Global megatrends and lawyers: the path ahead

Global megatrends are powerful social, demographic, technological and environmental forces that are reshaping the world. They are measurable and systemic and impact everyone on the planet. As lawyers, the megatrends at play today will impact how we practice law tomorrow.

If you’re struggling with your place in the law or wondering if the law is for you, don’t despair because the future is bright. Global megatrends tell us consumers want more personalized services and a human dimension and this has implications for how lawyers think about work, provide legal services and interact with clients. 

This puts you in a front-row seat to learn the skills to meet the demand. You see, lawyers will always need their legal knowledge and know-how, but the way we use them has changed.

Skills for future lawyers

Instead of more technical legal stuff, the key skill lawyers need to future proof is a mindset: Legal design thinking. It’s not about turning lawyers into designers, because we have designers for that. It’s about thinking about your work in a more human-centred way – because that’s what the people who pay your bills are demanding. (And it’s much more rewarding.)

The days of the traditional lawyer, who gained authority by title and specialization are over because consumers want a different kind of lawyer – and that lawyer is you. 

So, let’s look at the megatrends, the lawyer shapes and how legal design can shape your future in law.

Global trends that challenge lawyers

When we look to the future, we need to look at it understanding it may have many possible forms. And as lawyers, we need to prepare to navigate between all scenarios.

Global megatrends set the tone for the future of work and the competencies that future will require. Even for lawyers. 

There are many megatrend reports and they observe similar global trends: 

  • Changes in thinking and working
  • Technological change – digitalization and AI
  • Adapting to the aging populations and health requirements 
  • Unlocking the human dimension – inclusion and diversity
  • Climate change – cleaner and greener energy solutions

As lawyers these challenges cause us to stretch ourselves and prepare for a future we don’t understand. The solutions that have provided easy answers and protection in the past, like control, hierarchies and entrenched rules for the “way things are done” don’t work in the unpredictable world anymore. The world wants open-mindedness, flexibility and creativity. 

So for lawyers, being open and able to change is top of the list.

Lawyer authority is disappearing

This can be painful, I get it. 

In the past, we gained authority because we had a good education, a good job and a fancy title. Being a lawyer was the icing on the cake because everybody respects lawyers, right?

To some extent, this is still true. But the world is changing, rapidly. Experts and authorities aren’t what they used to be and institutions and prestige professions aren’t a guarantee of success.

You need to pave your own way.

What skills will lawyers need in the future

Over the years researchers have developed various ways to model the skills lawyers need. 

  • I-shaped Lawyer
  • T-shaped Lawyer
  • O-shaped Lawyer
  • Delta Model Lawyer

The I-Shaped Lawyer

The lawyers who are “I-shaped” have deep expertise in one specific area of law but their expertise in other areas is limited or non-existent. 

You probably know the type: The one who knows the nitty gritty details of tax regulation or the one you go to when you need specifics of a five-year-old case. 

The I-shaped lawyers focus on one thing and do that extremely well. And often they’re not interested in doing anything beyond that, especially meeting clients or talking to people.

Where do I-shape lawyers fit in today’s working environment?

They don’t. Because today lawyers must work with people and relate to the social, political and commercial environment to understand the problems clients have.

So, if I-shaped lawyers don’t work, what’s next?

The T-shaped lawyer

In 2014 Amani Smathers introduced the T-shaped lawyer as an alternative to the I-shaped model. It focuses on T-shaped expertise. 

T-shape lawyers have deep expertise in one area of law (the vertical line of T) but also wide expertise in other areas (horizontal line of T). In Smathers’s T-shaped lawyer model this expertise relates to technology, business, project management, data analytics and data security. 

The other expertise does not need to be as deep as the legal expertise but it helps lawyers communicate better and collaborate – and be better lawyers. 

The T-shaped model doesn’t help respond to global megatrends and future skills because it relies heavily on specialist legal expertise and focuses on left brain activities, like technology and processes.

