Bashing the bashful

April 30, 2012

Can lawyers still be introverts?

Photo: ThinkStock

The definition of a good lawyer has changed. Once, it was all about delivering great legal advice. Now lawyers need also skills in marketing, business development, key account management and the negotiation of alternative pricing structures.

Admittedly, partners have always been responsible for bringing in new clients and maintaining those relationships. But now they also have to cross-sell them into other practices and deliver any number of added-value services. That low-key monthly game of golf simply won’t cut it anymore.

Essentially, law firms are increasingly valuing all things extrovert. The idea of the quiet, introverted lawyer doesn’t quite go with this new profile of a go-getting, assertive type who is never short of the right words to tease out revenue.

The introvert – together with the quiet office-for-one in which you can have a good old think – is running out of track. And for a large percentage of us, that’s a problem.

Statistically shy

Most lawyers are naturally introverts. According to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), 57 per cent of lawyers in the US are introverts rather than extroverts, compared to just 25 per cent of the general population.

They are also ‘intuitive’ as opposed to ‘sensing’ (57 per cent compared to 30 per cent in the general population) and ‘thinkers’ rather than ‘feelers’ (78 per cent of lawyers compared to 47 per cent of the general population).

So in shifting to the values of extroversion, will law firms increasingly fail to nurture the natural talents of the majority of their rather more introverted workforce?

Given that law seems to be something of a draw for introverts, it is perhaps no coincidence that the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was written by a former corporate lawyer, Susan Cain.

It has made waves in the press for tackling the introvert/extrovert debate head-on – and become a bestseller in the process.

Many lawyers will identify with some of Cain’s experiences. She describes, for instance, the first time she had to head up an important negotiation between a South American manufacturing company that was about to default on a bank loan, and its bankers.

She writes, describing herself (Laura) in the third person:

Everyone waited for Laura to reply, but she couldn’t think of anything to say. So she just sat there. Blinking. All eyes on her. Her clients shifting uneasily in their seats. Her thoughts running in a familiar loop: I’m too quiet for this kind of thing, too unassuming, too cerebral.

She goes on to navigate the negotiation brilliantly, partly because she asks an awful lot of questions, but largely because she retains her reserve even when one of the bankers storms out of the room. A deal is struck and ‘Laura’ even gets a job offer out of it.

Distinct advantage

Cain uses the scene as an example of the underrated skills of the introvert. But what ‘Laura’ does in that boardroom is exactly what you would expect from a lawyer – taking a calm, methodical approach to a complex and sensitive situation.

In this day and age where the majority of clients may well be extroverts, the introvert has a distinct advantage. It’s a point of differentiation and a means of applying a way of thinking that may otherwise be lacking.

This doesn’t mean that a law firm should stop expecting its lawyers to be marketers, business developers and all the rest.

But it does mean that we should embrace the qualities that have long gone into making successful lawyers – realising that many great lawyers need a working environment that allows them the quiet space to perform at their best. CP

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