Lawyer Personality

lawyers.jpgRecently, the ABA ran an inteview with Larry R. Richard, J.D., Ph.D., of the Leadership & Organization Development Practice Group of Hildebrandt International. Richard studies lawyer personalities, and has found that they “are very different from those of the general public.” It’s a little bit hard to tell from the Q & A what such differences consist of, but another of Richard’s publications make the picture clearer. He argues that lawyers tend to have abnormal personalities in the following areas:

  • High Levels of Skepticism: “People who score high on this trait tend to be skeptical, even cynical, judgmental, questioning, argumentative and somewhat self-protective. People who score low tend to be accepting of others, trusting, and give others the benefit of the doubt.”
  • High Levels of Urgency: “A high score on Urgency is characterized by impatience, a need to get things done, a sense of immediacy. Low scorers tend to be patient, contemplative, measured, in no particular rush . . . [E].xcellent lawyers in our study scored roughly twenty per cent higher on this trait than the general public.”
  • Low Levels of Sociability: “Sociability is described as a desire to interact with people, especially a comfort level in initiating new, intimate connections with others. Low scorers are not necessarily anti-social. Rather, they simply find it uncomfortable to initiate intimate relationships and so are more likely to rely on relationships that already exist, relationships in which they’ve already done the hard “getting-to-know-you” part, such as their spouses, friends and family members.”
  • Low Ego Strength: “People who are low on Resilience tend to be defensive, resist taking in feedback, and can be hypersensitive to criticism. In the hundreds of cases we’ve gathered, nearly all of the lawyers we’ve profiled (90% of them) score in the lower half of this trait, with the average being 30%. The range is quite wide, with quite a number of lawyers scoring in the bottom tenth percentile.”

This certainly fits my anecdotal impressions of lawyers, but it raises some pretty evident causal questions – does law school make us like this, or are we drawn to the profession because we are already miserable, insecure, high-strung, S.O.B.s? More significantly, I wonder how much lawyers differ from other professionals, which would seem like the right comparison group, not the public at large.

(H/T: Betsy McKenzie; Image Credit: Lawyers, by Mike Carano)

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3 Responses

  1. Vera says:

    This also fits my own impressions, from obsevation and interaction with hundreds of lawyers over the years.

    I became a bit puzzled in trying to fit it against other professions, though, until I (first) widened the sample beyond big business, and (second) broke each group into traditional and non-traditional. Then it worked perfectly (for me).

    Widening the sample means, for example, including medical professionals. Breaking it down might mean contrasting lone wolf practioners who break away from the big firm world against partners in it, or contrasting psychiatrists practicing therapy or researching against clinical psychologists focused on practical benefits.


  2. JoAnne Epps says:

    When you suggest that lawyers should be compared to other professionals as opposed to the public at large, who gets to define “professional”? How do you define it?

  3. Dave Hoffman says:


    Good question, and maybe a harder problem than my post suggested. My first intuittion would be to look for education comparables: find folks who have invested the same amount of capital in being trained, and you have a fair approximation of a good comparison group for a personality survey.

    What’s the goal here? To find people whose education and jobs are like lawyers, in some way, to see if it is this is a nature or nurture result. Easy proxies, like education, are overinclusive – it includes too many academics. So maybe you’d go with the old standby definitions of professionalism: the ability to self-regulate and exclude others from the guild; premium wages supported by a costly knowledge base; non-hourly salary. For the most part, then, it would look like the best comparison groups would be doctors and accountants.