The rise and rise of personality types and how law firms are approaching them
Whether or not you are an extrovert or introvert was not something that would have been mentioned in the law firms of yesteryear. What really mattered were billable hours, well-being perhaps, but never self-awareness.
That is changing: with the provision of coaching and workshops, lawyers and their firms are becoming more open to unlocking personality types and exploring what that means for individuals.
Personality types — such as being dominant, influential, steady or conscientious, or being reserved or outgoing — can be assessed with the help of psychometric tools.
Using these tools, individual lawyers can be helped to explore particular difficulties they are having at a firm. Perhaps they want to get promoted but fear that it is their personality, not performance, which is holding them back. Perhaps they are a rising star in a practice but feel pressured by expectation. Perhaps they are a manager and find it hard to give feedback.
Iona Sinclair is part of the learning and development team at Mayer Brown in the United Kingdom. She says:
The psychometric tools help us to tease out what plays to an individual’s strengths, how we can work through their challenges, how to modify their behaviours to get the best out of them and the people around them.
One particular analysis looks at where lawyers sit on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. This has become very topical in the wake of one ex-corporate lawyer’s bestseller Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Author Susan Cain, an ex-lawyer who once represented Goldman Sachs and General Electric, argues that people who are more naturally quiet or serious are overlooked and that “the loudest people have taken over even if they have nothing to say.” (Remind you of anyone?).
Cain cites cases of introverted lawyers and how painful their working life can be being surrounded by extroverts who dominate the landscape. (She also gave a TED talk which has had over 15 million views on YouTube.)
Firms are keen to emphasise that they are not making value judgements here. As Sinclair says:
It doesn’t matter what personality type you are. We are very clear that there is no ‘better’ type. This is about self-awareness, about understanding your strengths and weaknesses and how this enmeshes with the team around you (who also have their own personality traits).
This investigation of personalities is also part of a slow growth in the adoption of career coaching at law firms, though it is still only an American thing. Over the past few years, law firms such as Dechert, Mayer Brown and Kirkland & Ellis have been adding coaches to their staff roster as part of a recruitment and retention strategy.
The internal career coach provides (confidential) one-to-one guidance to lawyers on their own specific career journey. Jennifer Rakstad is a career coach at Mayer Brown’s US office. She explains how it works:
One lawyer came to see me because she wanted to be promoted but didn’t feel she could because of the type of person she was. We explored whether there was a path that she would be comfortable with, whether she would be able to come out of her comfort zone, or whether the requirement that she needed to be more visible wouldn’t be something she could actually achieve.
This all might sound a bit too soft-skills for some — and those are probably the ones who need it most.