Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

How to Identify High Potential Legal Professionals

The legal professions are well-known for being highly selective, seeking only the most able candidates.

Often, this includes stringent educational requirements, extra-curricular activities, and relevant work experience. However, research increasingly shows that these factors are unreliable predictors of performance and job-fit, while also being discriminatory against applicants from minority or lower socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds. Some say that those from privileged backgrounds have the freedom to pursue activities such as law societies, debate teams, and unpaid internships, advantaging higher SES individuals.

To improve this, psychologists recommend using validated and reliable psychometric assessments when selecting legal professionals. These will measure the specific behavioural indicators of performance and job fit. In this article, we outline the key behavioural indicators which underpin potential in the legal professions.

Key Behavioural Traits

Many personality traits have been shown to predict performance in a role-agnostic way, making them essential selection tools in any profession. For example, the trait of conscientiousness, which underpins a person’s level of organisation, attention to detail, and work-ethic, has been shown to effectively predict job performance universally (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). Similarly, resilience has been shown to predict performance and job satisfaction in a wide range of roles (Bono & Judge, 2003). Both traits are especially important when assessing legal professionals, as these roles require both high levels of organisational ability and resilience in the workplace.

Additionally, many personality traits are likely to underpin performance and job-fit in legal professions specifically. Based on our research, the personality trait of self-efficacy is particularly important in law. Self-efficacy determines a person’s belief in their own level of agency, along with their sense of competence and overall ability.  Those lacking self-efficacy are likely to fare less well in legal professions, which often benefit from confidence and self-belief. This is particularly true with lawyers, who must appear confident and self-assured, else they will struggle to sway a jury, barrister, or magistrate. When lacking self-efficacy, legal professionals are likely to flounder, quickly giving up when facing difficulties or challenges.

Key Personality Types

The personality ‘types’ model suggests that individuals fall within a specific behavioural profile. This typing approach is an alternative to a ‘trait’ based approach in which scores are reported along a continuous high-low scale of distinct personality traits. For example, the Myers-Briggs model of personality types holds that ISTJs are the most common personality type for legal professionals. This is because ISTJs display a logical, concrete, and analytical mindset, which is especially useful in the legal professions.  Conversely, ESFPs comprise only 0.5% of lawyers, making it the least common personality type in the legal professions. This is because ESFPs tend to be emotional, disorganised, and spontaneous, making them less suitable for high-stakes legal work.

Similarly, using the Enneagram of personality, many personality types will be better suited to legal professions than others. For example, people with Type 1w9 personality are particularly focused on justice, moral principles, and resolving conflict, making them ideal lawyers. People with Type 1w2 personality are also suited to these roles, especially when defending clients or representing someone who has been wrongly aggrieved by another party. Lastly, 7w8 types often make excellent legal professionals, showing absolute loyalty to their clients, representing them with complete confidence. Overall, these personality types are likely drawn to the legal professions and will thus be overrepresented at law firms.

Ability Tests

There are many other predictors of performance in the legal professions which are unrelated to personality. For example, cognitive ability tests, job knowledge tests, and interviews are all powerful predictors of performance in the workplace (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998), and do not measure personality. This is because performance in the workplace is underpinned by a wide range of abilities, traits, and characteristics, with personality only accounting for a certain proportion of variance. As a result, many of these other characteristics can compensate for personality-misfit to the legal professions, helping to carry them through successfully. The most popular ability test for legal professionals is the Critical Thinking test.


Personality, both in terms of traits and types, is aligned to performance and behavioural fit in legal professions. Naturally, some people are just inherently better suited to some roles more than others, and not everyone is well suited to every possible job. For example, those who are poorly-suited to the legal professions could well be suited to careers elsewhere, such as sales, banking, or management consulting, and thus unsuitability to the legal professions isn’t synonymous with being unsuitable to desirable work in general.

Nevertheless, personality is an underappreciated variable when identifying high performing legal professionals. HR teams and hiring managers should therefore consider personality when making assessment, selection, or development decisions in the legal professions, to the benefit of everyone involved.