What the MBTI Reveals about Lawyers

Dr. Larry RichardSeason 2Episode 5


Widely known as an expert on the lawyer personality, Dr. Larry Richard (Founder and Principal Consultant of LawyerBrain LLC) gathered personality data on thousands of lawyers. On Simply Feedback, we speak with Dr. Richard about his findings on what makes lawyers tick, how they differ from the general population and how he helps leading law firms tackle their most important people issues.


Dr. Larry Richard

Dr. Larry Richard

Founder & Principal Consultant

Dr. Larry Richard is recognized as the leading expert on the psychology of lawyer behavior. He has advised dozens of AmLaw 200 law firms on leadership, management, and related issues such as teams, change management, talent selection, assessment, and other aspects of strategic talent management. Widely known as an expert on the lawyer personality, he has gathered personality data on thousands of lawyers.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Dr. Richard practiced law as a trial attorney for ten years. He then earned a Ph.D. in Psychology from Temple University. For more than 20 years, he has provided consulting services exclusively to the legal profession. Formerly a partner with Altman Weil, and more recently the head of the Leadership & OD Practice at Hildebrandt International, in 2011 he established his own consulting firm, LawyerBrain LLC, which focuses on improving lawyer performance through personality science. He focuses on resilience, change management, leadership, and talent issues.

He is a frequent author and speaker on the use of positive psychology and applied behavioral science in helping law firms to succeed. He is a Gallup-certified Strengths Coach, and a licensed user of the MBTI, DiSC, and 15 other assessment tools.


Troy Blaser: 0:05
Hello, welcome to another episode of Simply Feedback, the podcast from LearningBridge where we talk about all things related to feedback. Our guest today is Dr. Larry Richard, Dr. Richard is the Founder and Principal Consultant at LawyerBrain LLC, which is a consultancy specializing in helping to improve lawyer performance using personality science. He is widely regarded as one of the leading experts on the psychology of lawyer behavior. A former trial lawyer, Dr . Richard earned a Ph.D. In Psychology from Temple University, Dr. Richard advises the leadership of large and mid-sized law firms on people, issues, leadership, change management, professional development, motivation, and a range of other aspects of organizational behavior. He is an expert in the areas of lawyer personality, change management, Positive Psychology, Lawyer Resilience, Emotional Intelligence, group dynamics, and related areas. Larry, it's great to have you with us on Simply Feedback today. Thank you so much for joining us.
Dr. Larry Richard: 1:06
Thanks, Troy. It's a delight to be with you today.
Troy Blaser: 1:10
We've worked together for a long time and I'm excited to maybe just spend some time in conversation , um, getting to know you better and , and hearing some of your background and some of the projects that you've been able to work on over the years. It should be fun.
Dr. Larry Richard: 1:25
Sure. Happy to talk.
Troy Blaser: 1:26
I wanted to ask if you have a time in your life that somebody gave you some feedback, perhaps some feedback that had an impact on your life, on your career that maybe marked a turning point for you? Is there a story you could share with us?
Dr. Larry Richard: 1:41
I'm sure there are many such turning points. Probably the most impactful when I switched from law to psychology. In law, I probably got virtually no feedback that was useful. Lawyers are not particularly good at giving positive feedback. They are very good at telling you what you're doing wrong, but that isn't always helpful for improving your performance. In order to explain this, I have to give you a little bit of background. My graduate program was a very experiential organizational psychology program by which I mean, we didn't just sit in the classroom and read, you know, studies. We went on various experiences where we had to learn by doing, and those learn by doing experiences, often included giving and receiving feedback prior to graduate school, I would say I was actually afraid of feedback. I was afraid of what if I learned something I don't like or learn something I can't fix.
Troy Blaser: 2:50
I think you're very normal in that sense.
