The T-shaped lawyer: The new skills every future lawyers needs to succeed

Future lawyers must be equipped with the tools necessary to meet the demands of new clientele, preparing them to stand out as they define new legal frontiers.

While the rapid advancement in telecommunications has sped up some of the work processes for lawyers, from sending emails to keeping in touch with clients, it has also taken work away. Some of the tasks that traditionally fell under their domain are becoming remnants of a past era, including e-discovery, basic legal research, and the drawing up of contracts. Technology is rapidly taking on the jobs that lawyers of the past would spend their evenings or even entire days completing.

The old-school, stereotypical lawyer who would dictate letters to be typed up by their assistants before requiring further review and modification—all the while stacking up the hourly rate charges—is dead. This is because lawyers no longer enjoy a monopoly market with little competition. This means, like most of the working world of today, lawyers will need to adapt and develop new skills. They will need to become T-shaped lawyers.

 In an increasingly integrated world, lawyers of the future will be expected to work within diverse teams and have a strong sense of cultural awareness.


What is a T-shaped lawyer?

Also commonly referred to as a “2.0 lawyer” or a “positive-value” lawyer, in short, a T-shaped lawyer has deep legal expertise (represented by the vertical bar of the T) but also a solid grounding in another subject (represented by the horizontal bar of the T). This other field of knowledge could range from technology, business, and analytics to human resources, politics, or more.

The requirement of extra knowledge comes as the clients of today are demanding and expecting more. They need lawyers who can use technology to give them the most efficient and cost-effective service possible. The client wants someone who knows the world of business or the industry in which they themselves operate or require legal assistance. While it’s not necessary to become an expert coder, hacker, or bitcoin master, lawyers of the future will need to understand how these industries align with their client’s interests.

The T-shaped lawyer must also have strong interpersonal and project management skills. This is because the legal profession is seeing a move towards horizontally integrated firms and an increase in very niche boutique firms that have low overheads and are cheaper to run. This means, particularly in the smaller firms, lawyers will be expected to take on more responsibilities and at an earlier stage, and they will, therefore, need the skills to manage their own projects or even lead their own teams.

And it goes without saying that in an increasingly integrated world, lawyers of the future will be expected to work within diverse teams and have a strong sense of cultural awareness.


Why now?

As expert Mark Cohen, a lecturer at IE Law School, wrote in Forbes, the new digital age “is reimagining the provider-customer dynamic and transforming how goods and services are bought and sold.” Customer-centric, tech-enabled, well-capitalized, new model providers are changing the game across the board, and the legal industry is no exception.

According to Cohen, companies that have adapted to this new model share several core characteristics: a relentless commitment to improve customer access, experience, and loyalty; the efficient use of data; achieving “more with less” for the benefit of customers, employees, and shareholders; and constant improvement.

This means companies or workers today—including lawyers—who want to survive, must show a willingness to embrace technology, adapt a global perspective, be culturally diverse and aware, and have a strong set of people skills.

That’s why IE Law School has introduced a new core module, SHELL: Skills for Healthy and Effective Lawyers. As part of the LLM in International Business Law, it aims to prepare students for the new global world of work by giving them the skills to be tech-savvy and business aware but also approachable and culturally aware.