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The Top Seven Personality Traits of the Best Lawyers: Seven Qualities Every Great Attorney Should Have

published November 01, 2017

David Dorion
( 512 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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Summary: Attorneys need to have certain personality traits to be successful in their practice.
The Top Seven Personality Traits of the Best Lawyers: Seven Qualities Every Great Attorney Should Have
  • Many attorneys are cast in a negative light.
  • Their aggressive and argumentative personalities take much of the negative blame.
  • But that same aggressiveness and argumentativeness can be welcome.
  • In fact, as a client, those personality traits can easily play to the strengths of your legal case.

If these three quotations are not familiar:
  • "Ignorance of the law excuses no man -- from practicing it." - Addison Mizner
  • "A lawsuit is a fruit tree planted in a lawyer's garden. - Italian Proverb
  • Next to the confrontation between two highly honed batteries of lawyers, jungle warfare is a stately minuet.” - Bill Veeck, Major League Baseball Franchise Owner

Maybe these three general quotations are a bit more familiar:
  • Lawyers are jerks.
  • Lawyers are selfish.
  • Lawyers are assholes.

No profession in the world has suffered more negative generalizations than the profession of law. Whether in the media, in the midst of cocktail parties, family dinners, grocery store happenstances, or the very scripture itself, there is no one place on the planet where humans interface and interact in which the subject of law and lawyers have been more-or-less thrown under the big social bus.

And why is this? Who knows in any one particular case, or under any one particular circumstance. All that seems to be said of attorneys collectively huddles beneath a large legal umbrella to fend off the insinuations and insults that constantly rain down on the legal profession as a whole. Other attorneys, of course, are much more fearless and choose to not duck and hide from the maelstrom of meanness thrown at them like rocks thrown at the town’s offering in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.

While this is all fine and good – which for many in society it is all fine and good simply because of an overall social dislike of attorneys – is it entirely fair?

Or let’s put it another way:
  • Every American soldier fighting overseas is a blood-thirsty mercenary whoring themselves out on behalf of corporate America.
  • All priests everywhere in the world are pedophiles.
  • Big pharmaceutical seeks only to make our country drug dependent and drain us of our finances and finally, our lives in trade for our various addictions.

Are these three statements entirely true? No, of course they’re not.

How about partially true?  Again, who knows?

What is true is that bad eggs can be found in any basket. Whether within the ranks of soldiers, the priesthood or the drug company, just as is the case within the legal profession, there does exist mean and nasties who are no doubt out to benefit on their own behalf in whatever way they feel is best for themselves.

However, with lawyers, the criticisms, nasty comments, and societal middle finger arrive from every socio-economic level of society, each gender, all races and nationalities, and every other grouping of humanity can call itself as such.

Simply put, the world wants to universally “get the lawyer.” And to the lawyer him or herself, some days (and probably nights) feel as if the town’s mob is out carrying burning stakes, hoes, baseball bats and scythes to the lawyer’s front door to burn the lawyer down and chase him or her out of town.
Well, it is the lawyer’s fault after all. Isn’t it?

Like cardiovascular surgeons and tire salesman, neither profession is needed in most of our daily lives unless we suddenly can’t breathe or keep our cars from careening off the 405 freeway. That in itself makes the notion of surgeons and tire salesmen nonstarters in our lives until we need their expertise. And when we do, we, of course, are thankful as well as heartened through the surgeon’s gentle bedside manner and the tire salesman’s confidence toward knowing what type of tires we need.

In law school, attorneys aren’t taught bedside manner. Yes, they are taught confidence, however, theirs is a negative confidence that exudes from the attorney in the same prickly and hurtful manner as a porcupine’s quills.

Of course, confidence has two shades to itself:
  1. Shade Number One: Confidence in anyone (other than an attorney), such as a spouse, a friend, a parent, teacher, offers reassurance. Confidence from either one of these individuals tells a person that there’s a strong chance something good – whatever it is – will occur in the end. Positives will come. Paths will be walked upon without strain. 
  2. Shade Number Two: Confidence can make an attorney seem arrogant, bombastic and cocky. Their self-assurance is nauseating, and their holier-than-thou attitude is nothing other than unbecoming.

The problem is, this is how attorneys are built; from undergrad and law school to now in their practice area. Lawyers are confident. They are machines whose life’s blood is confidence. Why? Because confidence wins cases, confidence brings in clients, confidence paves the road to success.

Guess what else an attorney’s confidence can do?

It can quite possibly save you should you get into legal hot water.

And even with that strong possibility lurking in your future (yes, nearly everyone at some time in their lives will encounter a situation in which they will need a lawyer), do you still think lawyers are assholes?

