There has been much talk about I-shaped lawyers and T-shaped lawyers in the past years. Traditionally, lawyers could make do with their technical legal expertise. They were valuable if they knew their way around the law and could deliver correct legal advice. But the recent years' transformation of the industry has forced lawyers to develop a breadth of new skills. Deep legal expertise is no longer enough. To stay competitive and thrive in the modern legal market, lawyers must have a basic tech literacy, they must be able to work data-driven, and they need a better understanding of business, just to name a few examples.
But now there is a new letter and a new shape to get accustomed to. The O Shaped Lawyer Programme is a movement started in 2019 by Dan Kayne, General Counsel at Network Rail. Since then, it has evolved into a collective of legal professionals that work "to show that with a greater emphasis on a more rounded approach to the formation of our lawyers, the legal profession will provide its customers with a better service in a more diverse, inclusive and healthier environment," as it says in their website. To find out what this is about, Legal Tech Weekly had a talk with two members of the O Shaped Lawyer Programme; Clara Garfield, a solicitor by background who is now a Senior Manager in Addleshaw Goddard Consulting and Neil Campbell, a Managing Legal Counsel at NatWest.
"The programme started off as a small group of in-house lawyers discussing how the profession could be made better and customers could be better served. Whilst the ground recognised that improvements had been made with the introduction of 'T-Shaped Lawyer' principles - which advocated for a greater breadth of skills in a lawyers repertoire - it was clear that there was still a limited focus on what have traditionally been termed soft skills. But though soft, the research of the O Shaped Lawyer Programme showed that these skills are in fact a hard requirement for delivering excellent customer service. With this in mind, and a desire for a more rounded legal professional to take centre stage, the 'O' was created", begins Garfield.
She then continues: "The purpose of the O Shaped Lawyer Programme is ultimately to make the profession better – for those who work in it, those who use it and those who enter it. We want to drive this change by re-thinking how lawyers are developed, including both those already in practice and those who are studying to become lawyers, and ensuring that in-house and private practice lawyers work together in a collaborative way to best serve the end customer", she explains.
The group took a research-based approach to ensure that the programme speaks with the customer voice, and started by interviewing 18 GCs from FTSE 350 companies. This research is what identified the twelve 'O Shaped' attributes that the O Shaped Lawyer Programme believes are integral to developing a lawyer that excels in creating value for customers: O Shaped lawyers should be adaptable by showing courage and resilience, looking for feedback and new learnings. They should build relationships by collaborating, communicating, showing empathy and seeking to influence others' mindsets. And they should create value by identifying opportunities, solving problems, synthesising and simplifying complexities.
These 12 attributes are encapsulated within a framework of five O Shaped behaviours: Lawyers shall be optimistic and keep a positive mindset. They shall take ownership. They shall be open-minded and keep a growth mindset. They shall be opportunistic instead of risk-averse. And lastly, they shall be original, creative and innovative.
So what has changed in the legal market since lawyers need to adopt these attributes and behaviours?
"There are a number of things that are changing in the legal market. The legal profession itself is changing when we look at the increasing variety of providers of legal services. There is an increasing number of solicitors moving into in-house positions. There is great potential for technology to assist lawyers and augment what lawyers currently do. Some activities that are the bread and butter for lawyers today will become automated and digitised. So where do this leave the lawyer? I think what will differentiate lawyers more and more in the future will be those which view these changes as opportunities rather than threats and also those which put a far greater focus on developing more human and customer-centric behaviours. Our clients are becoming increasingly customer-focussed. To serve our clients properly and to be the best business partner we can be, lawyers need to step up and really embrace what it means to be human and customer-centric", says Neil Campbell.
Garfield agrees and adds: "Increasingly we are seeing that the legal market is now a buyer's market – in-house teams have a lot more buying power and they are rightly demanding a better level of service from their lawyers. This means that lawyers, whether in private practice or in-house, cannot rest on their laurels – giving excellent legal advice is no longer enough to deliver true value to our customers. Lawyers need to go further by adopting a much more people-centric and customer-focussed approach. Lawyers should always keep in mind that the way in which legal advice is delivered can be just as important as the actual advice itself".
Then they go on to mention how the O Shaped Lawyer Programme also aims to foster diversity in the legal industry as well as giving greater attention to the wellbeing of those who work in it: "When you look at the role of traditional lawyers, it is a demanding, challenging role and we know that some lawyers are struggling. Look at the statistics for stress levels and the numbers that are considering leaving the profession. There is a point where we need to say: this is not right. We need to do something. We need to help ourselves. The O Shaped approach is about putting people first", says Campbell.
This word, people-centric or human-centric is used a lot, but what does it mean exactly?
"For me, it means putting far greater focus on your customer. To give the support our clients need we need to listen and we need to ask them about their business, their priorities, their challenges, their culture, how they prefer to operate etc. We need to be more proactive in looking for opportunities to see how we can support them. It is not just about advising them on the technical law in the same format which is rolled out to every client. That is what we are here do to: to support our customers. The other element to being more human-centric is looking at the lawyers themselves – making sure they are properly supported, that they are developing and that their wellbeing is given the attention it deserves. In the O Shaped Lawyer Programme we talk about resilience as one of the 12 key attributes of a lawyer. We recognise that lawyers need to be resilient, but are lawyers taught the skills and behaviours to develop resilience, to recognise when they may be struggling and to know what to do about it? Do we encourage lawyers to develop their emotional intelligence, self-awareness and build a positive network around them? These are things lawyers don't traditionally talk about. Instead lawyers often try to aim for perfection, but the reality is that things will not always work out how you planned it, you will make mistakes, so how do you deal with that? How do you build resilience and see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow in a psychologically safe environment? Lawyers are good at putting on a professional mask of being invincible, but that doesn't help us as individuals in the long run, and it doesn't help us connect with our customers either", explains Campbell.
Garfield adds: "Most lawyers have always been high performing individuals and as a result, are hugely focussed on perfection. Traditionally, this perfection manifests itself in the giving of legal advice, but that then detracts from the personal element of service – what is the right way for the customer to receive this advice? What questions have been asked of them to ensure the lawyer truly understands the business and can deliver advice in a proper commercial context? How does the lawyer show they truly care? Professionals, including lawyers, have long been taught to hide any personal side of themselves, but we have seen time again that by being open and honest and stepping out from the wall of perfection can lead to the most impactful and value-driven relationships".
The O Shaped Lawyer Programme is divided into two streams: A practice stream which aims to demonstrate the real world application of the O Shaped attributes through a series of 'pilots' with in-house lawyers and private practice firms. And an Education stream, where the incoming SQE acts as a burning platform to work alongside universities and law schools to look at how to embed the O Shaped attributes pre-entry into the profession.
So, if I read this article and I was interested in this concept, what would you advise me to do?
"Join the discussion. There is O Shaped Lawyer LinkedIn group, a website and working group members they can contact. Initially, if you are interested, then contact us, get engaged and reflect about it," Neil Campbell concludes.