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The evolution of in-house counsel This article is an excerpt from the white paper “Adapting for 21st Century Success: The Delta Lawyer Competency Model” by Natalie Runyon and Alyson Carrel

Throughout the years, the practice of law has undergone major changes. Not too many years ago, all that was required of in-house counsel was to be proficient in the law. Then, about 20 years ago, to continue serving as that proficient attorney, mastery of legal technology was also required. Now, within the past few years, the profession has changed again, requiring of its practitioners additional mastery of relationship building skills, emotional intelligence, entrepreneurial mindset, and business and financial acumen.

This is “the evolution of in-house counsel.” Let’s further explore.

The “I” Model

For a long time, good lawyering followed the “I-shaped” model, one that focused almost exclusively on an individual mastering traditional legal knowledge and skills.

The “T” Model

Following the financial crisis and with the influence of new legal technology, things started to change. Clients increasingly demanded that their lawyers use technology tools and process improvement to enhance delivery of their legal services. Enter the “T-shaped lawyer,” a term coined by Amani Smathers in 2014.

These additional knowledge, skills, and attitudes transformed the “I-shaped professional” into the “T-shaped lawyer.” The stem (or “I”) of the “T” reflected the legal skills and knowledge learned in law school. The horizontal cross stroke of the “T” reflected technology and workflow changes to how legal work is now completed. These competencies included such key factors as design thinking, data analytics, technology, project management, and the use of business tools.

The “T-shaped lawyer” model gained considerable traction as the only model to represent the need for lawyers to expand their skill set. However, the model was still not one that met two ongoing challenges:

  1. Clients’ demand for better relationship management
  2. How to empirically measure these qualities

With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in the law, we are seeing an increased focus on lawyers’ emotional intelligence (EI), which is the human side of lawyering. Indeed, the pace of change and the shift of the center of power to the buyers of legal services adds to the increased demand for improvements in how lawyers relate to clients. And increased EI makes for better lawyers that can more effectively act as trusted advisers for clients.

For the purpose of our effort, we’ve adopted the well-known definition of EI as having two parts: self-awareness and social awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to manage the emotions of oneself and to regulate one’s emotions, particularly during stressful situations. Social awareness is the ability to “read” others’ emotions during daily interactions through empathy and to adjust the response for effective relationship-building and conflict resolution when necessary.

The “Delta” Model

During a one-day working conference in 2018, we hypothesized that a more inclusive model reflecting both the demands for lawyers to gain skills in technology and the business of law as well as skills related to EI would more comprehensively reflect the diverse skills, attitudes, and knowledge that lawyers need to reach the highest level of client satisfaction.

Building off the T-shaped model, we reviewed research literature and anecdotal evidence to develop a model that included skill sets related to three areas: law, business and operations, and personal effectiveness skills. We called our creation the “Delta Model.”

Our rationale for the “Delta” Model

We sought to build on the excellent body of work from well-known lawyer education and skills development experts including Bill Henderson, David Wilkins, Alli Gerkman, Amani Smathers, Andrea Schneider, and Jim Lupo. We highlighted the need not only for T-shaped lawyers, but also for lawyers with high-character quotients, emotional intelligence, leadership, and collaborative problem-solving skills. In our analysis of the current state, we discussed the competency models used by firms to evaluate lawyer talent, the many requirements that affect the quality of lawyer work, the relatively new standards from the American Bar Association (ABA) requiring law schools to offer experiential learning opportunities, and the tools of evaluation—such as the bar exam—that certify whether a lawyer meets the requirements to practice law.

Our design of the “Delta” Model started with the foundation. We included the foundational Legal Knowledge & Skills that are table stakes for any lawyer passing the bar exam and practicing law. These attributes included Legal Research, Legal Writing, and Legal Analysis. This grounded the model with the widely accepted “lawyering” skills being taught in law schools.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, we built off the existing models developed by peers in the legal community. Thus, we chose to include the skills identified in the T-shaped model. These skills include:

  • Technology
  • Project management
  • Data analytics
  • Business tools

Technology spending by law firms continues to be a primary area of investment, underscoring the accelerating pace of change driven by big data and workflow technology. Technology greatly influences how lawyering gets done. Moreover, combined with big unstructured data, AI creates opportunities to analyze siloed data sets to gain insights in numerous new ways. We placed these process, data, and technology skills on the right side of our base of foundational legal skills.

But the model at this point remained incomplete. Anecdotally, we observed an increasing number of clients saying they wanted their lawyers to reflect a new humanity. Additional research also supported the notion that certain skills and character qualities were necessary to succeed in law. Thus, we built the third side of the model with Personal Effectiveness skills such as:

  • Character
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Mindset Communication

We placed these Personal Effectiveness skills on the left side of the model.

Rather than have two uprights on a base, we chose to lean the Personal Effectiveness skills and the Process, Data & Technology skills toward each other to form a triangle with the base. This shape, reminiscent of the Greek character delta, gave us the name for the model. Knowing that delta is often used to represent change, this reflected the need for change within the legal field. The placement of the sides also reflects our observations that both sides are equally important for a successful 21st century lawyer and that each side would function to support the other. Further, the visual draws the eye upward, reflecting our belief that these skills are necessary for upward advancement in the legal industry.

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