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Solo & Small Law Firms

The Delta Model for Lawyers Fits Solos and Smalls to A T

In a world where lawyers are being displaced by technology, data scientists and policy experts, law schools are searching for ways to train lawyers to make them more relevant in today’s world.   After all, law schools’ survival depends on placing students in jobs, so they need to teach them skills to make them marketable. Hence,the development of the  Delta Model, a new competency model for the 21st-century lawyer.  The brain child of five legal industry professionals with different backgrounds, the Delta Model incorporates three categories of skills critical for lawyers’ success in today’s world:  substantive knowledge, business operations (which encompasses tech savvy, data analytics and project management) and Personal Effectiveness, which includes characteristics like entrepreneurial mindset, emotional intelligence and character.   

Though billed as a new model (and indeed it is for most sectors of the legal industry), the Delta Model describes what successful solo and small firm lawyers have been doing for decades.  We’re responsible for mastery of our substantive practice area, we leverage technology and workflows to get the same bang as biglaw out of our narrowly constrained budgets, and we frequently help clients through not just the legal but the personal and emotional aspects of their case.  In fact, I wrote about solos’ and smalls’ competitive advantage over a decade ago in my post Solos Do Everything Biglaw Does Only Backwards and in High Heels:

In many ways, biglaw is like Fred Astaire – both great at what they do.  But don’t forget, in many cases, just like Ginger Rogers, we solos do everything that biglaw does, only backwards (in that we’re often on the other side of the issues), in high heels (in that, we often teeter precariously as we strive to get the most out of our clients’ more limited budgets) and with real live human beings to whom we’re accountable.

Solos and smalls get the value of the Delta Model because without it, we couldn’t survive. Solos who lack substantive skills will find themselves the subject of bar complaints and malpractice actions. Solos without biz ops savvy will either wind up working 24/7 or will routinely exceed client budgets. And solos who lack personal skills will be hard pressed to find referrals or obtain favorable testimonials from clients. 

But I’m not so sure that others in the profession truly understand the value of the Delta Model. And without buy in, the Model won’t find much success. I also question how much of the Delta Model can be taught in a classroom by professors who’ve gotten by largely on grades alone and view biz ops and personal effectiveness as lesser skills. Or, law schools could do more to share the experience of solo and small lawyers with successful firms who are after all, the living breathing model of the Delta Model.