When standardized personality tests are administered to lawyers, the results tend to be quite different from those that arise in the general public. The popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI) for example, sorts individuals into 16 personality “types”; but practicing lawyers overwhelmingly cluster into only five of them. One of these types (labeled INTJ) reportedly occurs five times more frequently in attorneys than in the population at large.
A related test—this one billed as “the most widely used personality instrument in the world”—is The Keirsey Temperament Sorter®-II (KTS®-II). Developed by Dr. David M. Keirsey, it sorts people according to preferences in how they communicate and how they act.
Both the MBTI® and the KTS®-II tests are widely administered in the legal community— and they generally confirm what you already knew. Lawyers’ personalities are different from those in other professions, and from those in the general public. We have applied some of these tests’ findings to our own categories, shown below.
Common Lawyer Personality “Types”
Let’s begin with this caveat: The five lawyer “types” listed below are simply approximations—designed to provide a framework for considering personality information on complex individuals. Needless to say, the list is not intended to be comprehensive or exclusive; it’s only a snapshot of five personality types commonly found in the legal community. As you read these descriptions, however, think about your legal colleagues and friends: Recognize anyone here?
Not surprisingly, a successful legal salesperson is a “people person”—an extravert who thrives on the give-and-take of social interaction. Rainmakers are empathetic, interpersonally adept, and skilled in the persuasive arts. They build (and maintain) trust—and their confident, assertive nature makes it easy for them to “ask for the order”. Rainmakers also are known for goal-orientation and resilient egos. So if their sales pitch is turned down, they pick themselves up and try again.
This personality type might be found in a public interest law firm, a nonprofit, a government regulatory body, or any place where there’s a commitment to serving a greater good. Core values for these lawyers include unity, morality, ethics, authenticity, and social justice. Although social scientists have observed a shift towards external rewards (money, power, prestige, etc.) that occurs in most law school students, members of “The Advocate” group retain their loyalty to internal values. Advocates are well- aligned with what Dr. David Keirsey called the “Idealist” temperament—typified by the search for meaning and significance in one’s work.
Through a self-selection process that begins long before law school, individuals pursuing legal careers become increasingly more competitive and results-oriented than members of the general public. Those lawyers who pursue the sub-specialty of litigation, however, take these competitive traits to a new level. What’s more, these amped-up attorneys are overwhelmingly characterized by what Keirsey called the “Rational” temperament”—valuing logic, expertise, rationality, concept mastery, and precision in the use of language.
The Corporate Lawyer
Practicing law in a corporation (or other large organization) requires capabilities that go beyond technical expertise alone. In these arenas, the so-called “soft” skills become core competencies for success. Trustworthiness, listening skills, emotional awareness, diplomacy, and other human relations capabilities are the coin of the realm for successful corporate lawyers. (Again, excellent judgment and management skills are taken as a given for these positions.) In Kiersey’s terms, corporate lawyers might well fall into the “Guardian” temperament—a personality type that values order, stability, group membership, and rules.
Last, let’s consider as a group the many hard-working, technically competent lawyers who reliably keep our legal processes functioning every day. In recognition of David Kinsey’s temperament description, we call this lawyer “The Inspector”. For these personalities, Keirsey chose the adjective superdependable—and thankfully, the legal profession includes many conscientious members who exhibit these traits. “Inspectors” value their inclusion as respected members of a community; even so, they may not aspire to positional leadership or the visibility that accompanies such roles. (Avoiding the limelight, the contributions of these reliable professionals easily can be overlooked. If you know one—and you most likely do—make a point of recognizing their steady contributions.)
Also worth noting: In MBTI ® terminology, this “Inspector” personality type (ISTJ) reportedly constitutes the single greatest concentration of lawyers in any one of MBTI’s sixteen personality types.
What’s Your Legal Personality Type?
Interested in the Kiersey Temperament Sorter?® You can take that free test here. For a fee, there are many sites that will allow you to determine your MBTI ® type. Meyers-Briggs ® also allows one to send its test as a gift. (You might also consider the “Big Five” personality test, which enjoys wide popularity. Both free and paid versions are available at this Psychology Today web page.)
Those who find personality tests most useful often recommend repeating them over a period of time—as tracking the ongoing results can reflect subtle (but meaningful) shifts. So here’s a thought: Why not make these tests part of your ongoing New Year’s review?
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