Do you have a legal practitioner personality?

March 1st, 2018

By Emmie de Kock

Have you heard the joke of the legal practitioner who visits his cardiologist for his annual checkup? Waiting anxiously for his results, the cardiologist chuckles and says ‘I cannot find your heart, as you are an attorney.’ Or the one, when a legal practitioner’s wife said ‘I love you’, and he cross-examined her?

Legal practitioners – of course – have a very good sense of humour, but there may be a point where some may feel that legal practitioner jokes go too far in stereotyping the profession. Every legal practitioner is unique and different, however, if so many jokes about legal practitioners exist, do legal practitioners share similar traits? Is there in fact something like a ‘legal practitioner personality’?

Legal practitioners are not the only professionals who are stereotyped, the list also includes, accountants, engineers and ‘techies’.

When one then considers how legal practitioners are sometimes negatively stereotyped, the following traits often come up: Greed, dishonesty, confrontational or workaholics. Sometimes there may even be the incorrect perception that some of these traits are required to succeed in the legal profession.

Considering the nature of the job, the competitiveness, and often the seriousness of matters that legal practitioners have to deal with, legal practitioners generally do not like showing any vulnerability. It is likely that legal practitioners behave this way, because they are appointed and trained to represent clients fearlessly and to intimidate their opposition. To some extent, it could therefore, be considered part of a competent legal practitioner’s job to act a certain way, by always keeping it together, being in control and believing they are right. Listing these traits, one can think of, for instance, Harvey Spector, the main character of the popular television series Suits.

However, no person’s behaviour, thinking or belief system is solely dependent on their personality type. Other factors that play a role, may include cultural and religious upbringing, cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence and personal values. It should further be borne in mind that a person’s personality refers to their preference. A personality type is not an ability, nor is it an excuse for certain behaviour.

According to various sources, there are numerous personality theories and over hundreds of recognised personality types. One of the most popular personality assessment tools used is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI was created by a mother and daughter, Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, who based it on the personality studies of Carl Gustav Jung, who was a famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in the early 1900s.

The MBTI provides for 16 types of personality types based on eight concepts, measured on scales, expressed in percentages, contrasting each other. These eight concepts are each represented by a specific letter as briefly referred to below.

Extrovert (E)/Introvert (I)

There can easily be a misperception that an extrovert is always someone outgoing, charismatic and charming. While the true indicator to determine extroversion or introversion is actually whether a person acquires energy from being with other people, or not. This is not to say that extroverts do not also need time on their own. This also does not mean that introverts do not enjoy spending time with other people. It is just what you lean towards the most as preference.

Sensing (S)/Intuitive (N)

Very simply put, these concepts refer to the workstyle in which a person deals with information. A person who leans more towards ‘sensing’ usually likes a lot of facts and details and clear instructions. A person who leans more towards ‘intuitive’ usually likes to focus on the ‘bigger picture’ or ‘bottom line’. This is just an indication of most preferred workstyles of a person, and it is not to say that the ‘intuitive’ person cannot deal with details, or the ‘sensing’ person cannot see the big picture, as personality has nothing to do with ability.

Feeling (F)/Thinking (T)

Legal practitioners have to make decisions all day. Whether you are a ‘thinking’ person or a ‘feeling’ person, may influence how you make decisions. For instance, in the event that a candidate legal practitioner  is accused of making unauthorised use of the firm’s vehicle, a strong ‘thinking’ person may regard it as grounds for dismissal, while a strong ‘feeling’ person may regard harsh disciplinary steps as too severe and will rather try assess why the candidate legal practitioner did it. Considering this extreme example, one can imagine why conflict can arise between legal practitioner partners having to make decisions together.

Perceiving (P)/Judging (J)

Persons with a preference for ‘judging’ usually likes structure, organising and preparing for deadlines in advance. Persons with a preference for ‘perceiving’, generally do not prefer to work very systematic, operate well in organised chaos (with messy tables), and like rushing to make deadlines at the last minute.

What is your MBTI type? Take the test

Following the above, a person’s MBTI type is identified by a combination of four letters representing the most applicable contrasting concepts above. For instance, ENFJ or INTP.

There are many free and helpful online resources available, if you would like to assess your MBTI type. In this regard, you could consider doing the online test at  

To read more about the 16 different personality types provided for by the MBTI, you could also visit or

Knowing your MBTI status could give you insights in your personality’s strengths and weaknesses and your preferred work styles and environment.

It is further a general view that, unless a person experienced severe psychological or emotional trauma, their personality type will not change and stay the same throughout life. Generally, a person cannot merely decide to change their personality type.

According to Benjamin Snyder (‘Here’s the best job for you based on your personality type’ (, accessed 5-2-2018)) the best careers for, for instance, an ESTJ type is a chef, for ISTJ is a system administrator, for ENTJ is a physician, and for ISFJ is a kindergarten teacher.

According to an online article by Jennifer Alvey ‘The Lawyer Personality’ (, accessed 5-2-2018), most lawyers’ MBTI type is ISTJ. In the article ‘More on the Lawyer Personality’ (, accessed 5-2-2018),
Alvery refers to a study by Dr Larry Richard who lists the following as the top six MBTI types tested for legal practitioners, namely:

  • ISTJ (17,8%);
  • ESTJ (10,3%);
  • INTJ (13,1%);
  • ENTP (9,7%);
  • INTP (9,4%); and
  • ENTJ (9,0%).

Please note that this article is not meant as professional career advice and it is best to consult with a qualified industrial psychologist or certified MBTI professional for professional advice on the full interpretation and application of the MBTI tool. The MBTI further is a test, in which the test taker must validate results.

What if you do not have a ‘legal practitioner personality’?

Remember that no personality type is inherently better than another personality type, but that the MBTI may assist explaining why certain careers, jobs or positions may be more suitable, or a better natural fit, for some personality types, than for others. The MBTI may also be a helpful tool to help explain conflict between contrasting personalities in the workplace. Similarly, personalities with some contrasting traits, may also assist each other and work very well together to achieve more.

As your personality type is not a reflection of your skills or abilities, and merely an indication of your preferences, any person can gain experience, learn a new skill or behaviour to cope and excel in any situation.

Legal practitioner coaching is something which could assist legal practitioners who feel stuck or pressured in their careers. The purpose of legal practitioner coaching is to assist legal practitioners in improving their competence and maximising their natural personal and professional potential.


Have you ever, being a shoe size seven, try to fit in a shoe sized six? You may eventually succeed in getting your feet into the shoes, but it may take some stress, pain and effort. However, it is not the most comfortable experience.

Are you experiencing unnecessary strain in your career as a legal practitioner? Are you a happy legal practitioner? Are you in the best career or position for your personality type?

Consider doing a free MBTI online test and learn more about yourself and perhaps also acquire a better understanding for some of your colleagues.

Emmie de Kock BLC LLB (cum laude) (UP) is a coach and attorney at Emmie de Kock Coaching and Consulting in Centurion.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2018 (March) DR 22.

De Rebus