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Jung lawyers

|Written By Bill Rogers

If you’ve seen one lawyer, you’ve seen them all.” Can this be true? Not likely.


It may be tempting to say all lawyers are the same, but there is reason to believe that they in fact fall into two diverse camps — those who fit comfortably into a big-firm setting, and those who don’t. In other words, the person who thrives on Bay Street is not the same kind of person who thrives on Main Street. And for those in the legal profession who want to find the best fit, it’s worth keeping this in mind. After all, law is challenging enough without the added burden of being a square peg in a round hole.


There is scientific evidence to support the idea that big-firm and small-firm lawyers are different breeds. Larry Richard, who holds both a law degree and a PhD and works with consulting firm Hildebrandt International dealing with law firms’ “people issues,” has done hundreds of personality tests on lawyers in firms big and small. He has found remarkable differences between the two.


Before delving into these differences, though, it’s necessary to understand the personality test Richard employs, which is known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. One of the most popular personality tests in the world, Myers-Briggs is a psychological-assessment system based on the ideas of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist and colleague of Sigmund Freud. Jung felt that different people make sense of the world through different psychological lenses. This leads to a series of four dichotomies whereby people get categorized and labelled with one of 16 possible four-letter “types.”


It works like this: Some people are “extroverts,” some are “introverts.” That means the first letter of your four-letter type will be either an “E” or an “I.” The next dichotomy is whether you make sense of the world through intuitive leaps, or whether you prefer to collect data through your senses. That makes you either an “N,” which stands for “intuition,” or an “S,” for “sensing.”

Next, some people process information through logical thought, while others are directed by their feelings — so you’re either a “T,” for “thinker,” or an “F,” for “feeler.” The fourth pair of letters to choose from involves whether you like to live in a planned, orderly way, in which case you are a “J,” for “judging,” or whether you prefer to live in a flexible, spontaneous way, in which case you are a “P” for “perceiving.”


Lawyers, Richard says, have a general tendency to be introverted, intuitive, thinking, and judging — which earns them the Myers-Briggs label “INTJ.”


How do big-firm and small-firm lawyers differ? It has to do with the T/F, the thinker/feeler axis, says Richard. “As you get into smaller firms, we find a far higher proportion of feelers,” he explains. “There’s collegiality, relationships, people who all know each other meeting around a conference table. The smaller the firm, the more personal. The people place a higher value on emotional, interpersonal connections, operating not just out of thought, but out of feeling.”


This thinker/feeler difference can be documented, says Richard, but there appear to be other differences based on less scientific but nevertheless quite compelling “impressions” he has gleaned from his research. Using another personality test called the Caliper Profile, which investigates traits such as skepticism — i.e., being argumentative, less trusting, and somewhat self-protective — Richard has found notably less of this trait in smaller firms. “The average skepticism score for lawyers is in the 90th percentile,” he says. “But in smaller firms, I find that the average score is much lower; as low as 40th or 50th percentile.”


The trait of sociability is another one that varies, Richard explains. “In bigger firms, lawyers are much more introverted, standoffish, don’t like intimacy, keep to themselves. In small firms, there’s more interest in relationships.”


This seems to fit with the experience of Dina Mashayekhi, an associate at the small, union-side labour firm of Jewitt Morrison in Ottawa. “I like the people here,” she says. “And not just at the office — I enjoy seeing them outside of work.” She has never practised in a big firm, but she definitely fits in well at a small one. “People here are very nice, and very supportive,” she says. “I get a pat on the back, not a kick in the butt.”


This doesn’t mean there aren’t nice people at big firms, or that you can’t find career satisfaction at a big firm. If that’s where you fit, that’s where you should be. Jennifer Manning, an associate at Torys LLP in Toronto, is a case in point. “It’s fantastic here,” she says. The ability to work on a large team is crucial, Manning explains. “There are massive deals, which involve people from a whole bunch of different departments. Tons of lawyers work on them. So you work on your own piece of it, but you need to see the big picture too.” Flexibility is also necessary, she adds. “Things can turn on a dime. There’s unpredictability.”


