More on the Lawyer Personality

Wanna know a secret? The top search for my blog is “lawyer personality” or some variation on it. Most of those variations concern the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) assessment. The all-time highest ranked post? My 3-year old post on The Lawyer Personality.

shark at Atlanta aquarium

Contrary to popular belief, “shark” is not the dominant lawyer personality type. Photo courtesy Stockvault.net.

I have several theories about why that search and that post are such perennial favorites:

  • People are working for impossible, crazy lawyers and are hoping to find out that their problem is an official personality conflict with the crazymaker.
  • People are really desperately unhappy practicing law, and can’t figure out why, since they have supposedly achieved the American dream of prestigious, lucrative employment by their late-20s. Maybe their personality doesn’t fit in law?
  • People think that if they knew their personality type, they would be able to find a better part of law to be in.
  • People want out of law, but secretly fear that the only thing they’re suited to do is be a lawyer, and so they hope the MBTI will quiet their fears.

Most of these aren’t mutually exclusive. I’ll bet I’ve missed a couple, though. Add reasons I’ve missed to the comments; I’d be really fascinated to know.

(Oh, if you’re not sure of your type, there are many online free MBTI assessment tests. I’m partial to this one at the moment. The free ones are not as good as paid ones, but they might at least give you a ballpark idea of where you fall.)

Since I wrote the Lawyer Personality post, I’ve learned a few things about the MBTI, so I figured it was time to do some more sharing. Much of my research for this post comes from Dr. Larry Richard, J.D., who works at Hildebrandt Baker Robbins helping law firms and legal departments on people issues. I take full responsibility for screwing up any of the info he gave me.

Let’s start with The Lawyer Types, an article Richard wrote for the ABA Journal in July 1993. Even though the article is nearly of legal voting age, the data in it remains basically valid, Richard assures me. Personality types in law have not significantly changed since 1993. Hardly surprising in a change-resistant profession, is it?

The top 6 MBTI types found in lawyers are:

  • ISTJ (17.8%)
  • ESTJ (10.3%)
  • INTJ (13.1%)
  • ENTP (9.7%)
  • INTP (9.4%)
  • ENTJ (9.0)

After those 6 types, the percentages dip down sharply to ENFP at 5.2%; the least common type in lawyers is ESFP at .5%.

OK, I know you want to know the breakdown on the others, so if you haven’t clicked on the article they are, in descending order: ISFJ 4.2%, INFP 3.9%, ISTP 3.9%, ESTP 3.3%, ENFJ 2.9%, ESFJ 2.7%, INFJ 2.7%,  and ISFP 1.4%.

ISTJs are the most common personality type of lawyers, but that is probably more of a function of their overall prevalence in the general population (12 – 16%) than of being specially drawn to law, according to Richard.

The remarkable finding of his study, Richard told me, is “that one type in particular—INTJ—occurs with 5 times greater frequency in lawyers than it does in the general population (that’s for men and women combined). And, there are 7 times as many INTJ women in law as there are women INTJ’s in the general population.”

So what is it about INTJs? Well, Richard describes them as “conceptual, analytical, ambitious, curious, and driven, and they are the only one of the 16 types for whom an elevated IQ has been statistically correlated. That’s right—INTJ’s are slightly more intelligent as a type than individuals who prefer any of the other 15 types.”

Though here’s a tip: don’t go spreading around your intellectual superiority at happy hours, INTJs. It makes the rest of us slightly resentful. Besides, it may have more to do with the fact that INTJs, according to Richard, “watch measurably less TV” than other types. (Maybe INTJs don’t find my suggestion of a digital fast as horrifying as the other MBTI types do!)

If you’re an INTJ reading this post, and are an unhappy lawyer, you’re one that I would say is most likely to be happy in law, once you’ve found the right environment for yourself.

And if you’re one of the other 5 types that make up the top 6, you may indeed do fine staying in law, too. After all you have a fair amount of company with like-minded folks. Your unhappiness could stem from a toxic workplace, and so your job needs to change. If you’re unhappy at BigLaw (and seriously, most associates and partners there are), maybe a boutique or even (gasp) solo practice are options to consider. The ABA has a ton of resources for those considering hanging their shingle.

Or become a government lawyer—they’re everywhere, really. Of course Washington, D.C. is mecca for federal government lawyers, what with the Department of Justice and all the other agencies headquartered there. But many agencies have large regional presences, like the SEC, FTC, EPA, EEOC, OSHA, etc. Plus, you could always work as a prosecutor, whether federal, state, or local. Speaking of states, they have their own agencies and Attorneys General offices—another hotbed of government lawyers.

Then there’s the in-house route, which often offers much better hours and more interesting work. If you’re looking for in-house jobs, the job board for the Association of Corporate Counsel is a good place to start.

Non-profits are another potentially good fit for lawyers who want to stay in law. Non-profit doesn’t mean (necessarily) working for $20,000 year—after all, the Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, the Met and the ASPCA are all non-profits, and I’m pretty sure their lawyers are doing relatively OK. And then there’s the sub-specialties of non-profits, the think-tank and lobbying groups.