Well, maybe knowing the 7 facets that make up a lawyer’s personality will help you assuage your attitude toward attorneys.
7 Facets that Make Up the Personality of a Lawyer

Recently, a slideshow appeared on the CNN website depicting what happens when a lioness kills a female baboon only to find the baboon had a baby baboon nearby.

It now seems as if all odds are with the baby baboon to face the same circle of life demise as its mother, however, this was nothing near the case.

What instead occurs is a different instinct kicks in with the lioness that belies her usual moniker as a cold-blooded huntress out for meat and nothing less.

While the baboon infant cannot in the least fight back should something occur, as well as being naïve to the grave danger it was in from the get-go, the 4-pound infant puts its trust in the 400-pound mother lion who responds in kind by playing with the infant, letting it climb on her, and finally nursing the infant once it becomes hungry.

The lesson in this is not all animals are what they seem. Contingent on the situation, a lioness which can bring down a 2,000-pound wildebeest can also be a mother to a completely different species. It’s the instinct that takes over, and not always is that instinct what we believe it to be.

How this translates to attorneys is quite simple. They are not all that we perceive them to be. Yes, they can be cold-blooded litigators, devoid of as much emotion as the killing machine Schwarzenegger plays in The Terminator franchise, however that’s just one side of what makes up an attorney’s personality – or rather his or her instincts.

With that said, renowned psychologist and lawyer Dr. Larry Richard, who analyzes the lawyer’s consciousness and how to manage it, uncovered what many believe are the 7 main facets that make up a lawyer’s personality through his book Herding Cats: The Lawyer Personality Revealed. Those 7 facets are as follows:
  1. Rainmaker, Rainmaker

Rainmaker may be a foreign or at least strange term for someone to wrap their head around. One could think of an indigenous person, dancing around in the desert, praying for rain. Ah, but no, in the world of law, a rainmaker is someone who brings in and/or creates business. Rainmaker attorneys are aggressive individuals with pit bull-like psyches. To produce is a personality trait of the rainmaker attorney that is revered within any law firm, and of course, appreciated by any client this rainmaker attorney represents. For the rainmaker attorney, a strong correlation exists between performance and motivation. This makes for a case in which people who work in roles that are consistent with their personality, values and interpersonal characteristics will more than likely outperform those who retain lesser amounts of these characteristics. Now, the question is, which would you rather have representing you as you quicksand away into a legal abyss? An easygoing snowflake of a lawyer (as if there are any in the legal world) who is regarded as a simple service partner, or someone who will doggedly fight on your behalf, hence the rainmaker?
  1. Leggo My Ego

Lionesses have strength, speed, and claws that if they don’t cut a person in two, the lioness’s teeth will certainly do the job. In comparison, an attorney has an ego. Ego is another characteristic/instinct that powers the attorney into being an advocate as much as an adversary.

Egos, however, can also be fragile, and the last thing a competent attorney will allow of him or herself is to let their ego be in any shape or way compromised. This is because if an attorney’s ego is damaged, that attorney’s next client, which could possibly be you, may suffer by having representation that is not on their game. Hence ego is vital to an attorney, particularly a rainmaker who one day could represent you.
  1. Empathy

Yes, you read that word correctly; empathy. Empathy, which any attorney worth their six-figure legal salary will have in spades. Attorneys with empathy will not only listen to your legal situation, they will try to understand, if not live your legal situation alongside you.

Attorneys make for very good listeners. And many, if not all good attorneys, thoroughly study surrounding circumstances after they’ve listened to a client’s issues to get a better grasp on what’s at stake.

As much as empathy is a personality trait, empathy truly arrives from an attorney’s deep-seated desire to assist those who need legal help. This is their calling, their life’s purpose, and it should be weighed heavily against any hint of the unfounded declaration that “lawyers are assholes.”

After all, when was the last time an asshole listened and tried to understand your problems, legal or otherwise?

The following chart compares a rainmaking attorney’s ability to retain ego while also being empathetic to an unremarkable service partner, carries great insight into how personality can define a barrister’s practice area ability:
  1. Skepticism

Skepticism is a key personality trait in many quality attorneys. To be a skeptic an attorney approaches issues and situations with a strong sense of judgment, if not cynicism. While being skeptical can be a bit wearing at times, second and third-guessing any issue can also offer a sense of protection. In short, an attorney who has a large degree of skepticism will never let him or herself get duped. Nor will this same attorney allow their clients to be duped. Their skepticism instead implores adverse forces to prove or disprove themselves, but does so in your favor.

According to an article in Psychology Today, there is a big difference between someone who is a skeptic, which most attorneys should be, and a cynic, which most attorneys should not be.

“A cynic distrusts most information they see or hear, particularly when it challenges their own belief system,” the article states. “Most often, cynics hold views that cannot be changed by contrary evidence. Thus, they often become intolerant of other people’s ideas.”

