Last month, a group named Russell Reynolds Associates (RRA) announced a study in which they identified eight qualities of successful legal executives. The study found that these accomplished folks exhibited greater levels of certain traits compared to your average Executive Joe Schmoe, Esq. The results, while informative, weren’t all that surprising. (It’s cool how hindsight works that way.) There were two traits, however, that RRA zeroed in on in their write-up of the study.

One was “excitability.” Successful legal executives got frazzled about 20% less than the average legal executive and even than the average non-legal executive. The gap in excitability was even wider between Successful GC and Not-Successful GC. So all of you lawyers who have a tendency to hyperventilate over every little fire drill can do yourselves a favor and think calm thoughts when you find that your prized pen has been moved from the right side of your desk to the left.

The other trait that RRA considered noteworthy is one they referred to as “mischievousness.” Their evaluation of mischievousness, however, is really just a brilliant scam….

To understand the nature of RRA’s scam, we need to ask the question, what is mischief? Mischief is defined by Merriam-Webster as: (1) harmful, injurious; (2) able or tending to cause annoyance, trouble, or minor injury; or (3) irresponsibly playful.

So, is RRA proposing that effective legal executives are more “irresponsibly playful” than your average, run of the mill lawyer? Je ne think so pas. The behaviors that RRA appears to include (it’s a little unclear from their article) under the heading of “mischievous” are: risk-taking; finding creative solutions; and strategic decision-making. Gee, those behaviors sound really mischievous, don’t they? Maybe in a mind-numbingly boring alternate universe. Actually, some of those sound kind of opposite of what’s described in the Merriam-Webster definition (or any conventional notion really) of “mischief.”

Okay, well maybe RRA is pointing out this particular trait because the stats on this one really stand out compared to the others they mention. Well, uh, not really that either. Successful GC is “11 percent more willing to take risks than [Average GC].” Eleven percent is something, I suppose, but the amount is not in fact very different from most of the other characteristics identified in the study. When successful vs. non-successful attorneys are compared, there’s a larger gap, but again, not any greater than for many of the other qualities that were measured.

So why would RRA decide to focus on a trait that didn’t exhibit much difference in results from any of the other qualities listed in the study? And why did RRA decide refer to “risk-taking” with a label that seems completely random, like “mischievousness”?

And that, my dear readers, is the brilliance of the scam. What better way to spark interest in their study and get people talking than for RRA to state that the most successful lawyers are the mischievous ones? Mischievous lawyers sound fun! You know, like your attorney is going to lead you through the secret passageway to the roof of the office building so that you can pelt water balloons together on unsuspecting dorks below.

And the scam is successful. Everyone who reads the RRA article focuses on “mischievous.” Try it. Send the link to your lawyer friends and see what part of it they mention to you. I’ll give the lunch break equivalent of one Schrute Buck to everyone who isn’t charmed by the thought that good lawyers are mischievous.

By the way, the RRA article is a good point of reference to help in-house attorneys figure out what qualities they can look to improve. In case you’re too lazy busy to click on the link above to read the study for yourself, here’s the full list of traits that RRA found that successful legal executives have more of than others:

1. Social Boldness
2. Persuasiveness
3. Social Confidence
4. Competitiveness
5. Achieving
6. Decisiveness
7. Low Excitability
8. Mischievous

By the way. from now on, I think I’ll follow RRA’s lead and call all of the boring stuff I do by other, more fun-sounding terms. Like maybe when I’m drawing up meeting agendas, I’ll refer to it as drafting a blueprint for a flux capacitor time machine. And when I have meetings with my legal team, I’ll say I’m devising plans to conquer the world. Now that’s mischievous!

Becoming the Calm Risk Taker: Attributes for Success in Today’s New Legal Environment
[Russell Reynolds Associates]


Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company. Also, the experiences Susan shares may include others’ experiences (many in-house friends insist on offering ideas for the blog). You can reach her at SusanMoonATL@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.


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