Gone are the days when a law degree merely meant charting a career as an attorney practising in a court of law. Up until recently, the opportunities that were available were confined to a few mainstream options such as advocacy, judiciary and public services. However, over time the legal profession has evolved dramatically, and today's lawyer plays a multi-faceted role.
Gary Slapper, a former Global Professor at New York University and the author of many law books and academic articles, discussed the versatile nature of law. In his book, "How The Law Works", he states, "[l]ike the pen or the knife, the law is a versatile instrument that can be used equally well for the improvement or the degradation of humanity."
Knowledge beyond a single field
The famous American comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said, "To me, a lawyer is basically the person who knows the rules of the country. We are all throwing the dice, playing the game, moving our pieces around the board, but if there's a problem, the lawyer is the only person who has read the inside of the top of the box". How true!
Legal education inculcates in its readers an analytical bent of mind, the ability to swiftly grasp and understand legal and non-legal provisions, efficient handling of multiple matters, and practical problem-solving in a limited timeframe. Notably, modern legal education equips professionals to practice as traditional lawyers and perform various support services to aid in disseminating conventional legal services, thereby facilitating the creation of the legal industry.
According to the World Economic Forum's 2020 Report titled "Jobs of Tomorrow: Mapping Opportunity in the New Economy, "the adaption to new roles and ways of working requires reskilling and upskilling.
Frameworks for legal skill development
According to an article by Peter Connor (Founder & CEO of AlternativelyLegal) titled "The shape of lawyers in the future – T, O or Delta?”, “three main potential frameworks or models have emerged for the training and development of lawyers that focus on non-legal skills: The T-shaped Lawyer, The O-shaped Lawyer and the Delta Model.”
According to Peter, in the O-Shaped framework, “lawyers can develop these ‘O’ behaviours by having a proactive mindset, legal, business and customer knowledge and the skills (outlined in the article)”.
The modern legal professional is a 'T-shaped person' with 'T-shaped skills', terms commonly used in personnel departments to refer to the skills and abilities of the workforce. The terms stem from the letter 'T', wherein the vertical bar stands for skills in a single field. The horizontal bar represents cross-functional abilities to apply one's skills in areas of expertise other than one's own and collaborate across domains. Simply put, it refers to versatility, cross-skills and multi-function ability.
While the Delta model is still developing, it gets its basics from the T-shaped model and brings together the People, Process and Technology (PPT) framework.
Modern legal education goes beyond equipping the future generation of lawyers with skillsets and qualities that traditional legal services require, and prepares them for all aspects including para-legal services, research, corporate policy formation, in-house legal counsellor, legal database management, legal education, law reporting/writing and law tech ventures, to list just a few.
Further, with the advent of various integrated programs wherein law is taught along with business management, commerce, science, technology and arts, the career options available today are wide and varied. Traditional job profiles such as accountancy, tax analysis and even journalism combine a law school degree to provide a comprehensive body of knowledge.
At a law school seminar in the late 90s, Ram Jethmalani, an eminent Indian lawyer, advised young students that a lawyer should know a little bit of everything - and after that - if she knows some law, she will go a long way.
The statement by Mr. Jethmalani holds as the law touches and permeates every aspect of life. It governs and regulates everything we do, rendering the law degree the most versatile qualification. A law degree hones the skill-sets required for a career in the legal sector as well as in other disciplines. And while there is just one career option available for a dental surgery graduate, law graduates could have diverse paths to success.
The ocean of opportunities
While restrictions exist on the traditional legal role (litigation & active advisory), which mandates registering within a specific jurisdiction. The legal sector has otherwise opened up its skies – meaning there is diversity, collaboration and outsourcing of the other legal roles apart from the traditional position.
In October 2021, we discussed that Law School is the first point of contact for any aspiring lawyer, and it is where the skills in trends could be incepted and utilised for future deployment. The way is to keep abreast with the latest legal market trends, technology, entrepreneurship, and processes.
Acquiring a law degree today is no longer restricted as it offers myriad career options within and outside the legal industry. In a nutshell, the traditional role of the legal profession as "sole practitioner" has now evolved and embraced various other functions to encompass a legal industry that adopts an open sky policy transcending geographical borders.