Caitlin “Cat” Moon is the Director of Innovation Design for the Program in Law and Innovation (PoLI)...
JoAnn Hathaway is a practice management advisor for the State Bar of Michigan. She previously worked as...
Molly Ranns is program director for the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program at the State Bar of...
The pandemic made many things change at a rapid pace, but even with this evolution, the same competency areas are still needed to thrive in the practice of law. On Balance hosts Molly Ranns and JoAnn Hathaway welcome Cat Moon to discuss the practice, process, and people skills that make up the Delta Model, which helps lawyers bring self-awareness and growth to their work and personal lives. Cat shares examples of the Delta Model in action in the lives of legal professionals and students and recommends all lawyers rethink how they work to discover a more joyful career experience.
Caitlin “Cat” Moon is the Director of Innovation Design for the Program in Law and Innovation at Vanderbilt Law School.
Special thanks to our sponsor Embroker.
Marcus Buckingham discussed his research on the following episodes of the Harvard Business Review’s podcast IdeaCast:
Find joy in any job: Why am I unhappy at work?
Find joy in any job: What do I really love to do?
Find joy in any job: How do I improve the role I have?
Find joy in any job: How do I get my team to love work?
Molly Ranns: Hello and welcome to another edition of the State Bar of Michigan on Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network, I’m Molly Ranns.
JoAnn Hathaway: And I’m JoAnn Hathaway. We are very pleased to have Caitlin Moon, Director of Innovation Design at Vanderbilt Law School and Creator of the Delta Model, join us today as our podcast guest. In today’s podcast, we’ll be talking about the Delta Model which focuses on lawyer readiness and competency in today’s world with a focus on staying current and prepared post-COVID. And with that, Caitlin, would you share some information about yourself with our listeners?
Caitlin Moon: I would be glad to JoAnn. First, it is great to be here with you and Molly, thank you so much for inviting me. I love to have any opportunity I can get to talk about the Delta Model and my colleague Allison Carroll and I, who is a Clinical Professor at Northwestern are doing with it. Me in a nutshell, I practiced law for about 20 years before returning to my alma mater, Vanderbilt to teach. And I teach a whole bunch of courses that I developed for our program on law and innovation, also known as PoLi. And in doing the work for PoLi and also throughout my own practice evolving from 1998 when I entered the practice really through today, I technically am still a practicing lawyer, by the way. I still have an active law license, so I try to avoid the actual practice as much as possible.
I realized in developing the curriculum for PoLi courses in Vanderbilt Law students that we really needed a fresh new way to look at lawyering skills and competencies. And we needed a way that was really accessible, not just for law students, but people thinking about going to law school, law students and something that folks could take into the practice with them and actually use as a tool throughout their entire career. I think one of the most amazing things about the practice of law is that it is the opportunity to continually learn and grow in areas that hopefully you’re really interested in and passionate about. And so that’s really what brought me to the work I do today, both at Vanderbilt and on the Delta Model. And I guess that’s what brought me here to talk with you all today, quite literally.
Molly Ranns: Well, we’re so glad you’re here Caitlin. Help us understand what the Delta Model is and how it came to be.
Caitlin Moon: Sure. So, the Delta Model and we’re talking, so I can’t show you a picture, although I can refer listeners, perhaps you have showed notes and I can share links to some things that folks can look at visuals, because it is a visual model. But as the name Delta suggests, it’s a triangle with three sides, an equilateral triangle, the base of the triangle we call the practice and the base contains all of the skills that one would typically think of as traditional lawyering skills. So, this is the ability to perform legal research issues, spot exercise, legal judgment and logic, kind of all those things that law school really focuses on well, and frankly, most CLE courses focus on. So, the traditional lawyering skills from the base of the practice on the right-hand side is process. And that side really encompasses many of the skills that folks who are familiar with the T-shaped lawyer might be familiar with.
And so, think about technology competency, legal project management, process design, implementation and improvement, data analysis, data literacy. All of those things fall on the process side, and then the left-hand side is the people side. So, it completes the triangle and the people side encompasses all those things that for years, folks have called soft skills. But anyone who has tried to really be a good collaborator, be empathetic, be self-aware, be a good leader, be a good communicator realizes those skills are actually very hard to master and do well. So, all those skills are captured on the people side, and it really is the people side that led the T-shape to evolve into the Delta.
So, it happened at a design sprint that was held at MSU. I guess it’s been about four years ago now. And I was introduced to the Delta Model shortly after it was kind of born at this design sprint by my colleague Allison Carroll. And she and I have taken it and continued to develop and iterate on it. And she and I both have developed tools that we use with our students and with practicing lawyers to put the Delta Model into action in designing a career for students.
