« Eeny, Meeny--Corporate or Litigation? | Main | Harvard Law's Lonely Women »

Do You Have a Lawyer Personality?

Vivia Chen

March 29, 2011

FemaleLwyr Well, this is embarrassing. After all my rants about the character flaws of lawyers, it turns out that I might fit the lawyer profile quite nicely.

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?

Hat tips: Above the Law and ABA Journal.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected].

Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

The list above seems to me that it's the typical personality type for people wanting to pursue in law. Once you become an attorney and you are still this awkward and bitter person in social settings, you will quickly lose in the game whether you are dealing with clients or other co-worker attorneys at a firm. You must be a great thinker and be highly logical, but also must be a friendly person with people skills.

To become a lawyer one need to be argumentative by very nature of the profession. It's a pretty interesting post about lawyers nature. :) Although at times it appears a bit offending but still reality is reality.

Thanks for the writeup, I am going to take the test and find out :)

Interesting a myers Briggs profile is great for finding out what career choose is advised. However remeber characteristic traits change constantly throughout your life and in different contexts so just because you fit the profile now doesnt mean you will in 3 months.
Expert in home improvements and home hygiene. Her current website focusses on
waterproof mattress cover and anything mattress related.

Thanks for the article. I would like to take that test. I agree about tense, but I prefer to see it as intense.

Darryl Stove

Do you happen to know what type of assessment model they followed? Was it Big Five, or MBTI, or DISC? Or something entirely original? I happen to be a lawyer who is also very interested in personality tests. I would love to take a similar assessment out of curiosity. I already know my personality is the complete opposite of BigLaw -I'm an ENTP- squarely in the somewhat scatterbrained, entrepreneurial, people oriented, love to talk to juries type. But I know I'm not the only lawyer with this personality....

It is true that lawyers develop certain mindsets and reflexes, beginning in their law school days. But the article above paints lawyers with a very broad brush stroke.

Just as we can tell surgeons apart from physicians, litigators differ very much from transactional lawyers.

The personalities described in the above article tend to apply most aptly to transactional lawyers working for a law firm.

Very true. I completely go with the context.

Dear Vivia, I´m a lawyer in Brazil, and seems to me that almost every professional lawyer in the world must have a little more or little less of these skills you have mentioned, but, I remember you that Law Business, is not about pure law codes, is about people, and I good lawyer must have interpersonal skills to relate with clients and law operator in order to really promote justice, and not only a case. A lawyer must be the bridge to good and right solution, an ethical fighter for the client, and most of all, guided by high ethical and technical values. Brazilan´s salutes to all.

Seems to fit most lawyers I know, including me. I thought the "tense" trait was especially interesting. It does take a certain level of tension to obsess over typos and misplaced commas, but for better or worse, that kind of obsessiveness makes for a good lawyer.

Sure having a personality for this work is very important. If you do not like to talk to much or if you do not have enough temper inside of you you can not guard enough. Thanks for article.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Subscribe to get The Careerist via e-mail

Enter your e-mail address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

To search across all ALM blogs, go to www.Lexis.com.