This model is only 10 years old and it’s out of date.

The O-shaped lawyer

The O-shaped lawyer is the next iteration of the future lawyer. As the letter O already describes, it’s much more holistic and well-rounded than the I and T shape models. 

Dan Kayne first developed the model and then created the O-Shaped Lawyer program.

This model puts people first: Helping lawyers serve customers in a more diverse, inclusive and healthier space. 

The O-shaped lawyer model includes five O’s:

  • Optimism
  • Ownership
  • Open-minded
  • Opportunistic
  • Original

This model is revolutionary because it doesn’t include legal expertise in the foundational skills. 

It builds on the legal expertise, describing the behaviors, mindset and skills to respond to the competency requirements of the future.

The Delta model lawyer

In 2018 a group of change-makers in the legal space: Alyson Carrel, Natalie Runyon, Jordan Galvin, Shellie Reid and Jesse Bowman created a new model called the Delta Lawyer Competency Model

The shape is a triangle

  • One side describes legal expertise
  • The second is technology, processes and data 
  • The third is people skills (Personal Effectiveness Skills – PES).

It expands the image of the future lawyer by adding

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Communication skills
  • Entrepreneurial skills
  • Leadership
  • Collaborative problem-solving

The Delta model has been further refined and the latest in 2020 Cat Moon and Alyson Carrel designed a version that simplifies the triangle with three P’s

  • The Practice
  • The Process
  • The People

The Delta model asks lawyers to make the world their oyster. Lawyers who build their expertise based on their own values and goals and go down their unique career paths (even non-traditional paths). 

The Delta model is exciting for me because it embraces the key challenges legal design aims to tackle:

  • Access to justice 
  • Lawyer mental health 
  • Lawyer burnout
  • Lawyers without meaning in their work 

Apply legal design thinking and change your shape

So what do the lawyer shapes and legal design have to offer?

First of all, don’t get me wrong. The knowledge and expertise you have gained in law school and in the legal profession is a great foundation and you can be proud of your hard-earned accomplishments. 

But lawyers who assume the traditional path is going to serve them well are misguided because that path is gone. 

When we expand the understanding of the different lawyer shapes we learn that legal expertise doesn’t have any intrinsic value. Its value is based on how well you serve your colleagues, clients or society. And the global megatrends are leading the way.

Activate your shape through legal design

Legal design thinking is the way to activate the change the world is demanding from lawyers. It is the HOW of your professional development to reinvent yourself into a new shape.

The most important thing is you keep growing and developing. Use client-centricity and creativity as your compass because they will give you the new perspective you need. 

Take a Delta approach and think about how to design your own work. Or how to find more meaning in your work? Even, how to get inspired by your work every day? Or, how to serve your clients better and in a client-centric way?

By switching up the way you look at your work and the things your clients value, it’s possible to design a future in law that’s meaningful for you and your customers. Being a lawyer doesn’t mean doing the same things we’ve always done – in fact, those days are numbered.

Of course, you possibly have no idea where to start with legal design thinking and that’s ok because we’ll teach you everything you need to know at Lawyers Design School. You don’t need to be a designer or give up your legal expertise, just be open to new ways of approaching things. 

 If you’re interested have a look at some of the legal design workshops we offer.

You are part of the change. The change that will change the entire legal culture into a human-centred direction where people come first.

What lawyer shape do you want to be? You can even design your own!

Legal design thinking: IRL. Episode 22

You’ve just read a summary of my LinkedIn Live. I am Hannele, the founder and CEO of Lawyers Design School on a mission to transform legal space with human-centered design better known as legal design. I’m teaching you how to add a creative and human touch to your everyday work as a lawyer so that you can be the lawyer your clients and the world need you to be.

If you’ve read something that interests you please join me next week. 

You can catch a replay of episode 22 here or join me live and ask questions.

Legal Design Thinking IRL. Episode 22. Reimagining lawyers – what letter are you

Ask a question

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