Denver Bar Association
February 2001
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Are You the Lawyerly Type?

by Diane Hartman

 

Who do you think you are, anyway? Find out here.

Lawyers mostly fall into a certain personality "type," according to some studies, including one on ABA members.

You may not like the idea of being pigeonholed, but read on.

See if you recognize yourself:

—You try your best to be accurate, get things right, sort things out.

—You may seem disinterested, detached or distant from others, and often remain distant until you’ve solved a problem.

—You are adaptable, curious, experimental, farseeing, generous, intelligent, purposeful and competent.

—In conversation, you try to avoid the irrelevant, the trivial and the redundant. You don’t waste words. You use dictionaries and are exacting about definitions.

—For your self-esteem, you need to create and accomplish something. For self-respect, you must live according to your own rules. To have self-confidence, you must believe you can overcome anything.

—Your preferred mood is one of calm. You are reluctant to express emotions or desires. You yearn for achievement and often live through your work (and often have trouble living up to your own standards).

—You’re interested in efficient operations. You’re not great at small talk.

—You need to spend time alone to "recharge" your batteries. You prefer working independently as opposed to working on teams.

—You want to understand, control, predict and explain reality.

Did you just read this and say to yourself "So? Doesn’t that describe everybody?" While it may describe many lawyers, it doesn’t describe the general population. (The "type," called "NT" or "Rational" by some, is based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which evolved from the work of Carl Jung.)

Often, when we clash with people or can’t understand what they are saying, we classify them as stupid or wrong (an unhelpful tactic for getting along!). A widely held theory divides people into 16 distinct personality types.

Chris Sansone, Ph.D., who uses the personality type indicator test to coach lawyers, says: "It’s like 16 different rooms in a house. You can live in all the rooms and be comfortable, but there’s always one where you’re the most comfortable."

"It’s like being right-handed," he added. "You can adapt to writing with your left hand, but you’ll always prefer to use your right."

None of the types is right or wrong, good or bad. Neither should they be an excuse (as in "well, I’m this type so I can’t be expected to be on time"). Once you know what type you are, you can see where personal growth would be beneficial.

The whole point is that there are huge differences between people—in how they take in information, how they make decisions, how they get energized and how they organize their lives. It can be illuminating to understand that about yourself (why, for instance, you don’t like to socialize the way so many co-workers do) and helpful in understanding why others do what they do.

Sansone uses information from the tests to coach individual lawyers in their careers, and also to help law firms.

"It’s important to know what the predominant type is in your firm. Once you get a composite score, if it’s tightly clustered in a couple of types, you’ll be able to see significant strengths and weaknesses."

In the workplace, people often hire others like themselves, Sansone said.

If, for instance, a law firm is composed of the type mentioned above, one could expect that firm members would "work independently. That means they’ll be excellent when asked to do things alone. But when it’s time to mesh together, it’ll be like herding cats. You’ll have to ask these people what they think and move beyond canned rhetoric. Also, they’ll be great at coming up with ideas. But they’ll want to do them all. People will be thinking their way is the best. You will have some wonderful minds creating complex adaptive models. But there’s only so much time, money and energy," said Sansone.

"If you’re the managing partner for this firm and trying to do strategic planning, the challenge will be not in coming up with ideas, but in winnowing them down." Once choices are made and priorities set, you have the problem of getting people enthused behind what is finally decided (hard since everyone thought they had a wonderful idea).

By knowing the "types" of lawyers in your firm, you can build effective work teams and improve communication between lawyers and clients and support staffs. It can increase a lawyer’s effectiveness and improve law firm management.

When working with individuals, Sansone tries to help them see how their "type" fits with their job. If it doesn’t, they work on options that would make sense.

Sansone, himself, has moved from a former career, and knows the freedom and happiness that comes from being in a career that is satisfying.

"There has to be a readiness for change, that’s usually indicated by pain. If you ignore the pain, you’re setting yourself up for a crisis. If you pay attention to it, you’ll see that there are seasons in your life for doing certain things."

You can reach Chris Sansone, Ph.D. at (303) 449-5764. For more on personality types, check out author David Keirsey, who wrote "Please Understand Me II" and has a Web site at www.keirsey.com.


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