Dr. Larry Richard: 2:51
Yeah. It was something I just avoided, but in graduate school you can't avoid it. And so I got more feedback in graduate school than in the condensed period of graduate school than probably my entire life up to that point. And after a while you start hearing the same things and it becomes very useful to learn those things because there's some validity to the repeat , the repeated feedback. The first time I got one of these feedback sessions, there was a quiet guy who didn't say much during our work. We were actually doing some outdoor challenge work where they put you in a ropes course and you had to work with a team. And we did that all day long and we come back to the clubhouse at night and I forget this guy's name even.
Dr. Larry Richard: 3:46
And I got into a conversation with him and he says, you know, I really like working with you and that's been really helpful because you're so different from people that I normally encounter. And a lot of the ways that you think he said have really forced me to rethink some of my ideas for the better. I thought, well that's really helpful. I've never gotten feedback like that before. And , uh , he said, there's one other thing that he says, I'm hesitant to tell you this, but it's a very strong piece of feedback in my experience. He says, you're always selling yourself and it gets in the way of my seeing the real you. And I said, what do you mean selling myself? And he said, every time we have a conversation, you're recommending a book or you're telling me I must see this movie, or you're telling me I must do something this way or we should do this first and that second. And you say it in a voice with such confidence and assertiveness that it feels like there's no possibility of doing it any other way. And he said that robs me of my feeling that I have a choice. And it felt like a ton of bricks to have that feedback. I was stunned by it. I think he meant it as a kind offhand comment, but I couldn't even think of what to say back to him. I was silent for a minute. I processed it. And , um, from that point forward, I would say, yeah, I was far more aware of the way that I interacted with other people, especially that issue of, you know , what he called selling. I've since come to learn, as I studied personality psychology, that there is a personality trait called ego drive, which is all about the natural tendency to sell, just because ego-driven people like to convince other people, it makes them feel validated. And I'm very high, as you can imagine on ego drive.
Troy Blaser: 6:10
That seems like something , um, that feedback that once you're sort of made aware of this trait, you maybe start to see it in yourself more frequently or everywhere you look for a little while until you're able to figure out how to maybe change the way you speak or interact with others a little bit.
Dr. Larry Richard: 6:30
No, I think it's that old phenomenon of you're going to buy a new Chevy and suddenly you see Chevy's everywhere on the road.
Troy Blaser: 6:38
Yes, exactly.
Dr. Larry Richard: 6:40
You're absolutely right.
Troy Blaser: 6:42
That's a fantastic story. And I think it's a useful thing for all of us even to consider , um, you know, how , how does that come across in our own interactions with others, but also it seems like a balance that you would have to find in a career as a consultant, someone who's paid to make recommendations or to offer advice , um, to look at a situation and say, well, I would recommend that you do do X, Y, and Z. Um, are you able to find a balance there between too much recommendation or too much ego driven and not enough?
Dr. Larry Richard: 7:19
I think the way that I took his feedback, Troy, it was not stop ego driving people. It's like , I took it as stop ego driving people on autopilot that is without thinking about it. So to summarize the main point I'm making, what I learned in that session, that that moment of feedback is that feedback doesn't have to be taken as critical or taken as my way or the highway. It's really information that allows me to think more mindfully about how I'm behaving and gives me the opportunity to make a choice. And so there are situations where the best thing for me to do when I'm helping a client is to be directive. And there are other situations where it's really valuable to let the client struggle themselves without me being directive. And I try to be as mindful as I can about the moment so that I can make the call, which version of myself do I want to put out there.
Troy Blaser: 8:35
And it's also true that there are different ways of offering feedback, offering advice and counsel, whether it's directive, like you just mentioned, or if you are asking questions of the client that will help them find their own path or find their own conclusions and that feels probably has a different feel it than , than being directed .
Dr. Larry Richard: 8:57
Yeah, you're absolutely right. And I'm a big fan of asking questions. I think there are a very elegant way to help other people. And it's especially true since all of my clients are lawyers or people in the legal profession, lawyers are very, very defensive. And when you try to be assertive with a lawyer and directive with a lawyer, it triggers this need for them to push back. And that's not always a good thing. So asking questions is a much gentler way to often help them and to get to the same outcome without figuring that defensive nature.
