American Bar Association / ABA, Biglaw, Career Center, Job Searches, NALP, National Association for Law Placement (NALP)

Deviations From The Norm: The Lawyer ‘Type’ And Legal Hiring

Promising answers to questions nobody is asking, the Buzzfeed-style personality quiz is the most virulent force in social media. Which Ryan Gosling Character Is Your Soulmate? What Type Of Chicken Tender Is Right For You? Are You Turning Into Your Mom? The silly online personality quizzes are sort of the idiot stepchildren of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, that test designed to distill human personality into abstract terms. (For some background on Myers-Briggs, see here.)

The MBTI and its progeny have long been used by government agencies and educational institutions, but it truly has a foothold in corporate America. The MBTI supposedly helps employers to identify potentially successful employees and job candidates to identify their strengths. From the employer’s perspective, these tools offer a chance to identify potential successful hires based on something more objective than hiring managers’ hunches and first impressions.

A recent New York Times Magazine piece detailed an ongoing movement to “revolutionize the human capital resource allocation market” through Moneyball-style, Big Data empiricism. Apparently, employers are becoming more cautious and deliberate in their interviewing processes (the average length of the interviewing period had doubled over the past five years), while at the same time employing work-force-analytics software that can make the process cheaper and more efficient. All in all, around 80% of the Fortune 500 companies practice data-driven assessment in their hiring processes.

Which brings us to the legal industry, an outlier in this “revolutionary,” data-driven recruitment landscape…

Despite its lack of influence in actual legal industry hiring decisions, there does exist some psychometric data on lawyers. Drawing on the research of Dr. Larry Richard, here is how lawyers place based on the MBTI:

No one will be surprised to learn that the psychological profile of lawyers as a group is quite different from the general population. Of the 16 possible MBTI types, more than half all practicing attorneys fall into one of four groups. Strikingly, one particular MBTI type — INTJ — occurs with five times greater frequency in lawyers than it does generally. INTJs are the only one of the 16 MBTI types for whom an elevated IQ has been statistically correlated. Famous INTJs include — supposedly — Jay Z , Lenin, and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

More recently, using the data from the Caliper assessment tool, another pre-employment personality trait screener, Dr. Richard discovered that lawyers as a group measure high for Skepticism (93rd percentile), Autonomy (89th), and Abstract Thinking (81st). However attorneys scored strikingly low for Resilience (30th), and extremely low for Sociability (7th). Perhaps the low resilience is related to the profession’s resistance to change? After all, trying something different might not work, and who wants to bounce back from that? The sociability scores reinforce that special place lawyers have in the American heart. All of these scores are at least two standard deviations from the norm.

Speaking of things that deviate from the norm, the large law firms’ on-campus interview system remains largely intact. OCI is a peculiar institution. No other industry would entrust its entire entry-level hiring process to a series of superficial 20-minute “cattle call” interviews two years ahead of when the candidate will actually become full-time employees. The results of this system are not pretty. According to NALP, nearly half of all law firm associates are gone within three years. Compare this with an attrition rate of less than 5% at Fortune 100 companies. Further, considering that the all-in costs of bringing in a first-year to a Biglaw firm is, according to ABA numbers, around $250,000, one might think that conditions were ripe for a serious reconsideration of the status quo.

There are some who are urging firms to employ more sophisticated and reliable hiring and development tools commensurate with the challenge of making extremely expensive talent decisions. For example, Bill Henderson has pointed out that there is research showing that the current most popular law firm hiring tool — the one-on-one interview — ranks only slightly above a coin-toss as an effective hiring approach.

Seeking to find a role for evidence-based hiring tools in the legal space is the Sheffield Legal Assessment. It is the first online trait assessment purpose-built for the legal profession. General market instruments such Myers-Briggs and Caliper tend to clump lawyers together into a undifferentiated mass. Thus the need for an attorney specific test, accounting for the personality traits and patterns distinguishing lawyers from everyone else and even among lawyers from one practice area to the next.

The assessment was developed by The Right Profile (known for their work with pro sports teams — Bill Belichik is a fan) and a team of psychologists in Chicago. JD Match and Adam Smith Esq — friends of ATL — are sponsoring the survey. Check it out yourself here. It costs nothing and you get a free detailed report.

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