The Introverted Pessimistic Perfectionist

BRITTANY STOCKMAN­—In early January, the American Bar Association Journal published an article reporting that Most Lawyers Are Introverted, And That’s Not Necessarily a Bad Thing. In fact,  “contrary to popular belief, most lawyers are not extroverts.” The nearly twenty-six-year-long study revealed that sixty-percent of the 6,000 lawyers tested were actually introverts. Eva Wisnik, the study’s orchestrator, explained that “[m]any lawyers spend a lot of time by themselves­—reading, writing, thinking­—compared to other jobs where the majority of the work is interacting.”

Wisnik’s research adds to a wealth of scholarship focused on the typical characteristics of legal professionals, most of which has one trend: lawyers are the exception. Two other typical characteristics of lawyers, judges, and others who practice the law are perfectionism and pessimism.

Legal professionals sporting a robust sense of pessimism tend to be more successful. One study of graduate schools by Johns Hopkins Medical School observed that optimists outperformed pessimist in every graduate degree program except in the law school setting where pessimists reign. Another study surveyed law students at the University of Virginia and found that pessimists performed better academically, were more likely to make law review, and got better job offers after graduation. Dr. Seligman explained: “[t]here was no scientific reason. ‘In law,’ he said, ‘pessimism is considered prudence.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the other most common traits among law students, lawyers, and judges is perfectionism. In fact, many lawyers and law students owe much of their success to their tendency towards perfectionism, which motivates them to produce the highest quality work product for their clients.

While this combination of introversion, pessimism, and perfectionism seem to make for great lawyers, it may also have negative consequences. Again the exception, professionals in the legal field are more likely to succumb to depression, suicide, and substance abuse than individuals in other professions. As a result, future research must address what the legal profession as a whole can do to foster its army of introverted, pessimistic perfectionists.

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