Guest Post by Anna Busch
Anna Busch is a rising 3L at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, working with Professor Alyson Carrel on developing the Delta Model for legal education.
I wanted to learn how to be a lawyer. I did not, unfortunately, care to learn how to be a law student.
Honestly, I spent most of my first year of law school trying not to be a law student. “Anna haaates working in the library,” my friends would croon after I announced I needed yet another break (it had only been fifteen minutes of staring at my Property textbook) and dashed outside.
I avoided lunch talks and student organization meetings and study groups. I didn’t apply for law review or journal, barely spoke in class, and did not attend a single office hour. Once, in a moment of frustration, I admitted to my friend: “If I can get through law school and not leave a single impression on anyone, I will be totally okay.”
But still, I wanted to learn how to be a lawyer.
I knew how to be a student. I went to three colleges in four years, adapting to different methods of teaching and learning across disciplines, pouring over scholarship, creating a portfolio of projects and essays.
I thought I knew how to be a student, but I did not know how to be a law student. In secret, I was spending most of my first year scrambling to just catch up to what came seemingly naturally to my peers. Turns out, despite my law school personal statement describing all the ways my design background would lend itself to the practice of law, I was in for a shock.
I truly believed that solely reading and outlining and BlueBooking until my eyes were red would teach me how to be a lawyer. Why wouldn’t I be developing all the skills I need by only going to my classes? And yet, I was still clueless as to how to be a lawyer. Clueless as to how to communicate with clients and manage cases and use legal technology. I blamed my cluelessness on my stubborn resistance toward being a Law Student: maybe “how to be a lawyer” was a secret that only the Law Students knew.
But...none of us were learning how to be a lawyer. The Library Friends I envied -- for their apparent ease of navigating law school -- were just as lost as me. (Admittedly, maybe I would have realized this sooner if I had gone to lunch talks and student org meetings and study groups.) There weren’t secret study groups pouring over innovative legal technologies or teaching one another the basics of project management.
These were skills we were expected to pick up in practice, in our (roughly) 20 weeks of internships, not skills we would develop over our 90 weeks of formal education.
Halfway through my 1L year, the law school building I spent so much time avoiding vanished, and I started school in my tiny apartment with three roommates and an energetic golden retriever. The pandemic had catapulted the legal industry into a new wave of technology. Law school and legal employers went virtual. Internships -- the ones essential to learn legal skills -- were shortened or canceled altogether. Underscoring all of this was a (much belated) awakening toward the systemic racism embedded in our profession.
Virtual law school drew back the curtains to reveal that the legal profession cannot meet these challenges with our traditional methods and means. We focus on research, issue-spotting, writing, briefing cases, and Bluebooking. What we DON’T teach our students is how to deliver these skills.
We give our students the fuel, but we don’t give them the vehicle.
New lawyers are entering the legal profession without the necessary skills to effectively and efficiently advocate for clients. But this need not be the case. Fundamentally, as lawyers, we are problem solvers. We are analytical thinkers, trained to approach each conflict methodically. So why is it so hard to solve THIS problem? In the post-COVID world, how can we equip our law students with the tools they need to be successful in the legal industry?
We need to build flexible tools to teach the mechanics of law - its process.
The Delta Model does just that. It identifies three competencies critical to a successful legal professional: The Practice, The People, and The Process.“The Practice” identifies what we do and emphasizes traditional legal skills, while “The People” recenters our analysis on the essential human component of the legal profession, the who we serve and who we are. The third component, “The Process” focuses on how we can deliver legal skills efficiently and effectively.
“The Process” addresses the means by which we, as legal professionals, deliver all of the above.
The Process identifies the necessary skills we need to be adaptable in the face of increasingly advanced technology. This builds off of the model of the “T-Shaped” Lawyer, which first emphasized the importance of technology, process improvement, and data in the modern legal landscape. The Process emphasizes skills such as technology fluency, project management, and the ability to understand and analyze data. It highlights the “peripheral” skills of navigating apps and platforms like Clio, Microsoft Office Suite, confidential file storage, e-discovery, and more. It also identifies the importance of a lawyer’s ability to manage different cases or matters, and design or identify the best way to resolve a dispute.
In a broader sense, the Process focuses on the how, or the way we do our jobs. The Process emphasizes how we manage our work with clients and our teams, how we choose our paths to resolve disputes, how we analyze and store information. This brings to light the tools and channels we utilize to succeed. By identifying the Process, we are able to be intentional about our use of technology and project management skills to better deliver our legal services. The Process encourages us to innovate, to continually seek ways to adapt and improve. At the heart of the Process is the skill of adaptability.
The Process teaches us how to be a lawyer in the modern age.
Identifying “The Process” is one way we can intentionally engage with the resources that make us, as legal students and professionals, succeed.
On a personal note, I wish I had the Delta Model before we went virtual. As our week of virtual law school evolved into a year and a half of virtual law school, I watched changes occur to legal education. I watched my professors reassess their teaching strategies for virtual learning: asynchronous content, syllabus updates, discussion boards, and breakout rooms for class engagement. My administrators found new ways to offer tangible support to students: grading alternatives, mental and physical health resources, online services to connect students and employers. My peers collaborated and connected despite physical distance. By no means did we handle Zoom School of Law in the perfect way. But we took tremendous steps toward transforming legal education to be more efficient and effective.
I imagine how my law school experience would have been different if I had the Delta Model during my first-year Orientation, how it could have guided me through my disorientation in legal practice. The Delta Model pushes us towards skills, empowering students with a flexible framework to develop their individualized path to their own career in law. I deeply believe that, had I discovered the Delta Model in my 1L year, I would have been able to grasp what I needed to work on, in or outside of the classroom, to learn how to be a lawyer. The Delta Model identifies specific skills and competencies to declutter the practice of law. The Delta Model helps me to learn with intention, preparing me to be a well-rounded lawyer.
My learning how to be a law student may end next spring, but I will never stop learning how to be a lawyer. I feel so tremendously lucky to be entering the practice of law in a period of innovation and technology. And I am finally learning how.
Right now, we are teetering on an axis of change. We must build upon the skills we gained over COVID, to adapt and adopt while forced to problem-solve in lockdown. If we realize and institutionalize this adaptability to the changing world and industry around us, we are more likely to succeed as a profession and as individuals. Learning about the “Process” teaches us to look directly at our delivery of legal services, and excites and empowers us to develop these processes in new and innovative ways so that we can become the well-rounded lawyers we actually seek - and need - to be.