepreneurial Mindset as the top attribute within the personal effectiveness category.
What was a surprise, though, was that the importance vested by the interviewees on personal Effectiveness Skills equals (or even supersedes) the weight given to traditional Law-centric skills (core of the “I” shaped Model). As proof, 50% of the top 10 competencies named by those filling in the questionnaire (in great majority hiring managers from law firms and corporates) were classified in the area of Personal Effectiveness skills.
Diving in a little further into this, it is worth pointing out that:
- 92% of the respondents named Relationship Management as a top 10 competency, for both external lawyers and in-house counsels.
- 83% indicated Communication as a top 10 competency, many of them considering that knowing your audience is of paramount importance when providing legal services. As proof, the Chief Human Resources Officer of an AmLaw 200 firm considered Communication as “understanding your audience and what is right for a particular client or a particular partner”.
- 75% deemed Emotional Intelligence as a top 10 competency, in the form of self-management, the ability to take responsibility for one’s own behavior and wellbeing.
- 66% viewed Entrepreneurial Mindset as a top 10 competency. In an era when law and business are intertwined, identifying demand inadequately attended by existing offer and coming up with ingenious solutions to both the law firm’s and client’s problems is seen as a valuable competence.
The working sessions (including interviews and survey results) aimed, among others, to establish an order of preference and relevance by all of the competencies singled out during this preliminary session. Eventually, the creators of the Delta Model settled down for the following core Personal Effectiveness skills: Relationship Management, Entrepreneurial Mindset, Emotional Intelligence, Communication and Character.
The details above stand to prove that the process of establishing the parameters for each category was given the full attention it deserves. But this system is not some Western-born concoction, alien from the CEE area. To the contrary, legal professionals at CEE level recognise and promote upskilling and, especially Business & Operations competencies for proper delivery of legal services.
Last but not least, unsurprisingly, Law centred skills (those that are the main focus of legal instructors and practitioners alike) were listed in top 10 skills. It is still widely considered, and rightfully so, that staying current in the law and practice areas of expertise is critical for a successful lawyer in the 21st century. At least 25% of the interviewees stated that skills listed under the Law competencies — the bottom part of the Delta — are top 10 competencies.
Summing the above up, the Delta Model better answers to the demands of relevant stakeholders by paying tribute to the traditional skills while recognising the necessity for some novel ones. As already show casted, the process of pinpointing the actual competencies going under each category was a laborious one, with each competency being thoroughly analysed before the final conclusion. But with such a solid, empirical ground, the model is set to become a landmark in assessing legal profession’s future-proofing degree, albeit clearly not the last effort to this end.
3. For Whom? Creating Digital Natives
The beauty of this model resides in its plasticity: one can temper with the model’s layout and amend the proportions for each of the three sides to better adjust it to one’s professional needs. For example, by shifting the midpoint down and to the left, the surface area assigned to Business & Operations can be increased and thus reflect the new roles in addressing the technology-driven innovations such as legal solution architects, requiring more advanced Business & Operation skills than a traditional lawyer. By contrast, a purely legal expert would place greater weight on the Law quadrant, while managers and team leaders might need to excel in skills of Personal Effectiveness sort.
Essentially, this model acknowledges that not all legal roles are equal but that they are overall vital at both individual and industry level. What is more, the Delta Model is continuously evolving (it is currently at version no. 3) in parallel with the legal profession and our understanding of how the legal industry, lawyers especially, should adapt and transform for the 21st century.
But how exactly is this model benefiting the industry’s stakeholders?
a. Law firms, especially solo and medium practices
Delta Model application is vital for the survival of solo, small and medium practices. Lacking armies of niche experts, these practices must embrace and implement skills and roles from the entire Delta spectrum should they want to avoid working 24/7 or exceeding clients’ budgets. Most importantly, solos who lack personal skills will be coerced to either obtain referrals or favourable testimonials from clients.
Undeniably, BigLaw should also take advantage of the Delta Model given the sophistication of their clients, the size of the teams, diversity and complexity of their projects.
b. Law Students and Young Lawyers
Young lawyers today (digital natives by age and circumstances) are misconstrued as some sort of digital prodigies, already D-shaped, especially on the tech aspects of the Business & Operations side. But just using smartphones and social media does not transform youngsters now into genuine digital natives and business tech savvies. There are special rules of digital marketing, UX design, data analytics etc. that simple scrolls will not make you good at. Regardless of technicalities, at its core, digital proficiency is not that much about age as it is about openness to learning new skills and acknowledging that non-legal skills are becoming as important as the traditional legal ones.
