25. September 2020

How do lawyers tick – and does this help with regard to team management?

In the previous posts in my blog, I spoke about trends in the market, about strategy, business model design and client focus in law firms. The next few posts will be devoted to leadership.

Let’s first have a look in the mirror! What is typical of us lawyers as personalities? There is an interesting study about this by Larry Richard. He examined and categorised important personality traits of a great number of professionals. Subsequently, he compared the results from various professional groups with each other. This comparison yielded amazing results for lawyers.

How do we read this graph? The light green columns represent the average rate of personality trait manifestation of all the interviewees. The dark green columns represent the lawyers. It won’t escape you that we aspire to autonomy much more strongly than others. This is of course in keeping with our widespread self-image, according to which we ultimately operate as “lone warriors” even though we are part of a law firm team. It is also conspicuous that we are distinctly more sceptical than other professionals. This is undoubtedly a healthy manifestation of this personality trait of lawyers. We also clearly differ from all the others with regard to urgency – what Wolfgang Weiss once translated into “I want everything, and I want it now!” So far, so good. Autonomy, scepticism and urgency are important characteristics which help us to do our work in the service of our clients in a sound and dedicated manner.

The results concerning the last two criteria of Richard’s study are likely to be less easily digestible. Apparently, we are rather unsociable fellows in comparison with others. And – this is the relevant interpretation of “resilience” in this particular context – we are less able than others to be self-critical. Here, we are indubitably dealing with weaknesses of our professional group. These weaknesses naturally have the potential to have a negative impact in contacts with both our clients and with the members of our teams. Evidently, we’re occasionally our own worst enemies! It goes without saying that this assessment may be applicable to a statistically relevant group of the lawyer population, but not necessarily also to the kind readers of this blog.

Still, there is a certain amount of evidence that owing to the personality traits that are typical of lawyers, we are difficult to lead and, conversely, are not exactly equipped a priori with the most advantageous characteristics required by leaders. But let’s leave it at that for the time being! In my next posts, I will try to show how we can create productive teams and good leadership in law firms even though the going is not all that good.

About the author
Prof. Dr. Leo Staub Academic Director of the Executive School of Management, Technology & Law at the University of St.Gallen until May 2020 and Professor Emeritus of Private and Business Law at the University of St. Gallen.