Collaborative Lawyers – A Different Type Indeed (Part I)

There’s been loads written about lawyers and psychological type.   Larry Richard did a landmark study in the early 90’s that became his doctoral dissertation all about lawyers and psychological type.   It has even been the subject of  many Law Review Articles (a place you’d expect only to see hyper technical discussions of the law for lawyers).

There are 4 pairs of preferences and 16 combinations.  We have many ways to slice the same orange.  Most important for this post – David Keirsey devised 4 overall temperaments from these combinations.  You can explore his ideas and take his Keirsey Temperament Sorter here

Since the ancient Greeks, philosophers and psychologists have grouped people into categories that, over time, are remarkably similar.  Keirsey’s Temperaments offer a wonderful window into this world of observation.  The combination of the practical, down-to-earth Sensing preference with the flexible, play-it-as it lays Perceiving preference brings us the SP Artisan.  (Reading some of the links above will give some concise background of these preferences.)   The combination of this same Sensing preference with the organized, results-oriented Judging preference brings us the SJ Guardian.  Combining the ever-inquisitive, speculating Intuitive preference with the logical, “how does it all fit together” Thinking preference results in the NT Rational.  Finally, the same meaning-seeking Intuition preference, when combined with the empathic, personal values-driven Feeling prerence results in the NF Idealist.

Let’s take a close look at each of these:

The SP Artisan lives for today.  As Keirsey says, “Artisans are most at home in the real world of solid objects that can be made and manipulated, and of real-life events that can be experienced in the here and now.”  Artisan’s “go for it,” whatever their “it” may be, and resist limitations and rules if they stand in the way.  Artisans are likely to have winning personalities and can be excellent at enjoying life.  They’re not big cogitators.  Elvis and FDR are representative Artisans in their different fields.  About 30-35% of the general population tend toward the Artisan temperament.

The NF  Idealist values values.  Supporting others to deepen their personal growth and well-being are ardent pursuits of the Idealist.  Keirsey says that , “Idealists dream of creating harmonious, even caring personal relations, and they have a unique talent for helping people get along with each other and work together for the good of all.”

Idealists base their self image on empathy, authenticity and benevolence.  They tend to hold themselves to quite a high standard of personal integrity.   Representative Idealists include Mohandas Ghandi and Oprah Winfrey.  About 15 – 20% of the general population tend toward the Idealist temperament.

The SJ Guardian is the pillar of whatever community they may find themselves a part of.  Reliable, steady, realistic and stalwart, Guardians find their greatest value in being an integral part of a greater whole.  As Keirsey notes, ” if there’s a job to be done, they can be counted on to put their shoulder to the wheel. Guardians also believe in law and order, and sometimes worry that respect for authority, even a fundamental sense of right and wrong, is being lost.”   Guardians tend to trust authority and are comfortable in a leadership role.  They tend to be conservative, in that change can make them uneasy.

  Representative Guardians are George Washington and actor James Stewart, in his many iconic roles from Mr. Smith going to Washington to George Bailey in Its a Wonderful Life.  About 40-45% of the population tend toward the Guardian temperament.


 Finally, the NT Rational is the pragmatic, ingenious seeker of knowledge and accomplishment.  If there is one word that characterizes the goal of the Rational, it is competence.   As Keirsey says, “They are rigorously logical and fiercely independent in their thinking — are indeed skeptical of all ideas, even their own — and they believe they can overcome any obstacle with their will power. Often they are seen as cold and distant, but this is really the absorbed concentration they give to whatever problem they’re working on.”   Rationals may see themselves – and others will see them – as technicians.  Precision – in thinking and language – is highly valued.

Bill Gates and Thomas Jefferson are quintissential Rationals.  Approximately 5 – 10% of the general population tend toward the Rational temperament.

As we will see in the next post, the array of these different temperaments in the legal population and in the collaborative law community may speak volumes about who lawyers are – and the kinds of people who have struck out along the path of Collaborative Law.

Collaborative Lawyers – A Different Type Indeed (Part II)

(I’d suggest you check out Part I of this 2-part post to get the foundation for what I’m going to be talking about here.)