The Delta Model is one of the best options for students who not only want to see what areas they need to focus on to further develop themselves but also to explore further career paths. Basically, it is a great tool for depicting the broader range of skills necessary in virtually any legal job.
The model is suited for both internal reflection and personal branding & job hunting: students and young professionals can use the model to not only show the recruiters that they have a future-proof, holistic skillset but also to answer the classic future projection aka “where do you see yourself in 5 years” question, showing what they want to achieve and where they must improve.
Basically, the Delta Model is about transforming oneself into a well-rounded person, a legal Vitruvian Man of the 21st century if you will, susceptible to become a young innovative, promising, versatile lawyer.
c. Law School Perspective
By subjecting the Delta Model to an “ocular test” (term jokingly used by Prof. Daniel Katz to convey a simple bare eye measurement 😊) one can observe how this model does not focus on a single skillset but instead it depicts the value of interdisciplinarity and synergy of various competencies. From legal doctrine to business, technology & problem solving, all the way through emotional intelligence & entrepreneurial mindset, this model shows that a better understanding of one is dependent on but not pervasive over another. By shifting the midpoint, law schools can adjust their curricula to the most recent market needs and, more importantly, to students’ propensities. Students should be allowed to take, apart from core, mainly Law-related and carefully trimmed courses, some additional classes best suited for their interests and adjacent to the other two sides of the Delta triangle.
By shifting the midpoint of the triangle, one can simply increase and, conversely, decrease the corresponding area assigned to each skillset and thus create multiple maps to represent various careers. Comparing the resulting map with the competencies of the interested student at any given time, the educators and mentors can help the youngsters funnel their efforts into bridging the competency gap and prepare themselves for the desired career path.
Globally, the massive university educational shift has started, with universities in the US and some EU countries introducing legal clinical education (providing client-facing practical education) and interdisciplinary (usually legal technology) classes for your aspiring lawyers-to-be. However, at CEE level the educational system still has a long way to go. Various moot courts aside, apart from singular examples (such as extracurricular and clinical classes at University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, clinical class focused on e-commerce and cybersecurity at Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj, Romania, extracurricular negotiation-targeted class at Faculty of Law, University of Bucharest), I have not been able to identify any official, comprehensive educational policy aimed at future proofing and introducing the students to different career paths (apologies for any oversight; if the case, please leave a comment correcting this unintentional omission 😊). It is high time the CEE educational system adjusts itself to this trend.
d. The Mid-Career and Senior Lawyer
While for young lawyers the process of reskilling and upskilling is intuitively seen as a prerequisite for a successful career ahead, for mid-career to senior lawyers this process might seem cumbersome, detrimental to the firm’s financials and, basically, unnecessary. But determining which aspects to further improve is important for any professional who wants to maintain their relevance in the 21st century, regardless of age and seniority level, and entails self-awareness and self-assessment. Incidentally, self-awareness is a competence embedded in the Personal Effectiveness side of the Delta Model.
Basically, by wielding it as a tool, experienced lawyers can use the model to leverage their experience and strengths while also considering new directions of growth and even new career paths. This way, the Delta Model aids mid-career lawyers to widen and deepen their competence spectrum and, if the case, combat burnout resulting from career stasis. In the end, this upskilling process stands to benefit all industry stakeholders as polishing and capitalising on the experience of the more mature professionals represents one sure way of moving the industry forward.
The Delta Model allows each organisation to create a map with the skills necessary for each role and use such tool for multiple functions, from assessment, hiring, retention and promotion.
By using the Delta skillset map and by closely collaborating with all interested parties, organisations will be able to offer their employees the necessary training to foster their professional development and well-being.
4. Why do we need the Delta Model? New challenges
Delta Model is a useful tool for any forward-thinking lawyer and/or lawyer-to-be due to a change of paradigm in the way delivery of legal services has morphed in the last two decades.
