March 25, 2016

Introverts or extroverts — there’s plenty of room for both in the legal profession

Introverts and extroverts, and how their respective personality types play out in sometimes surprising ways in the legal profession, are the subject of the new ABA webinar Introvert Power, sponsored by the ABA Journal, the Young Lawyers Division and the Center for Professional Development.

The introvert-extrovert classification was popularized by psychiatrist Carl Jung in the 1920s. It is generally believed that the distinction is caused more by genetics than it is learned. Introverts have a lot of electrical stimulation in their brains, while extroverts are seeking more, noted panelist Larry Richard, a former attorney who has a Ph.D. and is recognized as the leading expert on the psychology of lawyer behavior. Richard, who classifies himself as an amnivert with characteristics of both introverts and extroverts, is the founder of the management consulting firm LawyerBrain in Wayne, Pa.

Richard’s research indicates that 64 percent of lawyers are introverts and 36 percent are extroverts.

Richard said that both personality types are effective in the legal profession —“neither are good or bad, they’re chocolate and vanilla.” He noted that while most litigation lawyers are extroverts, there are plenty of introverts involved in that subset of the law as well.

Richard advised lawyers to focus on knowing their preferences and aligning their work with those preferences, and he stressed authenticity: “If you’re promoting yourself and that’s not your natural thing, it comes across as incongruous. It’s like fast food — it doesn’t last.”

Panelist Eva Wisnik founded Wisnik Career Enterprises, a New York City training and placement firm for the legal industry. She previously served as recruitment director for Schulte Roth & Zabel and Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. She has administered the Myers Briggs personality test to more than 6,000 individuals. Similar to Richard, her research indicates that 60 percent of lawyers are introverts.

Wisnik argued that introverts can be the best rainmakers at their firms because they are often the best listeners, and that “listening is the most important attribute of business development.” She said extroverts have their biggest advantage in the job interview process, but introverts can overcome that by anticipating what the questions will be (“you can anticipate 80 percent of them”) and writing out in advance the answers they want to give.

Panelist David Zweig, lecturer, musician and author of the book “Invisibles: Celebrating the Unsung Heroes of the Workplace,” said that society is set up for extroverts, including law school and education in general. For introverts who find it difficult to market themselves and network, Zweig suggested that research shows that doing really great work is how one moves up the career ladder. He paraphrased the thoughts of a journalist friend of his regarding social media: that having a lot of followers doesn’t get one great work, but that great work gets you a lot of followers. Zweig, who resides in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., thinks that in much of the commercial world, too many resources are spent on marketing and not enough on research and development.

Zweig, whose book is described on Amazon as “a one-book cultural revolution fighting the current cultural tide toward narcissistic self-promotion with the truth that real satisfaction is often silent,” believes that lawyers (and others) should be aware of why they are in the law. Is it for intrinsic reasons — that they care about the work — or is it for extrinsic reasons, such as making money?

Former lawyer and San Francisco-based legal affairs journalist Leslie A. Gordon may have been the catalyst for this webinar with her January ABA Journal piece, “Most lawyers are introverted, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.” Gordon, moderator of the webinar, recalled that the late Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara once took a personality test and was asked if he would prefer to work in a flower shop or a coal mine. Although he would have preferred to work in a flower shop (and he once had), he answered that he would rather work in a coal mine. The panelists were unanimous that modern personality tests are very sophisticated, and that it would be counterproductive to try to fool them with false answers.

The panelists also seemed to agree that the overall message is knowing yourself, and when you do, not thinking that your destiny is just one area of the law.