From the polite, determined style of Atticus Finch to the high-octane courtroom drama of Elle Woods, there's no denying lawyers have a certain mystique. But what does it really take to be successful in the legal profession?
At first glance, becoming a lawyer looks simple enough: finish school, pass the bar exam, and voila – you have your ticket to courtroom stardom. But of course it's much more complicated than that. In reality, there are many different types of lawyers and each one has its own work style, expertise and even culture.
If you're planning a career in law, it's important to take the time and get informed about the options that are available to you. The best place to start? Figuring out if the type of law you’re interested in is a good match for your personality.
What does a lawyer do?
Lawyers provide legal advice and represent their clients in all proceedings that involve the law. Within that broad description, a lawyer's job can vary from day to day, depending on the type of attorney they are and the case they’re working on. It could involve researching legal issues, preparing documents, representing clients in court proceedings, negotiating settlements and more.
Lawyers must stay up-to-date with legal developments, so they can provide their clients with the best advice.
What are the skills needed to become a lawyer?
Becoming a lawyer requires a unique set of skills. Here’s a quick overview:
- Communication: Both written and oral communication skills are key. Lawyers need to effectively draft legal documents and present arguments in court.
- Critical and analytical thinking: Lawyers often interpret legal documents and analyze complex cases. This requires a sharp, analytical mind.
- Organizational skills: Law can be a detail-oriented profession. Being organized will help you keep track of these details.
- Resilience: Lawyers argue by presenting facts and fighting for their clients’ interests. This requires a level of resilience and a determination to win. You need to have a thick skin and the ability to stay clam and keep going when emotions are running high.
- Networking and persuasion: Finding (and keeping) clients is essential. An ability to win friends and influence people will be just as important as your technical mastery of the law as you promote yourself and your law firm to acquire new business.
Which personality types make the best lawyers?
Personality plays an important role in success as a lawyer. While there's no single personality type associated with the legal profession, certain personality types are more common than others among successful lawyers.
Big Five personality traits of lawyers
It takes several years of intensive study and training to prepare for a career in law, so there is little doubt that the Big Five personality trait of Conscientiousness is essential for anyone interested in this career path.
Conscientious people are highly organized and never overlook important details, and these two characteristics are required to manage many cases and deadlines at the same time and stay on top of all of them. They also have the tenacity and stick-to-it attitude that will help the legal eagle keep their nose to the grindstone until they have acquired the necessary expertise in their chosen area of specialization - or won their case.
For some types of law, Extraversion is also important. Trial lawyers, for example, must have confidence and the gift-of-the-gab to present their case boldly and turn on the charm when it is appropriate to do so. For other types of law, high levels of Extraversion could be a disadvantage. Tax, trusts and real estate law require a lot of independent research and writing and less in-court time, and Introverts might excel in this type of in-depth work.
Holland Code interest areas of lawyers
The Holland Code is another important tool for matching personality with career options. This well-known career aptitude test classifies your personal work interest areas in six categories, and jobs into the same six categories so you can easily match your interests and skills with suitable careers.
The most common interest areas related to law are Thinking, Persuading and Organizing.
- Thinkers (originally called Investigation in the Holland Code) are able to think logically, evaluate facts objectively and come up with creative solutions to problems.
- Persuaders (originally called Enterprising in the Holland Code) have an aptitude for convincing other people to buy something, or to accept a particular point of view. Trial lawyers likely will score high in this area.
- Organizers (originally called Conventional in the Holland Code) are structured thinkers who like order and thrive in environments where they can impose rules and regulations.
People with a Helping (Supporting) style may also find a home in law, especially in areas such as nonprofit law or family law where they can apply their skills to help people in need.
Myers and Briggs types of lawyers
Every one of the 16 types has the potential to succeed as a lawyer, although some may be better than others at certain areas of law. Here's how it breaks down:
Theorist types (ENTJ, INTJ, ENTP, INTP) are often drawn to complex, research-heavy areas of law such as corporate, environmental, patent or tax law. These types value logic, expertise, rationality and concept mastery, and will often excel in these specialized areas. The ENTJs and ENTPs in the bunch may also be suited to courtroom litigation, especially in complex areas such as fraud or malpractice.
Responders (ESTP, ISTP, ESFP, ISFP) can be both advocates and advisors and the performers of this group, ESTPs and ESFPs, may be attracted to the drama of trial law. However, being a lawyer might be difficult for Responders. This types enjoy novelty and dislike structured, repetitive work. They may gravitate towards a legal environment that allows them more freedom, flexibility and hands-on problem solving, such as in-house counsel roles.
Empath or Idealist types (INFJ, INFP, ENFJ, ENFP) might prefer a public interest law firm, nonprofit, or any place where there’s a commitment to serving a greater good. Empaths are drawn towards ethics and social justice over power and prestige, so they may find a home working for the rights of the underprivileged or marginalized.
Preservers (ISTJ, ISFJ, ESTJ and ESFJ) value order, stability, group membership, and rules. These capabilities may make them successful in a wide variety of legal settings, from corporate counsel to family law.
How to get started on a legal career path
Before committing to any career path, it’s important to test the waters and see if it’s right for you. Career aptitude testing is an excellent tool that can help you assess your skills and interests to see if a career in law might be the right fit for you. Career testing can also help you identify what you do best so you can explore the legal specialties that might be best suited to your strengths while avoiding areas where you don’t feel as comfortable or confident.
Based on the Holland Code and Big Five systems, Truity’s Career Personality Profiler is a comprehensive assessment of your interests, career values, aptitudes and motivations. As well as identifying your personal work style, it will give you a list of career options where you are likely to naturally excel. If you’re considering law school or a legal career, this would be an excellent place to start.
The good news is that every personality type has its own unique potential within the diverse profession of law. Find your fit, and you'll be ready to build a successful career. Case closed!