ArticlesFor Lawyers

The Quirky Lawyer: Understanding the Genius of Personality Type, Part 1

By January 28, 2016 No Comments

Reprinted with permission from the American Bar Association GPSOLO eReport.

This article is the first of four installments designed to provide insight into how understanding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® enables attorneys to become more effective in managing their careers, relating to clients, and overseeing their offices.

  • What is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®?
  • How does being an introvert or an extrovert impact how an attorney approaches career and time management?

Last year, I became enlightened. No, I didn’t join a commune, flee the practice of law to become an actress, or travel to far-flung lands to practice yoga. Instead, I decided to learn more about personality type by studying the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®). My virtual law firm team worked with Jessica Butts, a well-known psychotherapist, individual and relationship coach, and author of Live Your Life from the Front Seat. Ms. Butts conducted two workshops for our team. I also read her book and others to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the MBTI®, including how my type affects my legal career, how the various types of my office teammates influence how we work together, and how I can apply this knowledge to improve my working relationship with clients.

In these four installments, I will provide an overview of MBTI®, delve into the various personality types, and discuss specifically how these types relate to the practice of law. In addition, I will reveal my personality type (a.k.a. “The Quirky Lawyer”) and the group type of my office team, and demonstrate how this information profoundly affects my professional choices.

What Is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®?

According to Ms. Butts, “The MBTI® has its roots in the works of Carl Jung. Jung was a famous Swiss psychologist who talked about archetypes and how we understand ourselves through them. . . . In the 1940s, Isabella Myers and her daughter, Katharine Cook Briggs, took what Jung had described as archetypes and developed the MBTI®. The MBTI® has since become the most widely used personality tool in the world.” Jessica Butts, Living Your Life from the Front Seat, (Kirkland: Legacy One Authors), at 4.

In my work with Ms. Butts, she emphasized two essential concepts in understanding MBTI®. First, your type does not change. Your life circumstances may, and likely will, change over time, but your type remains constant throughout the course of your life. Second, we all have a preference for one type over another even if that preference is slight. After engaging in the highly worthwhile investment of taking the MBTI® exam from a MBTI®-certified practitioner, you will know both your overall type classification and your propensity toward each type. For each of your four types, you will receive a score in the range of 1-30, which will show the strength of that particular type. For example, if you are classified as an extrovert and score a 30, that means you are highly extroverted. Conversely, if you are an introvert and score a 5, you are only slightly introverted and may enjoy some extrovert-type activities.

The four MBTI® personality types can be summarized as follows:

  • What energizes you? If you are energized externally, such as through spending time with your office team, speaking at a continuing legal education course, or attending a networking event, then you are likely an extrovert. If you are energized internally, for example, by shutting the door to your office and spending the day researching an interesting topic and writing a brief, then you may well be an introvert.
  • How do you gather information? After a client meeting, do you return to your office and think, “I got a bad vibe from Mr. Smith. I feel uncomfortable.” If so, you are likely an intuitive type. On the other hand, are you more inclined to think, “Mr. Smith dressed very professionally, asked pertinent questions, and took impressively thorough notes during our meeting.” This approach is consistent with a sensing type.
  • How do you process information? For example, suppose you are a probate attorney meeting with your client, Ms. Jones, who recently lost her husband. Ms. Jones begins to sob while describing her husband’s death. Do you find yourself also choking back tears? If so, you may be a feeling type. Or, do you find yourself focusing almost exclusively on the facts during the meeting, while expressing appropriate sympathy to Ms. Jones for her loss? This propensity indicates that you may be a thinking type.
  • How do you interact with the world? Do you set up your calendar a few months in advance, carving out adequate time to prepare for upcoming depositions while handling your other obligations? Or, do you prefer to be more flexible and adjust to the daily work flow? The former is more consistent with the judging type, while the latter indicates the perceiving type.

How Does Being an Introvert or an Extrovert Impact How an Attorney Approaches Career and Time Management?

On a typical Monday morning, Ernie Extrovert commutes to his office. His calendar consists of the 9:00 a.m. weekly office meeting; a 10:00 a.m. meeting with a client; a noon lunch meeting with a colleague from another law firm; and a brief court appearance at 3:00 p.m. Ernie spends a little time in his office answering e-mail, but otherwise is out and about. At 5:00 p.m., leaving his office to attend the annual Bar Awards dinner, Ernie feels energized! “A perfect day,” he thinks.

To the contrary, on the same Monday, Irene Introvert’s schedule mirrors that of Ernie’s. Although Irene is moderately introverted, she also truly enjoyed her day. Her meetings were productive; she had fun during lunch; and she achieved good results in court. As Irene leaves her office for the Bar Awards dinner, she thinks, “I had a great day, but I am exhausted. I wish I could go home, eat dinner quietly, and watch Downton Abbey instead of going to this event.”

Introverted attorneys can be terrific rainmakers, speak up in meetings, give rousing speeches, and achieve outstanding results in trial. And, significantly, introverted attorneys may sincerely enjoy engaging in each of these activities. Likewise, extroverted attorneys may be outstanding researchers and possess finely honed writing skills—and relish those tasks as an integral part of their legal careers. But Irene will not be energized by a day filled with meetings, social meals, and court appearances. Nor will Ernie be energized by a day alone in his office working on the computer.

If Irene had chosen to eat lunch by herself at her desk with a good book, she would have been energized by that activity and better able to attend the awards dinner with enthusiasm. Suppose Irene is giving a speech at the dinner? She might choose to have a quiet day working on her own, to maximize her energy for her speech. Conversely, if Ernie spent a day researching and writing, he might feel just as exhausted as Irene. If Ernie instead made scheduling decisions based, at least in part, on his tendency toward extroversion, Ernie might choose to break up his day of solitude by attending a Chamber of Commerce lunch.

Once you understand whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, and your propensity toward that type, you can manage your schedule more effectively. Specifically, you can adjust your schedule to maximize your energy throughout the day and allow it to peak for critical events such as giving a speech or arguing a motion. By knowledgeably harnessing your energy for key moments in your career, as well as for your day-to-day activities, you will be better able to achieve successful results on a consistent basis.

This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

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