Legal recruiter Emily Lee, who is with ZSA Legal Recruitment in Toronto, says the kind of firm lawyers will wind up practising at “depends on their grades and their personality. People who do well at smaller firms are people who enjoy working very hands-on. They tend to be thrown into things quicker than they would if they were at a big firm.”


On the other hand, Lee says, people who thrive at big firms often “have an interest in being involved in large deals. They may not get as much hands-on experience early on, but they do get a lot of training. Some want to be in a big environment where you work with different people every day, not just the same four people all the time, as you would in a small firm.”


Lee has seen people at big firms wanting to switch to small firms, and she has seen small firm practitioners wanting to move to big firms. “It really comes down to personality fit.”


Karen MacKay, founder and president of Phoenix Legal Inc., agrees. “A bad fit can suck the life out of you,” she says. Her company provides guidance and support to law firms, corporate legal departments, and individual lawyers who are transitioning to new firms. She’s become somewhat of an expert in helping people move from where they don’t fit to where they do. “You can overcome a bad fit with sheer intellectual horsepower,” MacKay says, “but it’s like swimming upstream.”


With her extensive experience using the Myers-Briggs test, MacKay explains how the thinker/feeler dichotomy can manifest itself in a law firm. For instance, there can be a tension between thinkers and feelers on, say, a law firm’s compensation committee. “The thinkers will make decisions based on logic,” she explains. “Cause and effect will lead them to a decision where they may compensate a particular partner more than someone else, simply because the impact of that individual’s departure is more important than whether or not said 900-pound gorilla exhibits the values the firm espouses. The cold hard facts are that we can’t afford to lose him — at least, not now. The objective decision trumps the values-based decision.”


On the other hand, the feelers — and there likely won’t be many of them at a big firm — will be more inclined to give a partner another chance. “They will be more empathetic to the fact that he has a troubled teenager, the dog died, and he had the flu three times in the past 12 months, all of which impacted his numbers,” says MacKay. “Feelers will be more inclined to bend the rules to keep a group together.”


There tend to be more feelers at small firms, according to Richard’s research, and that will be an attractive thing to some lawyers. But it would be a mistake to think that this is true of all small firms. After all, some small firms are really just big-firm lawyers who have splintered off into a boutique operation. You may have only a handful of lawyers, but the big-firm mentality still reigns.


It’s also important to keep in mind that no matter how different small-firm and big-firm lawyers may be, they also share a lot in common. Some people would say that there’s really not much difference at all. “I don’t think there’s an exclusive personality type in either environment,” says Al Merskey, a partner at Ogilvy Renault LLP in Toronto. “There may be superficial differences, but at the core a variety of personalities — from hard driving to relaxed — can work well on Bay Street or Main Street.”


Gerry Riskin, co-founder of legal consulting firm Edge International, agrees. “Lawyers are very similar irrespective of firm size,” he says. “If a lawyer is working on the sale of a $10-million business, whether they’re in a small firm or a big one doesn’t make that much difference.”


Interestingly, he does see one important difference — a small-firm lawyer has the added burden of being his or her own rainmaker. “At big firms, there are amazing rainmakers who are very good interpersonally, and they account for about 10 per cent of the population at those firms,” says Riskin. “They bring in 80 per cent of the work. But the small-firm practitioners have to be better at marketing. They can’t hide in a big firm with the big machine feeding them.”


Riskin says it’s difficult to provide something as complex as legal services while also being the one who has to market them. “It’s tough,” he says. “A brain surgeon or a cardiologist — they don’t have to advertise for their patients. Lawyers do. It’s not a fair game that the lawyers who aren’t so outgoing have to struggle, just because they’re not gregarious.”


He agrees that most lawyers are introverts. “It’s ironic that litigators who are willing to face seven-headed, fire-breathing dragons in court tend to cluster together and avoid clients at cocktail receptions. I think it’s because they’re highly specialized and they feel a great sense of control in a courtroom environment, but not at a party.”


