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T-Shaped, M-Shaped, Pi-Shaped Lawyers… Can We Stop It, Please?

T-shaped lawyers

Once the idea of T-shaped specialists was introduced, it hit the legal industry immediately. Lawyers 2.0 with a solid grounding in another subject were referred to as the lawyers of the future. But if you look through the Internet today, you will probably feel lost in this alphabet soup: T-shaped, O-shaped, X-shaped, Pi-shaped, M-shaped, and, top of all, comb-shaped… Is this likely to stop? Probably not, since we still have other letters in the alphabet. 

Trends come and go, and the growing number of skill shapes only makes young lawyers puzzled about which strategy to choose instead of giving concrete tips on which skills and expertise are the best. 

 So how not to get lost and which framework to choose? 

Looking beyond frameworks

What if we say there is no correct answer? Or, to be more specific, the answer to which framework is correct depends on the specific context. The modern legal industry is much more nuanced than any of the shapes suggest. There is a space for all kinds of lawyers – generalists, specialists, and interdisciplinary legal professionals.  

Oh. And everything changes all the time. The image of the T-shaped lawyer showed that it might be popular for a specific moment before other trends emerge. That’s why cross-functional teams of lawyers with both specialists and generalists seem to rule the game. The only thing that matters is to concentrate on a specific area of expertise and develop other skills in relation to this area. Take it from Gabriel Sepulveda-Sanchez, a Founder & Managing Attorney of Sepulveda Sanchez Law:

“People who are not specialists waste time trying to figure something out or try to reinvent the wheel. A specialist who knows how to innovate within their practice area is golden.”

Gabriel Sepulveda-Sanchez
A Founder & Managing Attorney of Sepulveda Sanchez Law

So how to stay competitive in this alphabet-soup? 

Whatever differences there may be between all the frameworks, the one thing that they share is that they all emphasize the need to focus training and development beyond legal knowledge and skills. The trend toward broad and innovative thinking and self-improvement will definitely stay in this changing world.

No point in struggling with which shape to choose. Whatever you choose, it is likely that soon something new will emerge like W-shaped, Y-shaped, or even Unicorn-shaped, who knows… Imagination has no limits. And whatever shape you choose, the trends are likely to make you doubt your initial choice.

But there is something that is definitely the right solution. Instead of trying to catch up with trendy skills shapes, you can instead concentrate on the quality of your skills rather than quantity. There are many possible certifications that modern lawyers can get with no need to be oriented to a specific framework. These certifications are likely to bring you a competitive advantage and will benefit your legal practice. They are something beyond trends. 

What areas of expertise will make you a step ahead?

1) Electronic discovery

Сertification in electronic discovery or eDiscovery is all about having enough competence and skills to overcome the challenges of an increasingly complex electronic discovery environment. Today’s legal teams often face the challenges of making appropriate decisions in collecting, processing, reviewing, and producing relevant evidence in the electronic discovery environment. Achieving the best results and quality across the discovery spectrum needs well-defined processes, solid electronic documentation knowledge, strong collaboration capabilities, and awareness of all the most effective means of measuring results. Gabriel Sepulveda-Sanchez commented on the significance of eDiscovery skills: “The increase is digital trends, technology touches all aspects of the legal industry, and lawyers who are amenable to this change will find themselves more competitive in the legal job market.” Thus, certification in eDiscovery is what indicates a level of legal competence that is truly needed in the modern world.

Course websites:
https://aceds.org/ceds-certifications/
https://www.legalstudies.com/syllabus/ediscovery-for-paralegals/

2) CIAPP certification

Forewarned is forearmed. Cybersecurity is what has been a headache for a long time in the law industry. Since lawyers manage, handle, and access important data on a daily basis, data security management becomes one of the most valuable skills. And risks associated with data breaches continue to skyrocket. In case you want to minimize potential risks, CIPP certification (Certified Information Privacy Professional) is here to help. It will help you to better understand the potential security risks and learn how to safeguard data.

Course website: https://iapp.org/certify/cipp/

3) Legal Project Management

Being a lawyer often encompasses many other roles, such as the role of a manager. How to not feel lost among all the legal projects, clients’ databases, and documents? The knowledge of legal project management is what helps to learn how to enhance the delivery of legal services. It is not only about dealing with project tools and techniques to apply them to legal practice, but also about applying legal process improvement methods, including legal tech, and focusing on the people’s dynamics.

Course website: https://www.iilpm.com/

4) Effective Communication Skills for Lawyers

Delivering information effectively is a must-skill for lawyers. Luckily, even if you are not good at it, it is something you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. And even if you are already a good communicator, you can always go deeper and learn specific communication strategies for lawyers. Learn persuasive and dynamic skills to use in your arguments both online and in person. The techniques and methods contributing to effective communication are what will help you to effectively deliver your position as well as master the art of listening.  

Course website: https://www.nita.org/programs/COMM1021

Bottom Line

The mentioned courses are just a small part of all existing certifications lawyers can get. So if you’re puzzled about where to start – check out the mentioned links. The most important thing is concentrating on the quality of the knowledge you can get, and concentrating on the depth rather than a number of your areas of expertise. Alejandro Uriarte, an injury attorney at 1-800-Injured, shares his current strategy of hiring new talents:

“As the founder and owner of Uriarte Law, I’ve always hired lawyers for their expertise in specific areas of law, not because they have a certain skills framework. Because we are a niche firm, having very strong skills in personal injury law is our priority, and I don’t see that changing.”

Alejandro Uriarte
A personal injury attorney

So what matters is choosing what truly resonates with you and your legal practice. As long as you are dedicated to the studying process and enhance your skills in other areas – you are going the right way. 

Among all these alphabet battles – it is reasonable to change the focus and concentrate on objectives rather than the framework. Call it Pi-shaped, M-shaped, or T-shaped… This is not the name of the framework that matters. What matters is the extent to which the framework meets your objectives and the objectives of your legal practice.  

Nobody knows what kind of lawyer will be popular tomorrow – we still have a lot of letters in the alphabet to come in the game. But what matters is looking beyond the framework. Learn new things. Go deep. Innovate. Draw on your diverse experiences to connect the dots in new ways. And create your own personalized skills framework. 


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