Like others who've dropped out of law, I've always been convinced that I was miscast for the lawyer role from the get-go. In fact, I thought my unsuitability was confirmed after I took the McKenna Long personality test that's administered to potential hires (the computer generated what I thought was a rather harsh review of my personality).
Now here's the really distressing news: My "negatives" make me lawyer material. At least that's my takeaway after reading Hildebrandt's study of lawyer personality traits, which was based on data from nearly 2,000 lawyers at four big firms, collected in 2009-10.
According to the Hildebrandt study, lawyers are:
• High scorers on learning, "suggesting that they value education and enjoy academic activities";
• Self-critical and temperamental;
• Lousy on interpersonal sensitivity. They are task-oriented and speak their minds, coming across as "cold, critical, and argumentative";
• Easily excitable, "becoming tense and overly critical";
• Cautious to the extent they have a hard time taking risks and making decisions; and
• Resistant to authority and skeptical of others.
Of all those factors, lawyers scored particularly poorly on interpersonal sensitivity, says Larry Richard, a psychologist (he recently left Hildebrandt), who conducted the research (psychologists Jeff Foster, Mark Sirkin, and Lisa Rohrer also worked on it). "They always argue with me about it, and they do it in insensitive ways, like, 'Oh, this is so stupid,'" says Richard. (For the record, I feel I'm fine on the sensitivity front--though others might disagree.)
Despite having a stressful job, lawyers don't adjust well to pressure, says Richard. "A high scorer on adjustment is someone who's steady under pressure--someone like Chesley Sullenberger [the U.S. Airways pilot]," explains Richard. "Scully was steady when he had to land the plane on the Hudson [River]. But lawyers would have said, 'My God, we're going to die!'"
Though some of the personality traits might seem self-evident, the study offers some surprises: Lawyers scored high on aesthetics and hedonism. But don't get too excited. Aesthetics in this context has a distinctly legal flavor: The report defines it as the "three C's: high-quality cases, high- quality clients, and high-quality colleagues." In a nutshell: Boring.
Still, the report finds that lawyers "prefer environments that are stylish, entertaining, and flexible"--though those preferences seem to be mainly expressed by associates rather than partners. In other words, by the time associates become partners, the vestiges of hedonism have probably been beaten out of them.
Do you get the feeling that most lawyers--even those who complain about the profession--fit the profile? Are lawyers just habitual gripers?
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