So…..where was I?  Ah, yes – we have some really good information about lawyers and the kinds of temperament categories they tend to fall into.   Larry Richard’s huge study of lawyers and psychological type gave us a ton of insight.  The first interesting bit is that, while about 30-35% of the general population falls into the SP Artisan temperament, only  9.1% of lawyers fall into this category – definitely  the smallest percentage.  This makes sense when you think about it – as lawyers really aren’t encouraged to go-go-go and live for the moment.  While being quick on your feet and able to put out the fire is a valuable trait for a lawyer, it is much more valuable to be prepared.  The next least likely temperament you are likely to find among lawyers is the NF Idealist.  Studies have shown that Idealists experience the highest drop-out rate in law school.  The intense adversarial world of litigation (the meat and potatoes of legal practice for the last 40 years) makes the profession quite uncongenial for the Idealist lawyer or law student.  Richard found that 14.7% of lawyers were Idealists, about the same percentage as in the general population.  (Teaser alert!: There are way, w-a-y, more Idealists in the Collaborative Lawyer sample – see below.)  The next most common temperament among lawyers today is the SJ Guardian – the conservative, pillar of the community, who is preoccupied with everyone doing the right thing.  Of the 16 personality types, the one with the greatest presence (17.8% of the total) is one of the 4 Guardian types (ISTJ).  Fully 35% of the lawyer population are Guardians.  I would suggest that this temperament reflected the prevailing approach to work and life of the lawyer community in an earlier era, before the “law as a business” crew came into prominence about 40 years ago.   This also pretty much tracks the number of folks in the general population, in which 40-45% (by far the greatest percentage) are Guardians.  Finally, the NT Rational accounts for 41.2% of Larry Richard’s lawyer study population.  This makes sense!  Lawyers are focused on the outcome, are encouraged from their first class in law school (and throughout their careers) to be logical, dispassionate and technically brilliant.  In any battle between the head and the heart with these people, Head Wins.  Every time.  What is particularly striking is that in the general population, only 5-10% are Rationals.  I’ll leave it to you to ponder the significance of such a huge majority of lawyers tending toward a temperament that a meager part of the general public shares.  Now, here is where Collaborative Lawyers are such an anomoly.

In the early Spring, I conducted a Myers-Briggs workshop for members of the Puget Sound collaborative community.  Lawyers, mental health professionals and financial specialists all took part – yet the vast majority of this group (22 of 32) were lawyers.  Each person completed the Myers Briggs Type Indicator Self Scoring Instrument.  Of this group, not-a-one demonstrated an SP Artisan or SJ Guardian temperament.  Of the 22 lawyers, only 5 demonstrated the NT Rational temperament that is so dominant among lawyers nationally and 17 of the total (77%) were NF Idealists.  Given that the general lawyers population is comprised of only 14.7% Idealists, this difference is pretty amazing.  (I realize our sample size was rather low, but still…….this difference is, well, ponderable.)

So what can we make of this?  Well, for starters, it explains the intensity and passion with which most collaborative lawyers embraced this form of practice.  The damage inflicted by conventional litigated divorce would be of particular distress (both professionally and personally) to people who tended towards an NF Idealist temperament.  My observation is that a great number of Idealist lawyers are terribly unfulfilled with their profession.   Anyone who responds to the phrase “law as a healing profession” will find the aggressive, adversarial, “my client over all, regardless of the damage to others” ethos of  today’s legal world very disheartening, indeed.  When collaborative law came around, you can imagine it seeming like an oasis for the NF Idealist family lawyer community. 

Also, an approach to conflict resolution that seeks to address the interests of all is quintessentially NF.  The collaborative Participation Agreement, in which peoples’ good faith forms an explicit cornerstone is, again, characteristic of NF law practice.   When we tell our clients that we expect them to bring their best selves to this challenging process – and that we will help them be their best selves – we are acting as Idealist lawyers.   In many ways, Collaborative Practice provides a  home for many exceptional, caring people who might otherwise have drifted away from this wonderful profession – which provides so much opportunity to do good without harming others.

Small wonder that 77%  of the lawyers (and a similar percentage of financial experts and (of course) mental health people) within our collaborative community are drawn to the Idealist temperament.