Richard acknowledges that lawyers share a lot in common, but he maintains that there are demonstrable differences — big firms are more thinker-oriented, and small firms are havens for feelers. So which are you? If you’re a feeler and you’re at a big firm, you might be swimming upstream. And of course, vice versa.


Not surprisingly, a good fit makes a difference in terms of job performance. Richard cites research that indicates a strong correlation between performance and motivation. People who are working in roles that are consistent with their personality, values, and interpersonal characteristics generally outperform those who are less well matched — by a ratio of two-to-one.
So it might be a good strategy to go ahead and take a Myers-Briggs test. The trick, though, is to find a qualified career counsellor to administer and interpret it. “The test is no good unless it’s in the right hands,” cautions Richard.


He also points out that, in a more general sense, the greatest satisfaction goes to those who choose law for intrinsic rather than extrinsic reasons. “If you choose law because you love debating, you love analyzing, you love arguing, you love jurisprudence, you love convincing people of things, you love being a fastidious drafter of documents, you love counselling people on fine details — if you go into law because you like those things, you’ll get those experiences regularly.”


On the other hand, he says, “if you go into law for extrinsic reasons — for example, the law gives you prestige, and money — your day-to-day experience will have nothing to do with these things. In the long run, you might reap some of these rewards, but you’re much less likely to have a day-in-day-out experience of being satisfied. So maybe you want to make a lot of money. But look what you’re going to be doing day-to-day to make that money. Will it be rewarding or not?”


This seems to fit with the experience of Dina Mashayekhi, an associate at the small, union-side labour firm of Jewitt Morrison in Ottawa. “I like the people here,” she says. “And not just at the office — I enjoy seeing them outside of work.” She has never practised in a big firm, but she definitely fits in well at a small one. “People here are very nice, and very supportive,” she says. “I get a pat on the back, not a kick in the butt.”


This doesn’t mean there aren’t nice people at big firms, or that you can’t find career satisfaction at a big firm. If that’s where you fit, that’s where you should be. Jennifer Manning, an associate at Torys LLP in Toronto, is a case in point. “It’s fantastic here,” she says. The ability to work on a large team is crucial, Manning explains. “There are massive deals, which involve people from a whole bunch of different departments. Tons of lawyers work on them. So you work on your own piece of it, but you need to see the big picture too.” Flexibility is also necessary, she adds. “Things can turn on a dime. There’s unpredictability.”


Legal recruiter Emily Lee, who is with ZSA Legal Recruitment in Toronto, says the kind of firm lawyers will wind up practising at “depends on their grades and their personality. People who do well at smaller firms are people who enjoy working very hands-on. They tend to be thrown into things quicker than they would if they were at a big firm.”


On the other hand, Lee says, people who thrive at big firms often “have an interest in being involved in large deals. They may not get as much hands-on experience early on, but they do get a lot of training. Some want to be in a big environment where you work with different people every day, not just the same four people all the time, as you would in a small firm.”


Lee has seen people at big firms wanting to switch to small firms, and she has seen small firm practitioners wanting to move to big firms. “It really comes down to personality fit.”


Karen MacKay, founder and president of Phoenix Legal Inc., agrees. “A bad fit can suck the life out of you,” she says. Her company provides guidance and support to law firms, corporate legal departments, and individual lawyers who are transitioning to new firms. She’s become somewhat of an expert in helping people move from where they don’t fit to where they do. “You can overcome a bad fit with sheer intellectual horsepower,” MacKay says, “but it’s like swimming upstream.”


With her extensive experience using the Myers-Briggs test, MacKay explains how the thinker/feeler dichotomy can manifest itself in a law firm. For instance, there can be a tension between thinkers and feelers on, say, a law firm’s compensation committee. “The thinkers will make decisions based on logic,” she explains. “Cause and effect will lead them to a decision where they may compensate a particular partner more than someone else, simply because the impact of that individual’s departure is more important than whether or not said 900-pound gorilla exhibits the values the firm espouses. The cold hard facts are that we can’t afford to lose him — at least, not now. The objective decision trumps the values-based decision.”


