The “Delta” Lawyer Competency Model Discovered through LegalRnD Workshop

Topics: Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Data Analytics, Delta Model, Efficiency, Emotional Intelligence, Law Firm Profitability, Law Firms, Legal Executive Events, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Talent Development


EAST LANSING, Mich. — Thomson Reuters was a sponsor of a two-day gathering at Michigan State University College of Law’s LegalRnD Center run by Dan Linna. The goal of the conference was to identify a research agenda for legal talent and innovation. Attendees included legal technology innovators, the dean and faculty from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and students from Michigan State University’s Law School, among others. As head of the legal talent content strategy for the Legal Executive Institute, I joined the group that was focused on defining the 21st century competency model. I was joined by Jesse Bowman, Alyson Carrel, Shellie Reid and Jordan Galvin.

The Problem

The legal market is undergoing an undeniable transformation: clients are demanding more value for less money, while emphasis on the business of law and legal operations is growing. There is still an incomplete vision of educating today’s future class of lawyers, and current metrics do not gauge practice-readiness or the ability to meet client expectations. Moreover, average citizens’ access to justice continues to get worse — 50% of the middle class and 80% of the lower class do not have access to legal services.

Delta model

Jesse Bowman

The solution to these problems cannot be achieved through efficiency initiatives or new technology alone. The foundational paradigm of legal services must shift.

Working toward the Solution

Our Mission: This group exists because we believe there is great untapped value in empirically measuring the quality of lawyer work. We believe that the client — the customer — should define quality and value, and lawyer work should not the number of hours worked or articles published.

Our Vision: We envision a legal marketplace where there is more alignment between lawyer and client, engendered by a movement toward collaboration, shared vision and strategic partnership. This begins with a movement toward agile lawyer competency models and law school curricula that are continuously updated based upon feedback from customers and analyses of concrete metrics. In this ideal state, treating the training and development of lawyers as an investment with measurable returns leads to gains for the business and an increase in job satisfaction for lawyers.

Our Hypothesis: We believe that a new delta-shaped model of lawyer competence, combining currently available research literature and anecdata, will more comprehensively reflect the diverse skills, attitudes and knowledge lawyers need to reach the highest level of client satisfaction.

Delta model

Alyson Carrel

The delta model of lawyer competence combines the competencies identified by Bill Henderson, David Wilkins, Alli Gerkman, Amani Smathers, Andrea Schneider, and Jim Lupo, to highlight the need not only for T-shaped lawyers, but also for lawyers with high-character quotients, emotional intelligence, leadership and collaborative problem-solving skills.

Our design of the “delta” model started with the foundation-level, widely accepted as “lawyering” skills already taught in law schools as the base of the triangle. These are the foundational skills that are table stakes for any lawyer passing the bar exam and practicing law.


We developed the right side of the triangle with the well- documented skills that were identified at the top of the “T” shaped model, which include design and e-discovery, project management and analytics, and business tools and technology. We sought to build off the existing models developed by legal community peers rather than try to “re-invent the wheel.”

Delta model

Shellie Reid

For the left side of the triangle, we chose to include the personal effectiveness competencies because they are indeed required for upward advancement in the legal industry. Moreover, we saw the personal effectiveness skills and the process, data and technology skills being equally important for a successful 21st century lawyer.

In our analysis of the current state, we discussed the fact that many law firms have competency models they use to evaluate lawyer talent, the ABA standards for law schools, and the tools of evaluation that certifies the lawyer meets requirements to practice law.

Indeed, there has been a lot of research in this space on which the delta model is based, and we seek to go one step further and conduct empirical research on these skills, attitudes and knowledge that purport to increase client satisfaction. In order to create impactful change in the practice of law and legal education, we believe it is critical to demonstrate measurable outcomes related to these competencies.

delta lawyer

Jordan Galvin

Our ultimate goal is to highlight the changing nature of the delivery of legal services, provide a competency model that is based on empirical research, and ensure ongoing, critical evaluation of the model and the lawyers who follow it.

We know this effort will not be easy and be met with many institutional status quo challenges that will inhibit change. We are committed to this effort and are asking for your help. If you know of any innovators, expertise or legal institutions currently using the additional “delta” competencies, we would love your referrals and feedback. You can email me at Stay tuned here to keep abreast of our journey.