Troy Blaser: 9:38
That makes sense. Larry , you've told us a great story about some of your time and the feedback that you received during your graduate program. I understand that as part of your dissertation, you did a study of over 3000 lawyers' Myers-Briggs types. Can you give us an idea of some of the principles or the things that you learned as part of that study about lawyers and maybe how they're different from the general population?
Dr. Larry Richard: 10:03
Sure. So for those of your listeners that know the Myers-Briggs , they may recall that the Myers-Briggs has four polar scales and those four scales, if you take one of each scale, you have 16 possible permutations extrovert, you know, versus introvert, sensing versus intuiting and so forth. And those 16 possibilities are always reported in a type table that is always laid out exactly the same. And if the universe were very uniform, you would expect six and a quarter percent of the population to score each of the 16 types that would add up to exactly a hundred, but of course, life is messier than that. It doesn't work out that way. And some of them like ISTJ introverted sensing thinking judging, and the top left corner occurs much more frequently in the population than other types and some occur very infrequently. Like INTJ , um, it's about 2% of the population. So when I studied lawyers, I expected to find that the lawyers were distributed like the general public. And the first trait that I looked at is the, the highest distribution, which was ISTJ. There were about 17% of US men were ISTJ's, and we had about the same proportion of lawyers. So it's a one-to-one. In other words, just as many ISTJ's go into men that go into law as there are in the general public. When I look at the INTJ, only changing one letter changes to a very, very dramatically different outcome, 2% in the general population, 15% of lawyers, this was just stunning. It's really , um, if I recall it's been a while since I looked at my dissertation data, I think it was 13% men and 15% of women. So this is a very, very lopsided, atypical outcome. And what it shows us is that the people who go into law really have a proclivity for a certain personality style. And they're very different from the general public that's one example of how they're different. There are a number of other ways that they're different, but I looked at the overall distribution of lawyer scores, and I was quite stunned to see how different they were from the public and how similar they were to each other. So another Myers-Briggs example , the last two letters of a person's type are either thinker versus feeler (T versus F) and judging versus perceiving (J versus P) w hile in the general population. The four possible pairings are about 2 5% o f each. But among lawyers, 50% of the lawyers in my study w ere thinking, judging (TJ) that w ould be ISTJ, ESTJ, INTJ, ENTJ, 50% of lawyers had a TJ score. That's just unheard of, and you look at that and you say, what is it about the law that attracts people like that? Well, fast forward , I gathered those data in the early nineties, so fast forward almost 30 years, it hasn't changed. The same people are still graduating law school , still going to law school, still getting into the practice of law. It's a very stable quality that's attracting these atypical lawyers. And it turns out that to be a good lawyer, there are certain personality qualities that self-select. So what we measured, for example, law students in their first year of law school, they already show these proclivities, these preferences for atypical traits, people who are not like the general public, who are like lawyers, tend to apply to law school and go to law school. And then the few that aren't like lawyers drop out at a predictably higher rate from law school than people who are like lawyers. So during the law school experience over the three years of training, it further concentrates the herd into people who look more like these outliers. And I've now since that original dissertation study in the nineties, I've now used about 15 other assessment tools, including my favorite, the Caliper profile, and all of the assessment tools. They all show the same basic story, which is lawyers are different from other people, and they're very similar to each other. And the qualities that make them different, make it helpful for practicing high quality law, but there's a catch. It also makes it a little more challenging for them to be good in other what let's call it, newer roles that they play, like being a leader, being a mentor, being a colleague, being a Rainmaker.
Troy Blaser: 15:40
That makes sense. What are some of those challenges? So those they're kind of people-related challenges inside of a, of a law firm, which is an organization like lots of other organizations, people might find themselves in, like you say, those lawyers they're going to have to practice law, but they also have to adopt some of those leadership roles or other kinds of inter-relational roles. What are some of the challenges that you find that are maybe unique to law firms?