And then actually, once you’re in the practice. So, that’s what the Delta Model is generally, it’s a visual model that allows us to look at an array of competencies. The other thing I will say about it that’s important to keep in mind is that the Delta Model itself although we identify these three areas in which skills fall, the goal of the model itself is not to say there is this universal set of skills that everyone must possess, for a whole host of reasons. One, in digging into all the research that supports the Delta Model are years and years of studies that have been done into what skills lawyers need in order to be competent and I’ve got air quotes going on right now to be competent. Our goal is less to say it’s this set of skills that equals competency. The goal is really to say these three areas are important, no matter what your role is in legal practice.
But the exact array of skills and how much of any given skill you need in order to be successful and to thrive is really going to depend on your role in the context in which you practice. And so, the goal of the Delta Model really is to give every individual practicing lawyer the ability to design his or her own Delta, their own Delta and understand this is the set of skills that I need to be working on in order to be successful and to thrive, so it’s able to be personalized for each individual person who chooses to use it as a tool.
JoAnn Hathaway: So, Cat, how can lawyers use the Delta Model as a tool not only for professional development but actually to thrive?
Caitlin Moon: So, there is a growing body of research that has really evolved, especially during COVID. I think a lot of what’s happened to us collectively during COVID has made people much more interested in understanding under what conditions humans thrive and really asking some hard questions and an overriding condition for thriving for a professional, for a knowledge worker and that’s what lawyers are, knowledge workers. An overriding condition is the ability to continually learn and grow. Humans thrive, especially lawyer humans thrive in an atmosphere that truly supports their learning and growth and I think most lawyers would agree that just the practice of law itself is a continuous opportunity to learn and grow. Again, having focused traditionally on the traditional lawyering skills. But, as I said earlier, we know that in this day and age, lawyers need a much broader array of skills depending on the context and the role that they feel.
And so, the goal with the Delta Model is really to give folks very transparent understanding and self-awareness around what the skills are that they need to be working on and give them tools to go forth and create opportunities to be working on those skills very meaningfully and intentionally. So, it really is quite the opposite of oh my gosh, it’s December 15 and I’ve got to fill 15 hours of CLE in order to maintain my competency. Again, air quotes and more how can I make part of my daily existence as a hopefully happy and thriving and successful lawyer opportunity to be continually learning about things that one, I’m really interested in, and two, are going to help me do better, perform better, be happier.
And so, it really is bringing that intention and that self-awareness and the transparency to our work and making it part of how you exist as a lawyer instead of a rush to fulfill a requirement that some entity outside is forcing upon you. So, it really is a big bind set shift. And again, that opportunity to be self-aware and also just really intentional about how am I going to take control and agency over something that is really so critical to my thriving as a professional, because as I said, research is just piling on the evidence that that is the case.
Molly Ranns: Cat, would you be able to share examples? So, in the way of case studies, perhaps of how the Delta Model is being used?
Caitlin Moon: Absolutely. So, I can definitely reference the work that Allison and I do with our students. So, we’ve developed a number of tools, exercises, a workbook, and then a series of standalone exercises that we take students through depending on the course that helps them understand what their Delta is going into the practice depending on where they’re going
Because we have students who go clerk, we have students who go into corporate law firms, who go into legal aid organizations just across the board. And again, the Delta for each of those opportunities, each of those roles looks slightly different. And so, we take students through process to help them really feel confident and empowered about the skills they’re taking in with them and what they need to be focused on working on once they get into the practice so that they really can feel confident in their ability to do their job and learn and grow. In terms of practicing lawyers, we are seeing specifically in two environments. Delta Model tools really taking hold. One, in house legal departments are using the Delta Model to identify here’s what a role in our department, here’s what the Delta looks like, thinking very intentionally about what the array of skills around all three sides looks like and helping folks who are in that role understand, here’s where you’re knocking it out of the park, here are some target areas to work on and designing ways for them to work on that.
In ways that really fit in with how they work and the work they have to do. Instead, again, of making it feel like it’s something that has to be added on to what your job already is. A tool that we recommend folks use, whether In-House Department, law students law firms is what we term the playlist. Once someone has identified the skills and competencies that they want to focus on and we recommend picking three to become a focus for a period of time, whether that is a quarter or a year, whatever you choose to work on, then you create a playlist. That’s basically the set of resources that you’re going to tap in order to work on building those skills. And we really like to encourage people to be creative in creating their playlists. So, it can absolutely be going to your state bar CLE provider and identify those courses that really fit in well with the skills that you want to work on and make sure those are on your calendar to say that.