I haven’t even touched on legislative jobs, like working for Congressional or state legislative committees, but they’re an option, too. And in Washington, December ‘tis the season for finding those jobs, as the new Congressional members come on board.

These general ideas only scratch the obvious top layer of job alternatives if you want to stay in law. Probably you knew about them—or maybe you can add some more to the comments.

But what if you’re not one of the top 6 dominant MBTI types for lawyers, and you’re pretty sure you want out? In my next posts, we’ll look at some of the qualities of each personality axis, see what their special attributes are, and examine some possible job environment criteria to put on your list.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer in large part because her INFP-ness and law just didn’t mix too well. INFP is a great type for coaching, though. Jennifer loves helping lawyers with the less common MBTI types for law discover that they have some amazing and valuable skills just by being who they really are. Contact Jennifer for a discounted, no-obligation coaching session at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com.

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31 thoughts on “More on the Lawyer Personality

  1. Quite an eye opener. And thank you for posting the stats regarding the other personality types in the profession. I was actually just reading your “Lawyer Personality” the other day and was wondering about that.

    This post provides further evidence that I’m likely doing the right thing by GTFO of law. My personality type is the fourth LEAST prevalent personality type in law (ESFJ).

    • Yes, anyone who has the “Feeler” preference is likely pretty miserable in law. I’ll be talking about that next week. Feelers and Thinkers find it very, very difficult to understand each other even when they’re fairly well adjusted. Unlike, say, a lot of people who work in BigLaw. Glad you enjoyed the post.

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  4. I worked for/with the crazy lawyer for almost 20 years. That did some serious damage. But, I thought it was him that was the reason I regretted the decision to practice law. Okay, it was him in the beginning, but now I have my own firm, and find that I’m just as unhappy. Maybe it’s because I’m an INFP. I didn’t find out I was an INFP until mediation training (and well after law school). No wonder I’m miserable. I, too, need to GTFO of law, but having trouble figuring out just how to do that and still pay the mortgage.

    • I am an INTP, borderline INFP. I think I had one or two points more that put me on the T rather than the F but it was really close. I’m a trial lawyer in private practice. While I’m much happier in private practice, the human issues and constant conflict bother me. I was thinking the other day that if I could learn to care less or to compartmentalism better, I’d be a lot happier, though I know that is never going to happen.

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  6. My reason for this search: recently started dating one of these exotic creatures and wanted to understand what I’m in for.

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  8. This is depressing. I test INFP and was considering law, given that pretty much everything else is either a bad personality match or pays in peanuts. I like to hear of INFP lawyers who make it work.

    • INFPs are the classic idealists, rarely motivated by money. “Everything” is kind of, um, sweeping. You might want to read Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. It’s a classic, and I highly recommend it for lawyers and lawyer-wannabes.

      • Wow, thank you for your reply. Essentially I never expect a blogger to reply to visitor posts…because that happens like 1/20 times, at least for me

        Anyhow, really appreciate it, I’m glad I checked back in here.

        I’m familiar with Seligman’s book. I have a degree in psychology. I went to grad school (research intensive phd program in clinical psych) and dropped out because I realized I don’t want to mathematical modeling and write grants and do number crunching on a computer monitor all day long. I like research…in theory. In practice, it’s too much routine and it’s just boring and requires great discipline because too many open ended questions and you can go off track so easily. In high school I liked sciences and I loved math. I did great. In college it was fine, good enough to get good stats grades for grad school. But grad school is a whole other beast.

        Anyhow, I considered doing psychotherapy with only a masters degree. But before applying, I considered the fact that these people get paid so little, like 30-40k a year (some start out making barely over 20k). I come from a poor family so money does matter to me. I also reviewed how I felt when I was working in a semi volunteering/research position (complicated story) where I was exposed to people’s suffering, and I did take that stuff home with me. Not cry over things, but the cumulative effect was worse mental health for me and getting real stressed out, though admittedly a part of that was the particular work setting and role confusion and being overworked. I suppose if I were a psychiatrist, I could make it work. If you get paid well, then you can take time off, go on vacation, go to spa every week (I have awful back spasms), that kind of thing. The prestige factor helps too.

        I sometimes think being an INFP is a curse. I need to be careful not to limit who I am by some label, but I’ve often felt like I don’t fit. Well, you should know I’m as a guy who just turn 30 last month. Anyhow, as an INFP, I don’t fit in with guys. I did not fit in with guys cause I was not into sports. Cause I was little too feminine for their liking. I’m not feminine enough to hang with girls either. I’m stuck between heaven and Earth. Too quiet (introvert and shy). Too quiet for my loud and extroverted parents. Also as an immigrant, I did not fit in. Yet my whole life I relied on my discipline and ability to study, to move forward despite difficulties. Because I saw how others had overcome greater obstacles. But my damned personality, I f*cking hate it! It’s the biggest obstacles…and I can’t change it.

