For the Modern Lawyer, Legal Skill is not enough

Chuba Agbu

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The days of simply being technically gifted as a lawyer are soon to be something of the past. Driven by technology, millennials assuming partner positions and, the evolution of client needs, the business of law is moving rapidly. The result is that just possessing legal skill is not enough to cut it in today’s legal profession and, this is according to a research-backed competency model called the Delta model.

The Delta model is a competency model for the 21st-century lawyer. Designed by a five-person team of American legal experts, it precedes the “I-shaped” & “T-shaped” which in rudimentary terms, outlined legal skill as the essential attribute of a legal professional. The Delta model underlines three areas that are essential for the success of the modern-day lawyer, and these are: The Law, Business & Operations and Personal Effectiveness Skills.

Nigerian lawyers often focus the majority of their time enhancing their subject matter expertise and legal fundamentals, after all, these encompass the chief metrics utilised for assessing one’s worth as a legal professional. This is typified by law firm hiring practices which tend to focus on knowledge of the law as the primary or only criteria being considered for prospective recruits.  However, recent study suggests that clients value legal skill, just as much as their lawyer’s ability to communicate effectively (breaking down complex legal terms to simple easy to understand language) as well as excellent case management skills.

The above statements should not cause a misunderstanding, legal acumen is still crucial as lawyers need to possess high technical skills to offer their clients the best possible service. However, neglecting business knowledge and emotional intelligence will put legal professionals at a distinct disadvantage in a profession increasingly aided by technology.

Technology will do half the work

In practice, the primary way by which lawyers have acquired critical technical skills is by asking senior, more experienced colleagues. More recently, with the rise of search engines, it may come as a surprise to many senior lawyers that their millennial colleagues have relied on google and other search engine software to address knowledge gaps and speed up the research process. The Delta model illustrates that in the not-too-distant future, time spent on research or keeping up with legal trends will be unnecessary because legal technology will already be doing most of this for them. This means that understanding essential Legal tech tools is a prerequisite. Legal industry experts predict that personal effectiveness skills – like relationship management and emotional intelligence – will become the most critical component of lawyer competency, overtaking even the law.

According to Thomson Reuters, through research and insights gained from interviews across a selected group of research academics, firms and lawyers, 50% of the top 10 competencies named by the interviewees were classified in the area of personal effectiveness skills. Excerpts of these interviews revealed the following:

  • 92% named “Relationship Management” as a top 10 competency. To underscore the point of relationship management, an in-house lawyer to whom we spoke stated: “Even when you are an in-house lawyer, you are still in client service, which I don’t think people realize. I still have clients and they get paid by the same company — they don’t pay you.”
  • 83% named “Communication” as a top 10 competency, particularly knowing your audience. In fact, the Chief Human Resources Officer of an AmLaw 200 law firm indicated that it’s a top development area for the firm, framing communication as “understanding your audience and what is right for a particular client or a particular partner that a lawyer works with.”
  • 75% named “EI” as a top 10 competency. A professional development director in an AmLaw 200 law firm said that the self-management part of EI is really critical. “Self-management is key, and the ability [for any lawyer] to take responsibility for their own behaviours and for their own wellbeing” at any level is a top 10 competency.
  • 66% named “entrepreneurial mindset” as a top 10 competency. An in-house lawyer we spoke with provided her view of what this looks like by the willingness of a person to put “their hand up and say, ‘I see a problem and I have an idea of how to solve it’ or ‘I heard of this really great tool.’”

There is not any shortcut to developing personal effectiveness, relationship management and emotional intelligence these are traits that professionals develop through experience and intentional cultivation. However, research indicates that Legal technology supports the development of these traits. For example, clients often learn and are moved by stories and images. New data visualisation tools simplify imparting of knowledge, and clients and lawyers benefit from clearer, more visual communication.

Lawyers should align their implementation of technology with the Delta model and ensure that it not only aids acquisition of legal skill but the other areas outlined by the model.


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