Talented but overlooked: We should transform hiring and mentoring of introverted lawyers
Law students and attorneys seeking guidance regarding legal job interviews and new employment positions often hear advice like: “Sell yourself!” “Exude confidence!” “Wow them!” and “Be alpha!” Considering the day-to-day tasks of many lawyers—fact-gathering, reading, thinking, researching, writing and problem-solving—being gregarious and outgoing is not exactly a prerequisite for numerous, critically important lawyering activities. If hiring managers and legal recruiters allow personality stereotypes to overshadow lawyering competencies and inward-facing analytical capabilities, we risk overlooking highly gifted candidates.
Classic job interviews tend to favor extroverts, on the interviewer and interviewee sides. Employers and applicants with the gift of gab can sail through one-on-one chats. The interviewer might understandably envision the skilled conversationalist representing the firm well at networking events, engaging potential clients in riveting banter, or captivating courtrooms during closing arguments. For naturally quiet individuals such as introverts, who process information, stimuli and energy internally, the forced outward spontaneity of a job interview can be challenging.
Introverts naturally resist the inauthenticity of small talk, which often unavoidably accompanies initial professional interactions. For other individuals who experience shyness or social anxiety—which can stem from a fear of judgment or a history of shame-based criticism—the sizing-up nature of a job interview can be daunting. However, experts on introversion, shyness and social anxiety report that these three categories of quiet individuals bring tremendous assets to interpersonal encounters: active listening, deep methodical thinking, creative problem-solving and empathy. These are important traits for lawyers to offer to attorney-client relationships—and the profession. What if we cultivated interview and practice environments in which introverted and otherwise naturally quiet individuals can showcase skills beyond smooth verbal volleys?
Let Introverts Shine
A novel approach to consider is to ask job candidates—in advance—whether they self-identify as introverts or extroverts. Because introverts process new queries and concepts internally and like to vet and test ideas or responses to questions before articulating them aloud, spontaneous discourse is not always fluid. As an alternative to the traditional interview model, employers could offer introverts the opportunity to write out answers to classic (or creative) interview questions prior to the face-to-face meeting.
For example, one recent LinkedIn job posting stands out: A law firm expressly seeking talented legal writers invited candidates to submit a 750-word piece arguing why a particular novel should have won a Pulitzer Prize. This fresh approach would allow candidates to demonstrate strong writing and analytical skills (and possibly even humor and interesting personal traits) while providing both the interviewer and the interviewee with ready-made talking points for the face-to-face encounter. Affording introverts the opportunity to write out thoughts, concepts and opinions before an interview could generate a platform for a remarkably dynamic conversation.
In addition, instead of relying on traditional law job interview questions and gauging how well each candidate converses, an interviewer could ask self-identified quiet candidates to talk specifically about the application of introverted strengths to the advocacy context: active listening, methodical thinking, creative problem-solving, legal writing, etc. The applicant could share examples of how introverted assets helped resolve a conflict or overcome an obstacle.
Employers further could set up a module within the interview for applicants to model an inward-facing lawyering skill; then, the interviewer and interviewee jointly could debrief the task afterward.
One idea is to give candidates a quiet space and a reasonable time period to mark up a draft contract or brief. Through this simulation, applicants could show their analytical techniques, thought processes and editing style instead of telling the interviewer about their approach to this type of activity.
Rather than encouraging naturally quiet law students and lawyers to fake extroversion in interviews (which does not accomplish much besides perpetuating unhealthy inauthenticity and the “imposter syndrome”), this method emboldens introverts to be their authentic yet appropriately amplified selves, while highlighting their advocacy strengths. An open-minded approach to unearthing diverse and unconventional qualities and abilities in job candidates inevitably will add value to law offices’ teams.
Heidi K. Brown, an associate professor of law and director of legal writing at Brooklyn Law School, was a lawyer in the construction industry for two decades. She is the author of The Introverted Lawyer: A Seven-Step Journey Toward Authentically Empowered Advocacy (ABA, 2017).