The Delta Model, a 21st century, research-backed competency model for lawyers that provides a framework for outlining what skills and competencies are most valued by current clients, continues to evolve along with the legal marketplace.
The Delta Model was a designed by a five-person team in 2018. Caitlin “Cat” Moon, director of innovation design for the Program on Law and Innovation at Vanderbilt Law School; and Alyson Carrel, a clinical associate professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and co-director of the law school’s Center on Negotiation and Mediation were members of that team.
Most recently, Moon and Carrel have evolved the Delta Model to create the Design Your Delta (DYD), a practical resource for current and future legal professionals to better understand the unique skillset associated with specific roles within the legal profession. The goal of this new iteration is to design a career development plan that builds on lawyers’ skills, according to a particular job. Because Moon and Carrel both work at law schools, they used the model to encourage law students to think intentionally and be forward-thinking about the curriculum choices they’re making, the professional employment they are exploring, and how potential clients and employers will perceive the students’ skills and competencies.
Applying DYD to law students & training
Too often, law students describe their potential career paths and the skills they’ll need to pursue their chosen path as a “black box,” Moon says, adding that the DYD addresses that knowledge gap in two ways. First, DYD analyzes different legal career paths and then works backwards to identify the array of competencies needed for success. Then, it enables the students to identify their strengths and interests to make sure those align with the skills and competencies of the potential career paths they are considering.
As part of this process, Moon embedded the DYD approach into her business of law class last fall, which had 120 students enrolled. Moon and Carrel recorded a video for students that introduced the model and showed how the Delta Model fits, holistically, into the legal profession. Through a series of guest speakers, Moon demonstrated how to apply the model by having each speaker “designing their own delta.”
DYD is also able to influence the legal training space, Carrel says, noting how the DYD framework is shaping legal professional development program initiatives. During the summer of 2020, for example, the virtual initiative Passport to Practice (P2P) program used the Delta Model as a visible framework for designing the curriculum. From there, the creators also created a set of tools that analyzed each student’s current set of skills and areas of expertise, enabling each student to select their modules to achieve their desired future career path.
The Minnesota State Bar Association used the DYD as a framework to create three distinct paths or “tracks” within its annual conference. Attendees signed up for education options according to which side of the Delta Model — rebranded as people, process, and practice — they wanted to cultivate. By planning legal and training programs in this manner, legal professionals were able to “chose their educational options more intentionally because they understand what they are bringing to the table and where they need to go in order to select the coursework based on the skills they need to improve,” explains Carrel.
Design Your Delta evolves for the future
The goal of both Moon and Carrel for the future of DYD is simple: They want to embed the holistic model within the system of lawyer formation. While developing some tools and approaches specifically for law students is critical and definitely helpful, both are dreaming about DYD’s ultimate impact among all legal professionals. “I believe that the Delta Model can be a tool for organizations and institutions to use to analyze how they attract and retain employees and help their staff grow,” observes Moon.
But first, Moon and Carrel are starting where they are likely to have the most influence — in law schools. The pair want to use the Delta Model and DYD to expand the tools that law schools use, mostly through their Career Service offices, to further help students engage with a more intentional approach in their decisions about course choices while in law school and about post-law school employment.
The onset of the pandemic forced many law schools to pivot quickly to remote learning essentially overnight, with mixed results. Not surprisingly then, while many law school students, faculty, and administrators questioned value of online law school education based on their experience during the early days of the pandemic, almost all saw tremendous opportunity to enrich the learning experience through a mix of online and in-person legal education.
Carrel agrees with that sentiment and is confident that the Delta Model can aid in this endeavor. With the Model reflecting the holistic set of skills that legal professionals need for success, the legal community has the opportunity to reimagine itself and the delivery of legal education.
Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the increased need for empathy and emotional intelligence — two key concepts on the people side of the Delta Model — and the requirement for law firms to make to emotional intelligence more effective through experiential learning. Moreover, the pandemic has emphasized the link between holistic personal well-being — especially around mental, physical, and emotional health — and the impact on legal professionals’ productivity and morale.
“The Delta Model had already similarly spotlighted these skills on the left side of the Delta and allows us, as we move forward, to ensure that we’re paying attention to it — as opposed to ignoring it again — once we come out of this pandemic,” Carrel adds.