Categorical statements about lawyers are often puzzling. I wonder about their validity and their value. In a Law.com article "Law Firms Deal With the 'R' Word" . . .
"The No. 1 driver for what attracts lawyers to their profession is mental stimulation," said Larry Richard*, a psychologist and consultant on law firm leadership and organization with Hildebrandt International.
He added that the typical lawyer -- "in general," he stressed -- is not a social creature. That lack of social skills can lead to isolation, which, in turn, can cause physical and mental health problems.
Regarding the first observation, the reasons why lawyers entered the profession are diverse and often multiple. Take a look below at the reasons for attending law school given by ten Legal Highlights for a snapshot of that diversity. And the second statement . . . It's provocative. And oversimplified. And questionable. The typical lawyer is not a social creature? Lacks social skills?
I am guessing that these conclusions come from self-report assessments which for several reasons are often flimsy.
First, what we report about ourselves varies according to mood, as well as the setting in which we are asked, how the question is phrased, and the impression we want to make on the assessor or ourselves. We are not static individuals; we change.
Second, our memories also change. Memory is not like a tape recorder with an accurate replay. Memories change according to many factors, including mood, situation, purpose for recalling; when we look back we do not recall the same thing in the same way each day or hour or moment.
Third, self-report assessments often require us to choose to elevate one factor or cause when the accurate answer would list several reasons. For example, as I said above, the reasons for becoming a lawyer are typically multiple. I wonder how the conclusion was drawn that mental stimulation is the motivator that is "No. 1"? Were those assessed asked to choose just one?
Fourth, many self-assessments are ipsative. They require a forced choice. You must choose between "I am this" or "I am that." People, including lawyers, are too complex to be reduced to ipsative choices. And the results can be misleading.
We can probably safely say that one of the main reasons, among many, people become lawyers is for mental stimulation. And that some lawyers lack social skills in some situations. But then social skills are deficient in many people in all professions, in many situations.
Lawyers are not uniform. They are heterogeneous, assorted and motley. I wish the rich and varied symphony of the profession would not be so frequently reduced to one note. Is any purpose served by this reductionism?
Speaking of motley, here are the reasons ten Legal Highlights gave for attending law school . . .
I wanted to be a writer, and had traveled and worked at various jobs throughout my twenties until finally I felt I should explore a field where I could use some of my talents (without wearing out my body).
I had always wanted to go to law school. At the time I attended, I wanted to go into business and thought that I would learn invaluable problem-solving skills.
Graduate school in philosophy would only have led to an academic career, which at that time also seemed very unappealing. Hence: Law School!
I wanted to be trusted, valuable and play an important role in the lives of others.
I attended law school because of my experiences in the civil rights and free speech movements of the 1960’s, and my sense that law could be a powerful force for equality, justice and social change.
I was graduating from college and didn’t know what else to do. Law school looked like it held a lot of future possibilities.
I hope this doesn’t sound clichéd, but I went to law school to learn to do work that would make a positive difference in the lives of others.
I originally started law school because it is what my father did; and, I thought I could make a nice living at it. (As you can tell from the preceding answer – things have changed a bit.)
From his preceding answer
We were not divided, but we were united in a common interest to do the right thing, come to fully understand and appreciate each other’s situations and this kind of energy completely changes the way things get done in the world.
I vowed then that I would do whatever I could to fight for equality for women in the workplace.
The drama of the courtroom, the exchanges and the rhetoric of arguments and examinations of witnesses, and the challenges thus presented appealed greatly. To be candid, I also liked the limelight and the recognition.
*Note: Regarding the quotes that began this article, I know Larry Richard and have tremendous respect for his intelligence and talent. He is not a simplistic thinker. These statements were probably taken from an interview as sound bites. They likely were included to bolster the article's point. Unfortunately the article presents the picture of a profession that is monolithic.
Note (added October 3, 2007): Recommended read at Dave Snowden's CognitiveEdge: Myers Briggs. And click here for the dismantling of the Mars/Venus myth, another simplistic sorter. And Alan Weiss's opinion about "most personality profiling" at The Real MBTI Analysis.