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.