On the other hand, the feelers — and there likely won’t be many of them at a big firm — will be more inclined to give a partner another chance. “They will be more empathetic to the fact that he has a troubled teenager, the dog died, and he had the flu three times in the past 12 months, all of which impacted his numbers,” says MacKay. “Feelers will be more inclined to bend the rules to keep a group together.”


There tend to be more feelers at small firms, according to Richard’s research, and that will be an attractive thing to some lawyers. But it would be a mistake to think that this is true of all small firms. After all, some small firms are really just big-firm lawyers who have splintered off into a boutique operation. You may have only a handful of lawyers, but the big-firm mentality still reigns.


It’s also important to keep in mind that no matter how different small-firm and big-firm lawyers may be, they also share a lot in common. Some people would say that there’s really not much difference at all. “I don’t think there’s an exclusive personality type in either environment,” says Al Merskey, a partner at Ogilvy Renault LLP in Toronto. “There may be superficial differences, but at the core a variety of personalities — from hard driving to relaxed — can work well on Bay Street or Main Street.”


Gerry Riskin, co-founder of legal consulting firm Edge International, agrees. “Lawyers are very similar irrespective of firm size,” he says. “If a lawyer is working on the sale of a $10-million business, whether they’re in a small firm or a big one doesn’t make that much difference.”


Interestingly, he does see one important difference — a small-firm lawyer has the added burden of being his or her own rainmaker. “At big firms, there are amazing rainmakers who are very good interpersonally, and they account for about 10 per cent of the population at those firms,” says Riskin. “They bring in 80 per cent of the work. But the small-firm practitioners have to be better at marketing. They can’t hide in a big firm with the big machine feeding them.”


Riskin says it’s difficult to provide something as complex as legal services while also being the one who has to market them. “It’s tough,” he says. “A brain surgeon or a cardiologist — they don’t have to advertise for their patients. Lawyers do. It’s not a fair game that the lawyers who aren’t so outgoing have to struggle, just because they’re not gregarious.”


He agrees that most lawyers are introverts. “It’s ironic that litigators who are willing to face seven-headed, fire-breathing dragons in court tend to cluster together and avoid clients at cocktail receptions. I think it’s because they’re highly specialized and they feel a great sense of control in a courtroom environment, but not at a party.”


Richard acknowledges that lawyers share a lot in common, but he maintains that there are demonstrable differences — big firms are more thinker-oriented, and small firms are havens for feelers. So which are you? If you’re a feeler and you’re at a big firm, you might be swimming upstream. And of course, vice versa.


Not surprisingly, a good fit makes a difference in terms of job performance. Richard cites research that indicates a strong correlation between performance and motivation. People who are working in roles that are consistent with their personality, values, and interpersonal characteristics generally outperform those who are less well matched — by a ratio of two-to-one.
So it might be a good strategy to go ahead and take a Myers-Briggs test. The trick, though, is to find a qualified career counsellor to administer and interpret it. “The test is no good unless it’s in the right hands,” cautions Richard.


He also points out that, in a more general sense, the greatest satisfaction goes to those who choose law for intrinsic rather than extrinsic reasons. “If you choose law because you love debating, you love analyzing, you love arguing, you love jurisprudence, you love convincing people of things, you love being a fastidious drafter of documents, you love counselling people on fine details — if you go into law because you like those things, you’ll get those experiences regularly.”


On the other hand, he says, “if you go into law for extrinsic reasons — for example, the law gives you prestige, and money — your day-to-day experience will have nothing to do with these things. In the long run, you might reap some of these rewards, but you’re much less likely to have a day-in-day-out experience of being satisfied. So maybe you want to make a lot of money. But look what you’re going to be doing day-to-day to make that money. Will it be rewarding or not?”

  • Jung lawyers

    Neal Burgis, Ph.D.
    After reading your article, I wonder what a wonderful opportunity to begin an Introvert Coaching program for lawyers. Do you see see a need for this type of program within the law profession? If not please let me know & I will shift my efforts elsewhere.

    Thanks

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