Again, you’re not getting to the end of the year and realizing that you didn’t do the things that were most interesting to you. But also, we encourage people to look at courses. We have folks taking courses from MIT, from Coursera, depending on again, on the process side, are they more technical courses? We suggested to folks, go find a TED Talk. There are some amazing TED Talks that focus on how to be a good collaborator, how to be a good team player. So, you can pull resources and there are a ton of great business books that have a goldmine of information for lawyers who are wanting to work, for instance, on business development. So, being really creative and putting together that playlist of resources that you’re going to access over the course of time that you’re working on building those skills.
So, we see that tool being used really successfully, specifically in a couple of In-house Departments that we’ve worked with. Then finally, law firms, we are currently working with a firm who is developing a set of Delta Models for early associates. The goal being, again, to give them real transparency into here are the skills that this firm really values. And we are committed to helping you develop these skills in identifying the many skills that you are bringing to this role. And so, again, helping young lawyers feel really confident that they’re bringing a strong skill set with them and also helping them feel confident in identifying those places where they need to work and giving them and I think this is critical, too and this is part of the toolset that were commend, giving them access to mentors, to coaches, to people who can really work with them to work on those skills as they are developing into hopefully very successful associates and moving on to partner, if that’s what is in their grand plan. So, those are some general examples of things that we’re seeing folks use very successfully.
Molly Ranns: Cat, thank you for the excellent conversation so far, we are going to take a short break to thank our sponsors.
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JoAnn Hathaway: And now we’re back talking with Caitlin Moon about the Delta Model. Cat, how can lawyers take agency over their professional formation to truly thrive both professionally and personally?
Caitlin Moon: I think that this is such an important issue, especially right now. I’m sure that you all have been privy to the research that is showing that the attrition rate for associates over the past year has just skyrocketed. So, a lot of lateral movement, especially in the corporate law and what that’s telling us is that folks aren’t happy right there. For some reason, folks are choosing to leave. Maybe they’re leaving the practice, but they’re definitely leaving a lot of firms to go to other firms. And again, research that has been happening since way before the pandemic but definitely has been confirmed during the pandemic reveals that while money might get folks to take, it’s not what keeps them. If it’s all ridiculous numbers and we’re talking about a few thousand dollars, folks are walking for the opportunity to make less money and have more agency and control.
So, having agency and control is also a high predictor of happiness and thriving in your professional life. And the easiest place to exercise agency and control in my observation is over how are you going to charge your course forward how are you going to take control over the design of your career, the path that that takes and how you’re going to develop as a professional? And that is frankly, completely within your control. You have the opportunity to create the plan to make the choices and execute the plan. And a plan executed with information and with the help of tools is always going to be easier to execute than a plan that is formed willy-nilly. And so, taking the time, with intention, with self-awareness to create the plan and execute it is just the lowest hanging fruit there is out there.
I will add that I’ve observed many young lawyers who enter the practice and perhaps expect that the opportunity for professional development and growth is going to be part of what an employer provides. And certainly, there are firms, there are workplaces that create phenomenal opportunities for folks to learn and grow. This is not the case across the board. There are many places that do not do a good job at all with this, and so I would just really urge anyone to take control over that. And if your workplace has phenomenal opportunities, certainly avail yourself of them, but don’t sit back and think that this is going to be done for you or provided to you. And I’ve also observed that in many workplaces it is not at all transparent exactly what that magical list of skills and competencies in order to climb “the ladder of success looks like.” And that makes it all the more important for an individual to gather information on their own and to take control over the plan that they want to execute in order to get where they want to go. So, I think that exercising agency is again the lowest hanging fruit, the clearest path to thriving professionally, especially for lawyers.
Molly Ranns: Absolutely. Cat, what do you think the key attributes are then of a 21st Century lawyer?
Caitlin Moon: So, while the Delta does not want to again state these are the particular skills, I think we can again take some lessons out of the pandemic and talk about the three sides for a moment. For purposes of my answer to your question, Molly, I’m going to say we are going to assume that those who are entering the practice and are in the practice are exercising their ethical obligation to stay abreast of the aspects of law that pertain to the work they do for clients. So, it’s assumed that you are making sure you stay abreast of changes in developments on the practice side, the base of the Delta. I want to talk a little bit about the people and process sides because I think that how the skills and competencies that are important on those sides evolve, I think have really been highlighted during the pandemic. So, one of which is the skill of technology competency. Again, air quotes however, one may choose to define that, I think we’ve learned over the past two plus years that lawyers have no choice but to embrace technology.
