Written by Dan Kayne, Founder of The O Shaped Lawyer, and Helen Lowe, Head of Legal Operations at easyJet.

Introducing The O Shaped Lawyer

The O Shaped Lawyer was formed in early 2019 when Dan Kayne (General Counsel Regions) noticed a worrying trend whilst hiring lawyers into his legal team at Network Rail.

Dan agreed with his Group General Counsel that what the team needed were all-rounders – hence the ‘O’.

The five Os framework was created as a memorable way to showcase the critical role of human centric skills. Open minded, Original, Opportunist, Ownership and Optimism have since become the guiding principles which define the O Shaped Lawyer programme.

After this realisation, a working group was brought together to interview 18 leading General Counsel across the UK. Immediately, it became clear that the wider General Counsel community felt the same way about lawyers’ skill sets as the O Shaped group did. The overriding message was that the focus on technical and academic excellence came at the expense of equally important commercial skills necessary for the modern-day lawyer. A subsequent report published in February 2019 by the O Shaped group highlighted these shortcomings whilst hiring in-house lawyers; as well as working with the private practice law firms they partnered with.

“The overwhelming majority of candidates we interviewed demonstrated exceptional technical lawyering skills but were lacking in the more human centric skills that were so vital for the role”.

Dan Kayne

Bringing the O Shaped Lawyer to life at easyJet

Maaike de Bie, then at Royal Mail, was one of the General Counsel’s interviewed by the O Shaped group. After moving to easyJet, Maaike and her team seized the opportunity to work more closely with the O Shaped Lawyer Programme.

When pulling together their RFP, they made it clear that more was expected from easyJet’s partner firms. Their technical knowledge was a given – but what were they like as people? Did they understand business? And could they share complex ideas in a really simple way? The O Shaped Lawyer captured exactly what easyJet were looking for – so it was dropped into the RFP less than 24 hours before it was sent to firms.

And there were some interesting responses…

However, the O Shaped Lawyer attributes mainly came into play during the second phase – the interview. With plans already disrupted as meetings were taken virtually, it felt like the right time for easyJet to really challenge what they did and why they did it. This is when they approached the O Shaped Lawyer’s founder Dan to collaborate on the second phase of the panel process and do something radically different.

Together, they designed sessions which required minimal preparation for the firms and tested how they would do things rather than relying solely on their legal expertise.

What did they ask of the firms?

Helen Lowe, Head of Legal Operations at easyJet, shares what they asked law firms to do, the reactions they faced and the value of this experiment.

5 minute pitch video

We knew there would be no opportunity to meet with anyone other than the pitch team, but we wanted to get a sense of the wider firms we might be working with. This was their chance to show us the wider firm. It was a fascinating exercise with loads of people bringing different approaches – from a corporate wraparound with a nod to easyJet through to candid home videos of people on holiday, relaxing and doing their favorite hobbies. We even had a couple of blooper reels!

Voicemail advice

We sent a set of pretty standard email requests to the firms 24 hours before we met asking them to provide voicemail-style advice in the meeting. This was a chance to understand how they could communicate really complex concepts briefly and to the wider business. It was a really tricky area – some teams absolutely got this right whilst others found it hard to step away from the law and convert it into truly commercial advice.

The business simulation

This was the bit where we really got under the skin of their O Shaped-ness.

During the meeting, we shared a document with a scenario which asked the teams to imagine they were stranded on a mountain range with only a few items packed in their imaginary bag. It then set them a series of multiple choice challenges which they had to navigate to descend the mountain to safety.

The easyJet team turned off their cameras, popped themselves on mute and left the law firm to navigate their way down the mountain. We used a separate chat channel to discuss as a team and assessed them against the O Shaped criteria: Did one person dominate the discussion? Were they open to changing their minds or being persuaded? Were all the voices heard? We weren’t interested in whether they made it down alive (P.S. Only one did!). We wanted to see how they reached the decisions they reached, whether they had fun in the exercise, and if they seemed like a good bunch of people to work with

The law firms reaction

The firms were quite nervous. We took them a long way out of their comfort zone and it’s hard to prepare when you don’t know what you’re going into. The fact that we weren’t assessing them on their legal competency, but on who they were, was undoubtedly unnerving. But all of them embraced it, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

Even the doubters internally at easyJet saw the value we got out of doing something very different, and teams are adopting new, exciting approaches to RFP’s across the business.

What did easyJet get out of it?

I think, first and foremost, we succeeded in getting a really great community of firms together. It’s really exciting to be at the start of this journey where everyone’s engaged and ready to take on the challenge of making this a huge success.

“The moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to do things differently”

Helen Lowe

Ultimately, it demonstrates that we got the right outcome from the process with the principles of the O Shaped Lawyer being woven into every relationship. This is something we will continue to develop; both as an in-house team and with our partner firms.

Impact on the profession

The legal profession has been bombarded with change initiatives over the last decade; most of which have failed to make an impact, even in the short term. The O Shaped Lawyer is different in that it is customer led and designed to make a positive, lasting change across the legal ecosystem. There is an ever-growing community of General Counsel, Heads of Legal and Legal Operations Specialists to build the case for change around the O Shaped attributes. The significance of high-profile, influential General Counsel contributing to, and endorsing, the programme cannot be underestimated.

As Dan Kayne, tells us ‘This continued support is essential for the O Shaped Lawyer to succeed.’

Even with the widespread General Counsel support, the O Shaped attributes need to be applied in practice for them to land. The pioneering work that Helen did with easyJet bringing the O Shaped Lawyer to life is a trigger which they hope will transform the legal system in a sustainable way, forever. Embedding the O Shaped attributes as part of a process like this has made an immediate impact on the legal profession, not only with the firms who were successful in easyJet’s tender, but all the way through the legal ecosystem.

The work of easyJet and others doing something similar, mean that law firms are listening and require the law schools to change the outdated curricula to introduce a broader range of skills vital to the next generation of lawyers. Bringing O Shaped attributes into the legal education system has the potential to radically change the profession in the longer term – a legacy for which the O Shaped group exists.

If you want to learn more about the O Shaped Lawyer, head over to their website here.