Talented but overlooked: We should transform hiring and mentoring of introverted lawyers
Cultivating an environment
While some lawyers thrive in environments with multiple competing stimuli, many introverted attorneys need complete peace, quiet and solitude to produce their best work. Some lawyers can draft a complicated contract or a nuanced brief while music, sports or talk radio resounds from desktop speakers.
In contrast, even the sound of a co-worker happily crunching on pretzels in the office next door can compel some introverts to rethink a paragraph structure four times. Some supervising attorneys might bristle at seeing closed doors down a law firm corridor, but some introverts might just need those few precious hours of seclusion to produce an exceptional piece of legal writing.
Law offices can consider encouraging transparency and supporting diverse methodologies in how introverts and extroverts achieve peak performance. An honestly phrased note on a door that says something like “Introvert zone: Finishing a brief that is due in three hours. Will be free for human contact at 6:30!” could be a simple but effective vehicle for better work product and a happier, healthier, more productive introverted lawyer.
Building a Platform
Group or team meetings can pose challenges for introverts who resist interrupting others, even when their brains are brimming with ideas and strategies. Many introverts prefer to let ideas percolate internally before voicing them. Competing extroverted voices tend to dominate group meetings, and a team gathering might end before the introvert has fully fleshed out a theory or proposal enough to be ready to share it.
Non-introverts might misperceive a quiet lawyer as checked out or disengaged in a meeting populated mostly by talkative colleagues. However, introverts often take impeccable notes in meetings, synthesize points made by others, and identify solutions that others may have overlooked. Instead of overtly or implicitly pressuring introverts to speak up at group meetings, law offices can cultivate a platform for introverts to perform roles within groups that sync with their natural strengths, such as note capturer, idea synthesizer, next-step recapper.
Meeting leaders who recognize the challenges that some introverts face in trying to jump into the fray—inauthentically—might encourage the introvert to carve out a role as the “idea collector.” The introvert, who likely is an active listener, can capture the competing voices, sift through and organize the proposed ideas or solutions, prepare a written summary of the meeting, and then circle back to the group either at the end of the meeting or later in writing. Introverts do not need to speak all the time to have an effect on others.
Overall, by understanding that introversion and quietude can be powerful assets in the practice of law, we can transform the way we interview, hire and mentor naturally quiet but hardworking and insightful individuals. We likely will discover vibrant personnel additions to our teams, expand diversity and inclusion in our law offices, and enhance the health and well-being of our profession.
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).