And really figure out how they can use it to supercharge and superpower their practice. So, become partners with technology and leverage it instead of I don’t want to use the word fear. I don’t think most lawyers fear technology. I think that folks have just figured out how to do their work and keep doing their work instead of trying to keep abreast of every app or platform that might make their work easier to do. However, there are some core aspects of technology that I think are going to become absolutely requisite for the practice of law and so developing the mindset that technology is our friend and embracing it, that is certainly a key attribute of a 21st C5entury lawyer. I really thought this was powerful, one of my students this past semester did an independent research project, and she interviewed about a dozen attorneys on their thoughts having lived through the pandemic so far, their thoughts on what those skills are that really matter today and what those skills are that have supported those lawyers in thriving and technology was definitely on the list.
We all can agree to that that the number one, actually, every single person she interviewed focused on this in some way. And it was the notion that having flexibility or agility. The ability to not be rigid in how you work and in your mindsets was identified as the single most important skill or competency for someone to do really top-notch work and to be happy doing that work. And let’s face it, you can do really great work and still not be happy and thriving in your role and what I personally want and what drives me in doing the Delta Model work is I want everyone to be able to check both those boxes. More often than not, I’m doing work that I love and that challenges me and I enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy how I’m doing it. Now, we all know there are things about every single job that are not perfect, but how can you work towards checking both of those boxes? I will add finally, Marcus Buckingham, who is a business consultant, has a new book coming out, it might have just come out, but he’s got a series going on over on Harvard Business Reviews podcasts, and the name of the particular podcast is escaping me, but I can share that with you for the show notes and a series of articles that are coming out in HBR and it’s around this concept of love at work, like loving your work and what research he’s been involved in that has literally surveyed perhaps even hundreds of thousands of people across all kinds of industries and disciplines.
The research shows that if you can spend 20% of your time at work doing work that you really enjoy, that really drives you, that really challenges you, whatever those buttons are to be pushed for you, if you can spend just 20% of your time doing that, you will thrive in that work, you will be happy, you will be satisfied. And so, if we look at it at, how can I fashion work and focus on the opportunity to build skills that feed into my 20%, that’s not that big a threshold, right? That seems manageable now. I don’t really relish the thought of my day, has to be involved in things I don’t love. But if 20% is what makes the difference, I think that is absolutely doable. But, back to kind of the 21st century skills technology being agile, being flexible. And then I will add, finally, we are in this era. We’re in the fourth industrial revolution, the practice of law. The profession is a product, I would even say, a relic of the second industrial revolution, which is a period of time that ended more than 100 years ago.
And so, we have brought with us to this day all of these ways of working that simply are not suited to the world in which we live. And I tend to look at that as this amazing opportunity to rethink and redesign and refashion how we work. One of those opportunities is to think very clearly and intentionally about what are the things that we bring to this work that, for instance, cannot be replaced by a machine? What are the things we can do that AI is not going to come along and do better? What are the things that we can do that actually gives us the opportunity to partner with AI?
And really just view as superpowers. All of those things fall on the people side of the Delta. It is our unique human judgment. It is our ability to have true empathy. It is our ability to form really strong human connections as collaborators, as players on a team that separate us from the machines. And so, I think the skills that really differentiate us from technology are truly our superpowers, and they are critical, and they’re going to become only more important. So that’s my short list.
JoAnn Hathaway: Well, thank you. This has been great information, Cat. It does look like we’ve come to the end of our show. We’d like to thank our guests today, Caitlin Moon, for a wonderful program.
Molly Ranns: Cat, if our guests would like to follow up with you, how can they reach you?
Caitlin Moon: So, I’m on Twitter a lot, so I welcome folks reaching out there. I’m @inspiredcat. I’m also on LinkedIn, I am not on LinkedIn as much, but I do check in there periodically. I think Twitter is more fun and folks are welcome to shoot me an email, I’m at [email protected], I would love to connect, especially if anyone has any questions or wants more information about the Delta Model.
Molly Ranns: Thank you so much, Caitlyn. This has been another edition of the State Bar of Michigan on Balance Podcast.
JoAnn Hathaway: I’m JoAnn Hathaway.
Molly Ranns: And I’m Molly Ranns. Until next time, thank you for listening.
Male: Thank you for listening to the State Bar of Michigan on Balance Podcast. Brought to you by the State Bar of Michigan and produced by the broadcast professionals at Legal Talk Network. If you’d like more information about today’s show, please visit legaltalknetwork.com subscribe via Apple Podcasts and RSS. Find the State Bar of Michigan and Legal Talk Network on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn or download Legal Talk Network’s free app in Google Play and iTunes.
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|Published:||May 23, 2022|
|Podcast:||State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast|
|Category:||Practice Management , Wellness|
State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast
The State Bar of Michigan podcast series focuses on the need for interplay between practice management and lawyer-wellness for a thriving law practice.