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Personality attributes and in-house lawyers

An article in Talent Mgt., Jan. 2008 at 45, extols the importance of personality traits. “Research indicates between 20 percent and 25 percent of an individual employee’s effectiveness on the job is attributable to his or her personality.” That high degree of influence seems less likely for in-house lawyers, knowledge workers who often toil on their own with expectations of professionalism because they share values, an education, and collegial expectations.

Even aside from the characteristics of in-house attorneys, not everyone agrees that personality makes such a difference to effectiveness (See my posts of Jan. 1, 2006: IQ tests predict work performance ten times better than do personality tests; April 22, 2007: “personality is not a particularly good predictor of behavior”; and Feb. 28, 2006: emotional intelligence predicts 85% of a lawyer’s career success.).

Finally, setting aside an exceptionalist view of lawyers and disagreements over the relative contributin of personality, the term itself is protean, its definition hard to pin down (See my posts of Nov. 13, 2005: competency, IQ, personality, and emotional intelligence; Nov. 22, 2006: personality-test questions; May 14, 2006: most important personality traits for in-house counsel; Nov. 8, 2007: psychometric tests and references cited; and Jan. 1, 2006: “executive intelligence.”). If “personality” becomes the sum total of someone’s behavior, it is a tautology to say that personality influences job performance.

The Talent Management article asserts that some employers look at personality traits to select job applicants. They evaluate such characteristics as conscientiousness, agreeableness, and extroversion. “Data mining shows that these personality traits are better predictors of worker productivity (especially turnover) than more traditional ability testing.” Ian Ayres, Super-Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way to be Smart (Bantam 2007) at 28.). The entire area of purposeful personality assessment is a wasteland for law departments.

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