Summer 2000 Attorney Survey Project
The goal of this research was to compare the personality characteristics of trial and non-trial attorneys. The limited research available on the personalities of attorneys has focused on the public?s perceptions rather than the actual personality traits of legal professionals. For example, attorneys are typically described as extraverted, persuasive, dogmatic, aggressive, and self-confident (e.g., Coplin, 1978; Elwork, 1995; