A Lawyer’s Personality and Long-Term Career Satisfaction

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A Lawyer’s Personality and Long-Term Career Satisfaction

You've invested thousands of dollars in an undergraduate education and are about to invest thousands more in three years of law school. Will you feel your investment was a sound one ten years from now?

Stories of dissatisfied lawyers are abound. A recent study conducted by the ABA indicates that of lawyers who change jobs every year, 40,000 leave the profession. According to studies conducted by the Young Lawyers Division in 1984 and 1990, even more report dissatisfaction with their current position and their intention to change jobs within two years.

A simple personality inventory can provide some guidance to help keep you out of the ranks of the statistics. The assessment tool, called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), describes four basic personality preferences that report where you prefer to expend your energy, how you prefer to acquire new information, and how you make decisions. Now the most widely used personality assessment tool, the MBTI is being used to identify correlations between certain personality types and career satisfaction.

The MBTI consists of a series of forced-choice questions that, once scored, report an individual's preferences on four different scales. Like legal terms, the words that describe the traits that compose the four scales are almost like another language; they have specific meanings unlike the words' common meanings.


The first scale reports where you focus your energy. Extroverts focus on the outer world of people, places, and events. Introverts focus on the inner world of ideas and understanding. Extroverts, who compose about 75 percent of the population, are energized when they are active in their outer world. They are stimulated by meeting new people, seeing new places, and trying new things. They are the proverbial life of the party. They have never heard of Murphy's Law and rush head-on into new activities, assuming everything will work out.

Introverts, on the other hand, are more cautious when approaching a new endeavor. They prefer a depth of understanding rather than the breadth of interests Extroverts prefer. Because the Introverts' favorite world is the inner world, they frequently are seen as quiet and reserved. Parties exhaust them. They try to edit their thoughts to perfectly express their intended meaning before they say a word. As a consequence, they often have little to say at meetings but may have the most meaningful comments to make. Introverts need more time to ponder a response to a new idea or question than Extroverts, who are more likely to talk now and think later.

These differences are easily spotted in a lawyer's daily life and can have profound consequences, not only for coworkers' immediate communication but for the way lawyers evaluate each other and their perceived value to their organizations. For example, an Introvert lawyer is working quietly and diligently in her office when her Extrovert colleague bounds into the office to get her ideas on a problem he is tackling. He barrages her with his thoughts, realizes he has found the solution and bounces out thanking the Introvert, who has not uttered a word, for her help. The Introvert feels like an earthquake survivor; the Extrovert was just being himself. He was solving the problem by talking it out. You can imagine (and perhaps you've survived!) meetings full of Extroverts. Their motto is, "If we talk about it enough, we'll find a solution."

The Introvert's motto might be "If we think about it enough, we'll find a solution." This can be a point of significant misunderstanding, especially between a senior and junior lawyer. Here's an extreme example. A young associate seeks assistance from a highly-regarded partner about a thorny securities law issue. The partner raises his eyebrows a few times, says nothing and leaves. The associate is completely bewildered. A few hours later, the partner returns and carefully explains the solution. It's brilliant. This experience is just as unnerving in reverse. When an Ex- travert senior lawyer asks an Introvert junior lawyer to elaborate on an argument, he expects an immediate reply. The Introvert, however, is silent while he formulates a well-reasoned reply. The Extrovert expects noise while the reasoning is formulated. In fact, the Introvert would be happier responding in writing.

As lawyers, Introverts have the natural ability to concentrate for long periods of time on single projects and adjust more readily to practices that require much research and thought. Introverts may adapt more easily to the early years of practice in big firms, where spending two weeks in the library researching and writing a single memo is not uncommon. Extroverts, on the other hand, may chafe against such solitary assignments. Their natural outgoing personality often assists them in making contacts and developing clients as their legal experience matures. Although Introverts represent only 25 percent of the general population, they comprise 45 percent of lawyers and about 55 percent of lawyers who are not litigators.


The second scale of the MBTI reports how individuals gather information. People who have a preference for Sensing collect information through their five senses. They trust what they can see, taste, hear, feel, and smell. They have a natural facility with facts and detail. They naturally focus on the present moment and are practical and realistic. They approach tasks in a step-by-step fashion and are very exact. The answer to the question "What time is it?" has only one answer, the hour and minute, for someone who prefers Sensing.

For those who prefer to gather information through Intuition, time is a relative matter. Any time from 10:50 a.m. to 11:10 a.m. can be classified as about 11 a.m. Intuitives collect information through their sixth sense. This does not mean that they are psychic, it means only that they prefer to collect information by focusing on the meanings and understandings behind the raw data with which they are presented. Intuitives' natural home is the future, and they are more comfortable imagining the possibilities than coping with current reality. They rely on their verbal fluency and are often known as wordsmiths. While your Sensing friends may tell you every word of a conversation they had, your Intuitive friends tell you what that conversation really meant.

Ask Sensors to describe the season spring, and they will list its physical attributes, warm weather, rain, flowers, green grass. Intuitives will describe spring's meaning, a time of rebirth and renewal of the spirit and the earth, a time to fall in love. Sensors are firmly grounded in reality;

Intuitives are full of great ideas. For every great idea an Intuitive has, a Sensor has five practical questions about implementing the idea. While the Sensor is enmeshed in the details of a legal matter, the Intuitive is focused on its conceptual basis.

About 75 percent of the general population prefers Sensing, but the preference among lawyers drops to 41 percent. The happiest lawyers have a good mix of both traits regardless of the specific preference. They enjoy a facility with the details of legal matters (and there are plenty!) while understanding how the details relate to the problem's overall structure. Sensing helps for fact-finding; Intuition helps deal with legal concepts as they apply to a specific fact situation.


Once you have collected information, you can use it to make decisions. The decision-making process is represented by the third scale of the MBTI. Of all the scales, this is the one whose names are least descriptive of the actual processes. Both processes represent rational, valid decision-making methods. Both involve thought, and neither process is related to emotions. The two processes are Thinking and Feeling.

Those who prefer to make decisions on the basis of Thinking prefer to come to closure in a logical, orderly manner. They can readily discern inaccuracies and are often critical. They can easily hurt others' feelings without knowing it. They are excellent problem solvers. They review the cause and effect of potential actions before deciding. Thinkers are often accused of being cold and somewhat calculating because their decisions do not reflect their own personal values. They focus on discovering truth, and they seek justice.

Those who prefer to make decisions on the basis of Feeling apply their own personal values to make choices. They seek harmony and, therefore, are sensitive to the effect of their decisions on others. They need, and are adept at giving, praise. They are interested in the person behind the idea or the job. They seek to do what is right for themselves and other people and are interested in mercy.

For example, a Thinker is in a store and sees a nice blouse. The Thinker reasons, 'This is a well-made blouse. I need a blouse for my black suit. The blouse will coordinate with two other suits I have. The price is reasonable. I'll buy the blouse." The Feeler, however, uses a much different process to reach the same conclusion. "What a gorgeous blouse! I like it. I'll take it."

This is the only MBTI scale that is gender sensitive. In the general population, 60 percent of men report preferences for Thinking and 65 percent of women report preferences for Feeling. Among law students, 73 percent of men and 60 percent of women prefer Thinking.

The Thinking/Feeling scale seems to be the most significant personality trait for predicting lawyer satisfaction. Those with a preference for Feeling are swimming against the tide. As Thinkers lawyers focus on the most direct, efficient solution to problems. A Feeler's strength is understanding the most humane solution.


The last scale of the MBTI reflects an individual's life-style. Those who prefer Judging like to live life in a planned, orderly way. Those who prefer Perceiving would rather live life in a flexible, spontaneous, adaptable way. This is probably the easiest preference to spot among your friends and colleagues.

People who prefer Judging like lists, make lists, stick to their lists, and check off the items completed on their lists. They enjoy schedules, and they celebrate endings. They like closure, order, and organization. They may decide too quickly with incomplete information or may not review a decision even when there is new, important information available. At the extreme, those who prefer Judging are sometimes said to have already made up their minds and don't want to be confused by the facts.

Those who prefer Perceiving, in contrast, are quite distractible and at the extreme can get lost between the house and the car. They make lists but rarely carry them out and usually lose them. They are always looking for additional information before they make a decision and, as a consequence, are frequently finishing projects at the last minute. They are chronic users of the all-nighter system. Their openness and curiosity make adapting to new situations and taking advantage of new opportunities second nature.

Here's how judgers and Perceivers operate in the real world. A senior lawyer with a preference for judging tells a junior lawyer working with her that she needs a project completed "immediately. ''The senior lawyer relaxes confident the project will be on her desk by day's end. The junior lawyer thanks his lucky stars the project is not due until tomorrow morning. In another example, a Judge decides to organize a seminar to be presented in three months and works backwards to determine what task must be completed by what date including tasks to be completed this week. A Perceiver is giving a seminar next week and has not even started the outline. How could he know a week in advance what he will want to say?

Working with someone who prefers your opposite trait on this scale, no matter what your profession, is a challenge. Supervisors with preferences for judging assume Perceivers are not committed to the job when regular progress on assignments is not made. For a Perceiver, "regular progress" means starting and finishing the project just before it is due.

Perceiver supervisors cause Judgers anxiety when they return their comments on the same day a project is due. Last minute changes are not part of a judger's regular schedule. Judgers slightly outnumber Perceivers in both the general population and among lawyers.

What It All Means

These attributes combine to provide a four-letter type using the following designations.

For example, a person whose type is reported as ENFJ prefers Extraversion, Intuition, Feeling, and Judging.

The legal profession is concentrated in less than half the Types. Four Types, ISTJ, ESTJ, ENTJ, and ENTP, represent almost 45 percent of lawyers. The TJ's are the tough minded, bottom line, no nonsense, decision makers. The NT's represent the conceptual, complex problem solvers. Less than 35 percent of lawyers have preferences for Feeling, and those that combine preferences for Feeling and Sensing represent less than 10 percent.

Being a type different from those appearing in the mainstream of lawyers should not discourage you from practice if you are sure that law is the career you want to pursue. Knowing that you are somewhat out of the mainstream, however, can help you deal more effectively with those types you will encounter most often. As a type not frequently found in a particular career, you may have a unique contribution to make, but you may be swimming upstream in order to make it. That should not discourage you but should only help make you aware of some of the challenges you may encounter along the way.









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