Lawyers Under Stress Are Critical, Cautious and Distant, Personality Test Shows

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When big-firm lawyers are under stress, they tend to shy away from others, while managers and highly educated professionals in other fields are more likely to become confrontational.

Lawyers under stress also generally become tense and overly critical, reluctant to take risks and make decisions, and emotionally distant, according to the results of personality tests of more than 1,800 lawyers from four large law firms.

The tests were conducted by the legal consulting firm Hildebrandt Baker Robbins, according to a report summarizing the findings.

The data was collected in late 2009 and early 2010, after waves of law firm layoffs, indicating the sample may have a disproportionate number of high performers, according to a summary of the findings. Associates made up 45 percent of the sample, equity partners 32 percent, and nonequity partners 16 percent. Of counsel and others accounted for the remainder.

Personality tests can help law firms hire high performers, identify future leaders and determine which job seekers have the desired values that make them a good fit, the report asserts.

The tests, conducted in collaboration with Hogan Assessment Systems, found that, on average, the lawyers:

• Generally do not seem to have a strong need for public recognition, although there is a subset of lawyers who seem to crave recognition and notoriety.

• Tend to deal with others in a direct and matter-of-fact way, but may come across as cold, critical and argumentative.

• Tend to be self-critical and temperamental but are also self-aware, open to feedback, and emotionally expressive.

• Are most attracted to environments that emphasize quality and are less commercially focused than professionals in other industries.

• Tend to value education and educational activities.

The report gives an example of how personality testing can benefit law firms. One managing partner at a midsize firm took the tests and discovered he was in the 99th percentile on one measure.

“Does this mean that I ram stuff home at meetings?” the managing partner asked. “Do I hijack meetings?” The answer was apparently yes, since others on the firm’s leadership team looked at their shoes as he asked the questions. “Once this managing partner understood his own personality pattern and its impact on others, he was able to act like less of a tyrannical maniac and more like a benevolent despot,” the report said.

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