Increasing reliance on technology & data and new roles for legal professionals have raised the game in the industry making it increasingly easier to obtain satisfactory results but dauntingly difficult to keep one’s skillset constantly updated for these challenges. But while acknowledging the importance of legal expertise and technology & data, the Delta Model recognises for the first time the importance of Personal Effectiveness skills. That way, saying that the Delta Model, with its complete skillset and shifting midpoint, represents a holistic understanding of the legal profession is by no means an exaggeration.
Apart from being professionals in their fields, lawyers are also service providers and thus they should master sales and communication competences (to promote their craft) and Business & Operations aptitudes to provide their services as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Technology advancements, data proliferation and increased social complexity pose new challenges to the legal industry and Delta Model helps tackling them by recognising the three main areas of interest (Law, Personal Effectiveness and Business & Operations) and how they interact. By providing a shifting middle point, the model allows flexibility, adaptability and inclusion of diverse roles.
Comprehensive tools such as Delta Model are also required for dealing with issues like the maturity level of the diversity and inclusion function (still in its infancy due to outdated models and mindsets) and mental health (legal profession being among the ones with the highest rates of suicides and illegal substance abuse). Now, the impact of Delta Model on these sensible areas is still under tests but the model is expected to positively impact the way professionals understand the practice of law, by paving the road for different career paths and providing the necessary incentives and choices.
It is important to understand that Delta Model lawyers (or any shape of lawyer for that matter) are not born this way – they are created. It requires undivided attention from both law schools and organisations just as much as from the interested individuals. Generally speaking, legal educators and law firms have turned their attention towards communication prowess, entrepreneurship and emotional intelligence for some time now, voicing concerns about the lower importance attributed to these skills. Thus, by bringing all these competencies together, the Delta Model provides the layout for further discussions and benchmarking.
To sum up, the Delta Model is a comprehensive tool, useful to all industry stakeholders for both status assessment and career advancement planning. Until such time as law schools and organisations start providing students and lawyers with legal training consistent with the Delta Model competencies, the onus will be on individuals themselves (students and lawyers alike) to fill the skills gap. In our #Futureproof series we will provide further analyses together with actual steps & recommendations aimed at ensuring legal industry’s competitiveness. The competencies included under the Delta Model were largely dictated by external factors, usually coming from the buyers’ side. It might be useful to also see what skills lawyers find useful and relevant in their day-to-day activity.
Built on the I-shaped, T-shaped and +-shaped models, but unlike those three, the Delta Model doesn’t focus on any one skill set. Instead, it visualises the value and interdependency of various competencies. It recognises the importance of legal doctrine, business, technology, problem-solving and emotional intelligence without making one skill set any more important than the other. For the first time, Personal Effectiveness skills are presented for the legal professionals’ consideration and placed on equal terms with other, perhaps more traditional, abilities. The model is equally relevant for all industry stakeholders, from law schools and organisations to individuals themselves.
The model calls for recognising that one’s strengths and capabilities will grow and develop as one advances within the career. Certain paths will enhance or require more of one skill set than another but overall, they contribute to creating a well-rounded professional. The Delta Model should not be hailed as a Theory of Everything or as an all-mighty magical Elder Wand, but rather as a practical, yet perfectible, tool. The model will undoubtedly be, at some point, the stepping stone for other efforts aimed at keeping the legal profession relevant to the 21st century. While I understand the urge for more pragmatism, I must dissent from those voices considering the Delta Model (and the ones preceding and following it) as being irrelevant and wasted effort. Every process needs an adequate methodology and upgrading the legal profession is no exception to this rule.
What is your take on this? Looking forward to comments and questions on this matter – get in touch! 🤓
And now, since you’ve had the heroic, Jedi-like endurance to read this material, I invite you to play with the interactive Delta Model below and adjust it depending on your propensities. You can also share your result for your colleagues, seniors, managers, mentors, professors and/or recruiters to see and discuss. 😉
 Elaine Mak, “The T-shaped lawyer and beyond – Rethinking legal professionalism and legal education for contemporary societies”, Inaugural lecture for the Chair of Jurisprudence at Utrecht University delivered on 19 June 2017, Eleven International Publishing.
Special thanks go to Daniela Ghicajanu, Florin Leuca, Eduard Levai, Karolina Jackowicz, Jurij Lampič and Cem Uçan for their valuable help in identifying ahead of the curve, skill-focused law school programs & classes in the CEE area. I would also like to express my gratitude to Radu Bardeanu for designing the interactive Delta Model above.