This article is the second of four installments designed to provide insight into how understanding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® enables attorneys to become more effective in managing their career, relating to clients, and overseeing their offices.
- Sensing vs. Intuition: How does this type indicator influence how lawyers take in information?
- Thinking vs. Feeling: How does this type indicator impact how a lawyer processes information and makes decisions?
- Judging vs. Perceiving: How does this type indicator create differences among lawyers in terms of how they organize their professional lives and interact with the outside world?
In my last article, I provided an overview of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) and explored how being an introvert or an extrovert impacts how an attorney approaches career choices and time management. Introversion versus extroversion is, by far, the most well-known MBTI® dichotomy. The remaining three MBTI® dichotomies are much less well known, but every bit as important. This second article will provide an overview of the three lesser-known personality indicators, and explain how an attorney’s preference for one or the other can significantly impact that attorney’s legal practice.
Sensing vs. Intuition: How Does This Type Indicator Influence How Lawyers Take in Information?
According to Jessica Butts, author of Live Your Life from the Front Seat, “Sensors validate information via their five senses. Information is valid if they can touch it, taste it, hear it, smell it or see it. Sensors are very literal, concrete and factual. . . . Sensors make up 75% of the world’s population.” To the contrary, “Intuitive types take in information via their ‘sixth’ sense. Intuitive types have an energetic vibe, gut feeling, a hunch or a speculation about someone or something. Intuitive types are more figurative than literal [and] prefer the big picture.”
At first glance, one might think that a Sensor would be more successful practicing law than an Intuitive type. Law is a profession that highly values the “literal, concrete and factual.” An Intuitive type, however, should not shy away from becoming a lawyer, as they can bring much to the table as well. For example, suppose two probate lawyers team up to prepare an estate accounting and a brief responding to a motion that the personal representative should be removed for cause? One lawyer, Sally Sensor, is best suited for work involving facts and detail. Preparing the estate accounting would be a perfect task for Sally, who would enjoy the math and meticulous detail this project requires. The second lawyer, Ira Intuitive, would likely be the one who writes the accompanying brief. Ira, seeing the big picture of how this brief could be highly persuasive, might have a “gut instinct” as to which arguments the judge may be more sympathetic toward and what tone might be most advantageous. After Ira drafts the brief, he may ask Sally to check it to ensure that the formatting and citations are correct. Both the Sensing and the Intuitive types bring different skills to the project and, by teaming together, are able to submit a high-quality product for the court’s consideration. If a lawyer understands his Sensing/Intuitive preference, that lawyer will be better able to select tasks, and even make overall career choices, that are consistent with that preference. Further, that lawyer will know his weaknesses, and be able to make more knowledgeable choices about working partners who offer a different, but also needed, skill set.
Thinking vs. Feeling: How Does This Type Indicator Impact How a Lawyer Processes Information and Makes Decisions?
In describing this MBTI® preference, Ms. Butts states, “Thinkers make decisions with their heads. They like analysis. They like facts. They’re objective and logical decision makers.” To the contrary, “Feelers . . . primarily make decisions with their feelings.” Seventy-five percent of men are Thinking types, and 75 percent of women are Feeling types. Similar to the comparison of the Sensor versus the Intuitive type, it would seem that Feeling types would not necessarily be successful attorneys. But one of the most important skills a lawyer can possess is the ability to empathize with clients. For example, consider Thomas Thinker and Fiona Feeler, who are both solo practitioners of family law in the same community. Both are highly skilled and respected attorneys, yet Thomas may find that he is at a disadvantage in terms of bringing in new clients, as compared to Fiona. Why? During the initial consultation, Thomas is fully focused on listening to the potential client, reading the pertinent documents, and providing an initial analysis of the case. To the contrary, Fiona tends to focus on how the potential client is feeling—providing a sympathetic ear. Potential clients, especially those who are grieving the end of their marriage, often feel more comfortable with Fiona’s approach. Because Fiona is a Feeling type, she tends to worry about her clients, on a personal level, after the work day is completed, whereas Thomas tends not to develop an emotional connection with his clients. If a lawyer knows her preference in this regard, she will be better able to address her shortcomings. In our example, if Thomas becomes aware that he tends to come across as uncaring, he can work on empathizing more with his clients; whereas if Fiona understands her tendency to wear her heart on her sleeve, she can work to achieve a more balanced approach to clients to avoid taking on their emotional turmoil.
Judging vs. Perceiving: How Does This Type Indicator Create Differences Among Lawyers in Terms of How They Organize Their Professional Lives and Interact with the Outside World?
Judging types versus Perceiving types, the final MBTI® dichotomy, also offers important insights regarding an attorney’s approach to practicing law. Ms. Butts describes Judging types as people who “like things organized. Judgers tend to be on time and settled and planned and decisive. . . . Judgers have a calendar and an agenda and use them religiously.” To the contrary, “[p]erceiving people are flexible and spontaneous. They go with the flow and let life happen.” Although Judging types and Perceiving types each comprise approximately half of the population, our culture tends to emphasize and reward the traits of the Judging types. Jane Judger and Paul Perceiver are both busy litigation attorneys. Both Jane and Paul have taken the MBTI® exam from a MBTI®-certified practitioner and understand the strengths and weaknesses of their type preference. Jane does best when she takes charge of her own calendar. Jane also knows that she tends to be stressed by last minute changes to her calendar, such as a rescheduled hearing, and she needs to remember to be flexible and realize that “life happens.” To the contrary, Paul hired a very detailed-oriented legal assistant and gave him complete authority over the calendaring related to litigation deadlines and needed preparation time. Paul has also asked his legal assistant to leave some “white space” in his calendar when he can simply choose to do whatever he wishes. Paul knows that he is stressed if his entire day is calendared out so that he lacks this flexibility. By understanding the Judging/Perceiving preference, an attorney improves her ability to manage her workload by making informed choices as to how, and how much, to structure her workday.
 Jessica Butts, Living Your Life from the Front Seat, (Kirkland: Legacy One Authors), 29. Please see more information about Ms. Butts and her background in my prior article.