        Because I feel and because I care about people, despite my shyness, I want to do something with a social component, have interactions. I don’t like to get too close to people (takes me a while to warm up to people) but I do my work to have immediate positive effects on people. But here’s the problem. This very thing is also what stresses me out the most. I feel more than the average person, I perceive more, I pick up body language, pick up signals. It overwhelms me if I have to regularly work with emotional people.

        But at the same time I don’t want to work with numbers or objects either, not all day long anyways. Flexibility is key for me. I was talking to a therapist a while back and she said what about law? She knows I love to analyze things and learn new things, and thought it might be satisfying to me. IN particular, law is a big field and I had hopes that I could find some INFP-friendly niche there.

        I’ve looked at sites that mention the best jobs or top fifty jobs, and I’d go through them one by one. Economics: too much math. Engineering: no mechanical ability or interest. Data Analyst: No way!

        For a while I even considered computer programmer, but like law, the NT personality seem happiest and most productive there. Also SJ. Apparently the world is made for SJ and NT people. And apparently INFP people burn out easily if they become computer programmer because the job has no F components. If you value logic above all then fine. But if you’re like me and value originality and authenticity and harmony and love, then no. You put INFP people in social work, they burn out also because although now what I value does matter (we are dealing with people here, not machines), you deal with the exact opposite of the ideals on a daily basis, for a low pay, and have so little power to bring about real change, it’s frustrating and emotionally exhausting. I personally think NT and SJ would also make better therapists because these days it’s all about following the protocol and doing things based on the latest research. You need a logical mind first and foremost.

        Sorry for this mess of a loooooooooong post. Your smiling face icon and that you are a professional who is also an INFP, and that I’m having a rough day, all combined to make this headache-inducing post.

      • “Anyhow, I considered doing psychotherapy with only a masters degree. But before applying, I considered the fact that these people get paid so little, like 30-40k a year (some start out making barely over 20k). I come from a poor family so money does matter to me.”

        If you care about money, then you definitely want to avoid law.

        Here’s Inside the Law School Scam’s post today on McJobs.

        Law isn’t the financial answer.

        http://insidethelawschoolscam.blogspot.com/2012/10/mcjobs.html

  9. Darn it, then how can a sensitive, disciplined, and reasonably intelligent person like myself can afford to buy a small house, a car, and start a family? Isn’t that a rational enough dream? Or do I need to win the lottery?

  10. Thanks a lot Jonlaw2, good read. Responsible spending and keeping track of spendings is key.

    I presume LeavinLaw had nothing to say on my original long post. Too long to read…

    • Also, a lot of lawyers these days consider it a “win” if they actually have a legal job that pays $40,000 a year.

      I know that the guy we just hired once had to ask for a raise by pointing out that his teacher wife made more than he did. And this was just a few years ago.

      • Jon, this is brutal. I wonder if you’re pulling my leg. Only 40k?

        Btw,Are you a lawyer, law student, or ex-lawyer? Are you also INFP?

  11. Thanks for your informative blog . . .I am an INFP as well and have felt misunderstood and stifled in law (not a lawyer but support staff) . . . .really eye opening that it’s just not a good fit. . . .

  12. My reason for looking up “lawyer personality” is slightly different than the reasons you mentioned. My mom tried for years to get me to be a lawyer, not because she particularly valued the career but because she thought I had the personality for it. More recently, I was actually mistaken for a lawyer due to how I tended to argue my case on condo board matters. However, I’ve never quite found a good fit with the MBTI, despite having done a couple of MBTI consultations. So,I figured I’d look up the actual statistics on MBTI types and the law. :)

  13. Great post! I am an INTJ Female and I have tried various other careers but I kept returning to Law. I still have my doubts but I honestly can’t think of anything else that I would like to do (not that I like law at the moment!). I’m hoping I discover an area of law that I like to practice in and your post would suggest that this is the best approach for me so that has brightened my day. The search continues …. fingers crossed!

    • This is an old post I know but I was intrigued by your commitment to law. I am also a female INTJ but got my undergrad in mechanical engineering and now a masters in systems engineering. Have you ever worked in the engineering field, and if yes, why go back to law? I know several engineers who then took the patent bar and now love working with patents…just an idea.

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  15. Hello Jennifer. I stumbled upon this post (and the one before this one, The Lawyer Personality) and enjoyed reading them. Thank you. It was particularly interesting for me because I am an INTJ and a former lawyer who is taking a long break from work to be at home with my two young children until they start school. The funny thing is, I was a very disengaged law student whilst at law school and said that I would never become a lawyer throughout it. But once I started to work as a lawyer and as the years passed I began to appreciate how suitable my personal attributes were to the profession. I am very happy about and grateful for being able to be with my children every day, but on those days when I feel utterly exhausted I miss the long hours of concentration in solitude which my former job as a lawyer afforded me. I am new to blogging, and I talk about this in my first post if you and your readers are interested in reading it: http://splendidsolitude.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/empty-bucket/

  16. As INTJ female who’s now a sophomore studying Accountancy and has huge interest in applying for law school in future (<10 years), I find this article very helpful and insightful. Thank you.

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