Dr. Larry Richard: 16:07
So you're absolutely right about that. People skills are very much a part of most of the roles that we play in organizations and lawyers tend to be a little bit behind the curve on many of those people skills, especially the personality traits that support effective interpersonal skills. So let me give you an example, the highest outlier trait, and I'm going to switch from Myers-Briggs to the tests that I mentioned. The Caliper profile is more of an industrial strength test . It's got higher, statistical validity and reliability than Myers-Briggs. It's been established as a legally valid selection tool for hiring, whereas Myers-Briggs is not and it's got 18 traits instead of just four. So it's a really useful tool that let's you fine tune what you learn about a person.
Dr. Larry Richard: 17:08
Well, of the 18 traits in any occupational subgroup lawyers, accountants, teachers you'd expect that the traits which are scored unlike the Myers-Briggs , where it's categorical, you're either this or you're that. In a high statistically valid and reliable tests, like the Caliper, they use a percentile scale. It's a continuous scale, zero to a hundred percent. You can score anywhere along that scale, but like most other continuous scales of anything rainfall, your weight , temperature there's a tendency for the data to cluster in a bell curve formation. So the majority of people will score in the middle 40 to 60, and then you have fewer people scoring toward the ends of the bell curve. That's what you'd expect when you measure any occupation that all 18 Caliper traits would fall into that bell curve with most people averaging in the middle, but lawyers are different. Seven of their 18 traits, average below 40 or above 60, which is just astonishing. And I've looked at those seven traits and they show me that the traits that lawyers are outliers in on this test really, really help them be good lawyers, but really interfere with what you were talking about, the people skills and some of the other tasks that they have. So here are a couple of examples. The number one outlier trait on this test is skepticism. High scoring lawyers, average, average 90th percentile on skepticism where the public average is 50%. Why would that be the case? Because the practice of law requires lawyers to always challenge any assertions that people make to question any documents, to be vigilant about people's motives in other words, to be skeptical so that they can protect their clients. So it's a perfectly rational thing to be. If you're a lawyer, the problem is if you also want to step into a leadership role, if you also want to be a mentor, if you want to be a good colleague to your partners, all of those other roles require good interpersonal skills, including trust. And guess what skepticism, if you took the opposite of the skepticism scale, it would be trust. Doesn't make sense. There's two ends of a Seesaw. So people who are really good at being skeptical, not so good at forming trust. So it makes it challenging. And many of the other traits work the same way.
Troy Blaser: 19:57
Interesting. So yeah, there's a tension there between those two characteristics, skepticism and trust. And like you say, several other sets of characteristics as well.
Dr. Larry Richard: 21:17
Larry, in the work that you do, LearningBridge has been able to work with you on a number of projects over the years , particularly around the Upward Feedback that happens inside of an organization. Can you talk a little bit about your philosophy around feedback as you engage with a law firm. How do you incorporate feedback into the work that you do? Maybe in particular with the Upward Feedback, you could explain what that is and how you use it in your work.
