The T-Shaped Lawyer

What is T-shaped and why is it necessary for legal?

What is T-shaped and why is it necessary for legal?

‘T-shaped’, a word commonly used in branding, means that an individual has both a breadth of knowledge, and a depth of expertise in a particular area of that knowledge. This is in contrast to the traditional ‘I-shaped’ individual who has a depth of knowledge in a single, specific subject. There is increasing evidence to suggest that teams benefit from a ‘T-shaped’ individual over someone with deep and singular expertise, but why is this the case?

With the evolving world of technology and consequential increasing consumer demand, customers are demanding more from services and products. They want an experience, long-term relationships, fixed price deals, and emotional support. These demands are requiring lawyers to broaden the ‘breadth’ of their skills, shifting from being ‘I-Shaped’ to ‘T-Shaped’. Failure to do so might result in several significant consequences:

  1. Law firms being ‘left behind’ in the 20th Century with its ‘specialised problem solvers [...] who are sometimes called “I-Shaped” professionals’ 
  2. Inability to keep up with the 21st Century of ‘adaptive innovators’ 
  3. The threats of robotic replacement robot due to the ever-increasing capabilities of AI, automation, and technology

But what does becoming ‘T-shaped’ mean for a lawyer in practise? With the foundation of existing legal knowledge and specialism, lawyers are now required to include softer, non-traditional skills such as empathy. 

So what next?

Embracing change is essential to ensure that the legal world can deliver on client demands. Here are our five key elements we have helped clients develop and that law firms also need to consider. These can help when encouraging and enabling lawyers to develop, sustain, grow more into ‘T-Shaped’ professionals:

  1. Development of essential interpersonal skills - enabling increased negotiation skills, collaboration, teamwork, and management ability. We recommend solving problems for our clients in teams so we can bring the best of expertise as well as breadth of experience - covering both aspects of the 'T'.
  2. Business Development - encouraging added understanding of how a business is run, billing, utilisation of resources, margins made, monitoring efficiency and ensuring turnover. We’ve noticed that this encourages collaboration, commitment, and contribution across broad business areas and specialisms, both internally and externally.
  3. CX - focussing on the client experience, or rather the ‘customer’ experience, asking: “how would this make the client feel?” or “what does the customer want?” at each step of their journey. It’s no longer just the transaction that matters but the experience of the customer from the initial point of communication to post-completion of the work
  4. Knowledge and awareness of technology and digitalisation - understanding of basic current technology with potential to progress into understanding of AI, automation, and legal-specific technology. Our experience has emphasised how essential it is to move with the times, adapt to new technology, replace out-dated, older systems with cloud-based solutions and keeping our minds open to automation as a way to make things more efficient.
  5. IQ and EQ  - understanding the importance of building relationships with individuals to gain their trust. Understanding people, their physical and psychological well-being, and being able to empathise is fundamental to supporting business development activities, such as winning new work.

So if T-Shaped has now replaced the I-Shape, and is the new trend for professionals looking to succeed in their careers, what will be next… will Generation Z herald the ‘Z-Shaped’ professional and what will this look like?