The Bah-Humbug lawyer personality – skepticism

Research has shown that lawyers are 40% more likely than others to be cynical, judgmental, argumentative, and distrusting. Don’t believe it? Well, of course not, you’re a lawyer.

Research conducted by Dr. Larry Richard, a trial lawyer turned phycologist, found that lawyers score in the 90th percentile for the personality trait of “Skepticism”, while the average Joe scores in the 50th percentile. The skeptical mindset, however, is not necessarily a bad thing for a lawyer. Skeptics are, by their nature, critical thinkers. They pick things apart, question facts and opinions, tend to envision all manner of potential problems, and will stick to their guns until convinced otherwise. That could make for a great lawyer.

Of course, skepticism can interfere when collaboration or trust is called for, such as in partner meetings, mentoring situations, or in leadership roles within the firm. Fortunately, skepticism is more learned, than it is a hard-wired personality trait, so with awareness and some effort, it can be toned down in circumstances where it is truly counterproductive.

Urgency and Autonomy

Lawyers also scored exceptionally high for the traits of “Urgency” at the 71st percentile, and for “Autonomy,” 89th percentile, which probably surprises no one. “Urgency” is a polite way to describe an impatient, driven personality. “Autonomy” is all about independence and self-direction. Both these traits, it should be noted, tend to separate lawyers both physically and socially from the rest of the herd.

Lawyers scored 21% higher in “Urgency” than did the typically relaxed, average person. While urgency can be very useful in moving along a case load or in efficiently completing tasks, it can wreak havoc on interpersonal relations and on listening skills. In fact, a previous post here pointed out that clients viewed being “good at listening” to be twice as important as did the lawyers who were supposed to be listening, a finding fully in keeping with the urgent personality. While urgency may have it’s drawbacks, being focused and results-oriented seems indispensable to practicing law.

Lawyers ranked just one point lower for “Autonomy” at 89%, than they did for “Skepticism” at 90%. Being cynical about it, you could put those two factors together and envision a cranky pessimist who doesn’t much like being told what to do. Further add in a rather pathetic score of 12.8% for “Sociability,” which is a desire to interact with others, and a score of only 30% for “Resilience,” a defensive hypersensitivity to criticism, and lawyers start to look a bit like Ebenezer Scrooge.

The study of lawyer personality is useful in identifying traits common to the profession that could prove problematic at times. Self-awareness is always a good thing, and reveals that a useful trait in one role can become a hindrance in another. But, does the lawyer personality come to the profession, or does the profession bring out the traits essential to the practice of law? That may be for each lawyer to ponder for themselves.