Dr. Larry Richard: 21:45
Sure. Feedback is indispensable in certainly in a law firm which is the environment I'm most familiar with, but I think it's indispensable in just about anything that we do. The first thing is one of the things I've learned over the years is that feedback, that is what I'll call operational is much more useful than feedback that is judgmental . So what's the difference? Judgemental feedback is, Hey Troy, I don't like the way you're doing this. Well , great. What am I, what can I do with that? Operational feedback is, Hey Troy, when you raise your voice, as you're asking a question, it makes me recoil because I think you're angry at me. Oh, I didn't know that maybe I can modulate the tone of my voice. So it's, it's practical feedback that is giving you objective facts about when you do X, I experience Y . And so I try to design our systems of feedback so that they're more operational and that they discouraged judgmental feedback. The second thing is feedback is critical to partners because partners by definition are more senior. There are people who have gone through the training as an associate and have met some criteria that make them worthy of being invited into the partnership as owners of the business. That also means that they are more experienced more senior. And when people are more senior, they get less feedback. It's just a part of the way life works in a hierarchical organization that as you get more senior and take on more responsibility and become more adept and, and more valued as a practitioner, you're also more intimidating to younger people, and they're not going to give you feedback as readily. And so having a mechanism that allows you to get feedback from people that could be so valuable to you is a very worthwhile venture. And so upward evaluation is basically asking the younger, less experienced more junior people, the associates to evaluate the senior people who give them work. Usually it's partners. Sometimes it's younger people like senior associates, but it's basically young people evaluating more senior people. And then it has another feature that's very helpful, which is I talked earlier about the Caliper traits that characterize lawyers and the outlier nature of those traits. One of the other outliers is resilience. A high resilience score is characterized by somebody who, when they get criticized , takes it in stride and doesn't get that out of shape and they bounce right back and sometimes maybe use it or just let it roll off their back. But a low resilience person, the slightest criticism can upset them, make them feel wounded and hurt and get very defensive. And that means that they won't take in the feedback. So the question is, how can we increase the validity of the feedback and tone down the threat level of the feedback, the Upward Evaluation does both of those things. It increases the receptivity because it's more valid. If one person said you don't look at me when you're talking, I can say, well, you don't pay attention, right? Or something like that. I could get defensive, but if 10 people rate me and nine of them say, you don't look at me when you're talking. It's really hard for me to ignore that because there's the value of large numbers. They start to tell a story and they add weight. They add heft , they add credibility to the feedback and multi-rater feedback of which Upward Evaluation is just one type gives us that heft. It gives us that multiple data points that make it easier for a partner who's on the receiving end to say, well, there might be something there. Maybe I should pay attention to this.
Troy Blaser: 26:27
And even, even if the partner thinks that's just not true, I really do look at people when I'm talking. Regardless when nine people have said have said that the perception is there and the partner needs to figure out how to address that perception of people think that I don't look at them when I'm talking. That's nine out of ten people said so.
Dr. Larry Richard: 26:47
Yeah, that's a very good point, Troy. And that's something that we pay attention to a lot in giving feedback, because it feels less like a trigger that's gonna make somebody, you know, it's less likely to make a feedback, recipient defensive. If you say people have the perception that you do X. I don't know if you do it or not, but you don't want to go through your career with people thinking that, and maybe some of it has to do with them. But if there's anything at all that you could adjust, that's within your control, that could change the way they're reacting to you. Wouldn't that be worth looking at? And that's a really successful formula for getting even the most defensive people to open up and pay attention to this lovely gift of feedback.
Troy Blaser: 27:40
It's much less threatening. It makes them feel like they have a little bit more control there . They can, they can control the dial on that perception and figure out ways to move effectively. Well, Larry, we started the conversation, you shared a great story about a time when you received some feedback that had an impact on your life, as you have worked with clients over the years, is there a time or an experience that you can remember when you have seen feedback cause a point of inflection in someone else's career, as you've had a chance to work with them?
Dr. Larry Richard: 28:14
I've had lots of those. I think the most poignant one is I was working with a firm . This is quite a number of years ago, maybe 15 years ago. And I was using the Myers-Briggs at the time. And I gave it to all the partners in this relatively small firm. There were only about 30 partners. And when we got to thinking versus feeling , I had them all line up because it's very helpful to have people line up physically in a room so you can kind of see where people stand relative to their scores. And we had a few people on the feeler side, maybe, you know , eight people out of 31 on the feeler side. And they were curious. All of the thinker partners were lined up and looking at the feelers on the other side of the room going, huh, isn't that interesting? And they're trying to relate what they know about these partners in terms of their behavior, to the fact that now we know you're all feel, you all have this common trait of feeler, huh? What is it about you that's different from us? And you could see their minds working on that. Now I look at the thinker side of the room and everybody's bunched up from zero to about 20 points. This is a nice, a nice distribution. And then there's nobody from 20 points to 29 points. And there's one guy who had a 30 point scale, which is the highest you can get named Frank and Frank is standing there out in the woods and he says , um , okay, can you tell me why I'm standing way out here? Why isn't anyone else around me and what the, and I'm going to clean up his language. What the blank does this mean? He was kind of a no-nonsense person, which is in keeping with his strong position on the thinker scale. And I explained to him the difference between thinker versus feeler, there are two ways that people approach decision-making, feelers based their decisions on more personal values and thinkers are more objective and detached and thinkers when they're strong, can sometimes be very critical, but they don't mean it in a hurtful way. They mean it in a way that is informational. Let me give you bluntly the most useful information that I have observed about you. Sometimes because they're interested in getting that core information to you as swiftly as possible, they may be less attentive to tactfulness than the feeler group. And Frank stops literally stops in his tracks . And I thought he stopped breathing for a minute . He just stopped and thought for the longest time and look quizzically at the whole group and said, turn away from me and turned to his partners and said, am I ever critical with you? And every partner in the room looked at their shoes. And they didn't say a word. And Frank said, okay, you don't have to say anything. I get it. And he looked at me, he said, I don't, again, blankety blank believe it. He was big on expletives, I don't blankety blank, believe it. But I got to do a lot more thinking about this. And we went on and did the rest of the session. He didn't say a word for the rest of the session. I then had a touchback with the firm the next week too with the executive committee. So I met with the three leaders of the firm and they said, you know, Frank, I don't know what you did, but Frank has not been the same since last week. And every meeting we've had with him, he's been like a perfect gentleman . It's really like the oddest thing. It's like Frank showed up. And I'm sad to say the reason it's so poignant. About two years after that workshop, he died suddenly of a heart attack. And the managing partner came to me and said, you know, from the day we had that retreat to the day he died, he never said a mean critical thing again. And they say that one shot feedback doesn't work. But that was clearly an example of one moment that was so powerful for this man that it literally changed the way he related to his partners.
Troy Blaser: 33:24
That made a big difference. That that must be gratifying to you to have those kinds of experiences where you've been able to sort of facilitate that feedback for someone to change the way that they view their colleagues, the way that they view their career and hopefully for the better, hopefully to improve those interactions with the other people inside of a law firm or the organization that you're working with.
Dr. Larry Richard: 33:52
Well , you know, it's, it is gratifying. And it's a tricky thing, Troy , because I always feel best when I can help people achieve the goals that they're trying to achieve and to improve themselves in a way that they feel like they did it themselves. I don't want to take credit for their change. There's an old book written by a psychotherapist that I read years ago called if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. And the sentiment of the book was he was writing about his therapy practice and he said, look, I'm here to help you discover yourself. And if you think I'm the one that did it, then when you terminate therapy, you're going to think you need me, but it's really that you've discovered something about yourself. And one of those things you've discovered is you have the tools to be okay. And so I always liked that approach and I try to do that in my consulting work. So yes, it's gratifying, but it's a private type of gratification.
Troy Blaser: 35:15
That makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. Well, Larry, this has been fascinating for me. We have worked together for a long time, but I don't know that we've ever necessarily had this type of a conversation. I really enjoyed that and if people want to know more or if they want to continue the conversation with you, is that something that you're open to?
Dr. Larry Richard: 35:34
Oh, of course. Sure. They can just go to my website, LawyerBrain.com, and my contact info is there.
Troy Blaser: 35:41
LawyerBrain.com. That's a great company name. I really liked that. I appreciate your insights and the work that you do and it's a pleasure to work with you as we have for so many years.
Dr. Larry Richard: 35:53
Well likewise Troy, I have really valued our relationship and the opportunity to work with your company. And it has been a long time and I hope it's continuous for a long time.
Troy Blaser: 36:05
Well, thanks again. Like I said, I've really enjoyed the time we've been able to spend together today. Thank you very much.