Are Great Lawyers Born?
Does your personality dictate how far you’ll go?
By Fiona Craig, Owner, Fiona Craig Careers Are Great Lawyers Born?

Have you ever wondered why some people just seem so natural in certain roles? Is there someone in your team who you think was probably born to be a lawyer? It turns out you could be right.

Maybe you took a career sort or test while you were still at school, before you decided what you were going to study at university. I remember doing a test called jig-cal that spat out a number of suggested careers. I don’t believe lawyer was one of them, even though that’s where I started out my working life. Maybe I should have read my report more carefully.

What many people would call our “personality” type most certainly has an impact on whether we enjoy and are particularly successful in a given career.

In some careers it’s more obvious than others. In a front-line sales role you’d expect to see a person who’s bold, outgoing and unafraid of rejection. In a rocket scientist you’d possibly expect a quieter, more reserved, intellectual type who always has his/her nose stuck in a book and talks in highly technical terms.

What makes a lawyer?

So what about lawyers? What type of “personality” makes an ideal lawyer? And, is it possible to tell from a personality profile whether you are suited to a role or not?

Firstly, let me explain the purpose of most “personality profiles”. You may have heard of, or completed, at some point in your career: DISC profile; Extended DISC profile; Myers Briggs; LSI, Hermann Brain – these are all commonly used assessment tools.

I call them tools because that’s exactly what they are: tools to help you or your manager/potential employer understand how you are most likely to behave in certain conditions, usually when under pressure. What these tools actually measure is not your personality as such, but the behavioural traits of segments of the population who are similar to you.

In particular, behavioural profiling tools help you understand your preferred style of communication and work and, importantly, teach you how to use your own style to understand and better communicate with others, and get better results at work.

I work with many lawyers helping them with career advancement and performance, and while it is dangerous to over-generalise, most have a reasonably similar profile. Generally, they are:

  • Stable
  • Trustworthy
  • Patient
  • Thorough
  • Show attention to detail
  • Analytical
  • Factual

If you’re familiar with any form of DISC profiling, most lawyers sit within the S and C categories (Stability and Compliance).

Given the nature of legal study and practice, it’s not a great surprise that people with these natural tendencies are drawn towards the law. It’s also reassuring to know that the majority of our lawyers are stable, trustworthy and have a great eye for detail!

The downside of conscientiousness

However, on the flip side, it’s also generally true that often people with these characteristics do not find managing or leading people, nor building a practice (ie selling) comes naturally to them. It will often take a lot of their energy to do these things well. Many will simply either never be interested nor confident enough to do them in the first place.

Yet, in a highly competitive legal market-place, it’s accepted that to make it to the top of your profession, you actually have to be an “all-rounder.” That is, you must be very strong technically, but you also need client building and staff management skills.

If you do sit mainly in the S and C categories, how do you build the skills needed to progress in your career?

The light at the end of the tunnel

The good news is that you are not your behaviour. What that means is even if certain types of behaviour don't come naturally to you, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn them.

Think about a child learning how to behave in public. A four year-old child only knows that it’s polite to say please and thank you because they’re taught it is the proper way to behave. We can learn behaviour - both good and bad.

Here are some tips to help you make it to the top in law (and these apply regardless of your profile).

1. Understand Your Strengths

In a room of 100 lawyers I spoke with earlier this year, only four could tell me straight off the bat what their three top strengths are.

Invest time and, if necessary, seek assistance, to allow you to understand what your own behavioural profile is. What are the traits and characteristics that drive your behaviour, your decision-making and your communication style?

Once you know this, you can create a plan on how to use your strengths even more every day to move forward in your career and enhance your existing skills and career profile.

A recent Gallup study found that using our strengths correlated closely with positive employee engagement. Put simply, the more opportunity you have to do what you’re good at every day, the more likely you are to enjoy your job.

2. Skills Gap Analysis

Once you understand your own profile and skills, undertake a skills gap analysis to understand which areas you need to focus on.

If you are a Stable and Compliant lawyer and you want to step up to Senior Associate or Partner, inevitably you will have to demonstrate skills in client development and people management.

The earlier you identify the gaps in your profile and skills, the sooner you’ll be able to undertake training, coaching and mentoring to close the gaps.

3. Invest in Your Personal and Professional Development

You probably have a personal trainer to keep you in shape. You have a regular hairdresser and beautician to keep you looking great. You invest in a fabulous wardrobe to look the part at work. You might have a cleaner at home to help your house stay clean and tidy.

But what about your personal and professional development? Who helps you look after what are essentially two of the most important aspects of your life?

Find mentors internally and externally, invest in coaching and ask your firm what training programs you can take to grow and progress.

Ultimately, it’s YOUR responsibility to look after your career and ensure you have the skills and traits necessary to progress to whatever level you want.

I suggest you take that responsibility seriously and invest the time and resources needed. As a stable, trustworthy and detail-focused lawyer, it’s the least you can do.





Getting Promotion Ready
A Solicitor’s Guide to Climbing the Career Ladder

12 skills every lawyer must master
Skills so vital all lawyers need them to progress