The Thinking/Feeling preference in the Myers-Briggs typology is a biggie for happiness and satisfaction at work. If that aspect of your personality is stifled, devalued, and can’t be used in your work, you’re going to be miserable.

That’s because T/F is one of the function pairs (the other is the Sensing/Intuitive pair). The function pairs are where you are likely the least malleable and least able to bend your personality to fit in—in other words, it’s where you’re the most hard-wired.

frustrated woman
The average day for a Feeling type in a typical law job.

What does that mean for unhappy lawyers? In a nutshell, you need to figure out it you’re like the archetypal lawyer when it comes to the Thinking/ Feeling divide. And if you’re on the Feeling side, you have some pondering to do.

When it comes to lawyers, Thinking types dominate. Indeed, Dr. Larry Richard in his ABA Journal article says that 78% of lawyers show a Thinker preference. Thinking types strongly prefer making decisions in a “detached, objective, logical manner.” Which of course makes perfect sense—those are some of the hallmarks of lawyering, right?

One thing I found particularly interesting about Richard’s research is how women lawyers tested. Turns out that women lawyers often do think more like men, at least when it comes to the Thinking/Feeling preference scale. In the general population, 60% of men fall on the T side, while only 35% of women do. (So yes, there’s a whopping tablespoon of truth in the whole Mars v. Venus thing.) In lawyers, Richard found that 66% of women lawyers are Ts, and 81% of male lawyers are.

The essence of Thinking types, according to Personality Pathways, is their focus on “being dispassionate, able to make decisions at arms-length from whatever emotional turmoil may surround a situation.” Yep, sounds like the lawyer ideal to me. An important attribute of Thinkers is that they don’t take conflict personally, and in fact, as Richard points out, they can really look forward to a good argument.

Feeling types? Not so much. For starters, most are about “validating and valuing others, encouraging, coaching, educating and motivating. . . . [P]rotecting, helping, and caretaking” rank highly in their world. Also, being authentic and open to emotions and inner sensations are pretty high on a Feeling type’s list of what’s important in life.

So Feeling types do not like conflict (to put it mildly), take it personally, and value harmony highly. They are the “can’t we all just get along” gurus of the world.

Knowing whether you’re a Feeler or a Thinker is important to assessing whether to stay in law. As Richard notes, “[t]he constant adversarial mentality wears on a feeler, while for a thinker it can represent one of the most stimulating parts of law practice.”

One interesting trend that both Richard and law schools are starting to notice is that higher numbers of Feeling types have been entering law recently. It could be that with increasing numbers of women in the profession, the Feeling attribute is also increasing (remember about 65% of women in the general population are Feelers).

Or, it could be that Millenials are driving the trend. As Richard theorizes, maybe “more Feelers enter law because of the possibility of realizing some of their ideals. (Feelers are more likely to seek a job that is idealistic.)” The data about why we’re seeing more Feelers in law isn’t clear yet, Richard says.

What does this mean for Feeling types already in law who are trying to find a happy career? Should you try to find a niche in law? Well, it depends. (Yes, the quintessential lawyer answer. Sorry!)

My own take—which I should point out is not exactly what the average Myers-Briggs expert would say—is that the never-ending friction that Feeling types experience in nearly any type of law environment will drive them at the very least a little batshit crazy most days. Being surrounded by Ts who approach life and decisions in a fundamentally different way than Feeling types do is a recipe for constant miscommunication and conflict. That drives just about anyone nuts.

If you’re just barely over the line into the F preference scale and you otherwise like law, you could make a go of it and come out fairly satisfied with your work life. But you’re going to have to do some serious looking to find the right environment for you to utilize your Feeler qualities regularly. If you don’t do that, you will remain frustrated and unhappy in law.

No matter where you are on the Feeling type scale, locking yourself into a career where that preference is devalued, even mocked—as it is in most law firms and quite a few other legal environments—is a roadmap into depression and/or constant self-doubt. Is that really what you want out of  life?

Being a strong F and trying to work in a very Thinker-heavy environment is like trying to wear a size 7 shoe when really, you are a size 9. You will never, ever be comfortable (let alone functional) until you find the right shoe size and start wearing it all the time. If your workplace insists that you must wear that size 7, well, you have a choice, don’t you?

For those who have been following along this latest Lawyer Personality jag, you’ll be relieved to know there’s only one more to go—the one where I muse a little on what it all means for your job search, whether that be an alternative to law or a better place for you in law.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who is pretty sure it was the “N”, not the “F” part of her personality type that got her through law school and 8 years of law practice. She coaches attorneys on how to find work that matches all the parts of their unique and wonderful personalities. Contact Jennifer at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com for a discounted sample coaching session to explore your perfect work fit.