Sure, cynics are everywhere. You may know one, work with one, or even have a cynic in your immediate family. How these cynics differ from those who are skeptics is that skeptics, particularly the skeptical lawyer are not inflexible. They aren’t in the least limited by an inability to accept new viewpoints or be somewhat malleable to an opposing viewpoint that wants to come to a compromise.

Remember, the law is a business. Each case is, to an extent, a business. And with that, businesses tend to compromise, particularly when they have a stake in whatever their field of interest may be. Compromise, which is an overriding personality trait of an attorney, needs to be present so that his or her tasks can be completed with the best possible results to you as the client.

In the chart below, we see how prevalent skepticism is among attorneys in comparison to the general public.
  1. Urgency
Depending on who you speak with, urgency can be a benefit and deficit to an attorney’s personality. The urgent attorney is always on the run. They are characterized by impatience. They need to get things done with immediacy, which for a law firm can translate into additional billable hours from the urgent attorney. In short, an urgent attorney translates into money.

Urgency in an attorney can also translate into someone who wants to quickly and accurately solve a person’s legal dilemmas. They tend to charge straight ahead into the storm of a client’s issue to legally correct what has gone awry for that client.

The polar opposite of an urgent attorney is the attorney who tends to be patient, contemplative, measured and rather slow toward resolving a client’s issue. Needless to say, this may not sit well with a client who feels he or she is not being treated with priority or purpose. This client may even feel they are paying a lot of money for little to no results that do not come in at least within a manageable amount of time.

Such attorneys – calm, unrushed, plotting and analytical, while good on paper are actually quite dangerous to law firms. These types of lawyers are not
  • Producing their share of billable hours.
  • Could be pissing off clients who expected results long before now.
  • Creating a negative work atmosphere due to their lack of work while everyone else in the firm is busting their tails.

No, when in an unsettling legal situation, both the client and law firm want good results in a short amount of time, and the urgent attorney has the personality to supply as much.

The above graph compares the level of urgency in attorneys to that of the general public.
  1. Sociability

Attorneys have to be social. If not, there would be no feasible way for them to continue in their profession. Sociability enables attorneys to gain more clients, make valuable contacts within their practice field, and while somewhat paradoxically, argue effectively.

Of course, sociability is not easily put on or faked; a person has to have predetermined personality trait that makes it so he or she has a desire to interact with people. Those attorneys who are not social can compromise their relationships with their clients, particularly those clients who tend to be needy.

Fact is, whatever the reason is for an attorney’s lack of social skills – whether it be a level of discomfort when speaking with people, or an inability to sustain a close relationship with a client, that attorney won’t be around much longer. The ability to communicate is tantamount within the legal industry. This industry has no room nor does it waste any time with a lawyer who can’t on his or her own, have an interaction with those in his field as well as those needing legal services.

This chart depicts the sociability of lawyers as compared to the sociability of the general public.
  1. Resilience

What would an attorney be if not for his or her resilience? Resilience is the backbone to an attorney’s personality traits. The ability to fight off adversarial circumstances, people and even laws keep an attorney on the case and inevitably within the game.

It’s easy to point out an attorney with ample supplies of resiliency. They are:
  • Still working as attorneys
  • More than likely partners
  • If not partners, getting close to that achievement
  • Respected and recommended
  • Has a strong book of clients

Resilience, of course, is not a learned behavior. Resilience is a way of thought, belief, and purpose that has potentially propelled successful attorneys before they even considered going into law. In short, to be resilient is to have a trait that is instinctual. It is the attorney’s instinct to get up quickly and dust themselves off if they are dealt an intellectual blow within a courtroom. Or, resiliency may keep an attorney from being knocked down in the first place, simply because resiliency often goes hand-in-hand with survival, which is foremost with an attorney’s profession and his clients’ well-being.

Conversely, people with little to no resilience can be introverted, awkward, defensive, resistant to feedback, and hypersensitive to criticism – none of which are good traits for an impactful attorney.

If self-preservation is in your best interest, you might want to make sure your attorney’s level of resilience guarantees that he has enough wherewithals to successfully represent you.

The graph below illustrates the resilience attorneys have in comparison to the general public.

In conclusion: Scorpions and Switchblades

The 7 facets that make up an attorney’s personality are akin to playing with a scorpion or screwing around with a switchblade. Mess with either too much, and you’re bound to hurt yourself.  The bucking bronco-type personality that lawyers have works, or rather should work only one way, and that’s in the best interest of the client.

Never is it an intended meanness, or some deep-rooted desire to be difficult and disagreeable. While yes, some attorneys are indeed rough to the touch via their abrasive nature, try to remember that years of study and practice have molded them into what they are today. And for people who need a good solid attorney with these seven personality traits, their legal fate could not be in more capable hands.

See the following articles for more information: