Thursday, July 26, 2007

Back to business: Psychology of Lawyers

Wow, now that I've gotten that off my chest, let's go back to OOTJ business. The ABA Journal has an interesting article interviewing a lawyer with a psychology degree about what the "attorney" personality profile is like, and how it helps or sometimes hinders, a practitioner.

What has been remarkable is how very stable the personality data have been over the past 25 years. I am still seeing basically the same profile that I saw back then. The only change appears to be that more people with a "Feeler" (as opposed to a "Thinker") preference on the MBTI seem to be entering the law and staying in the law. This change may be a reflection of what has often been written about Gen Y – that they are more interpersonal, more interested in collegiality, relationships, climate, etc.
Interesting read. Many years ago, I was involved in a project to administer the Myers Briggs Personality test to people across a library. The results were interesting, and were compared to the law faculty and attorneys over-all personality type. Librarians in general have a different profile that lawyers, and even law librarians who have worked as lawyers tend to have a different profile. Nearly all the people in the library test project came out with very nearly the same sort of profile. The differences were just in how extreme to one type or another people ranged. It felt spooky.

The other thing about the test is that I have taken the Myers Briggs several times. Each time, I had a distinct feeling that my responses had changed over time, and that if I had taken it in my 20s or younger, it would have changed even more. There seems to be some useful and valid data that the Myers Briggs brings out, but it did make me wonder if there was some part that adjusted for the passage of time. Or maybe I'm just weird. Here is one more snippet from the ABA article:
You have developed innovations to help leaders at law firms attract, retain, develop and motivate legal talent. What are the best practices for supporting talented lawyers?

The answer would take a book. I suppose I can summarize this by saying that there are a few evergreen principles that will help here:

Capitalize on strengths, rather than trying to fix deficiencies (unless you have a "fatal flaw" that must be addressed)
Seek out feedback. Self-awareness is key for anyone in a leadership position and for anyone who makes a living interacting with other people
Work on improving your emotional intelligence skills. Lawyers are weak in this area – which may represent a "fatal flaw" for many. Poor EI skills can hurt you, and good EI skills can make a huge positive difference in terms of talent retention, getting the right people to work for you, coping with change, and the other intangibles of the legal profession.

In your opinion, what are the characteristics that make a lawyer successful?

In addition to the obvious – high integrity and consummate mastery of the legal skills in your practice area – I return to emotional intelligence. Research increasingly demonstrates the importance of emotional intelligence skills in many industries. Research shows that the best lawyers generally have higher emotional intelligence scores when tested than their average counterparts. ”Emotional Intelligence” includes skills in self-awareness, empathy, regulating your own emotional reactions, and building and maintaining healthy relationships.
Please see the whole article for more info.

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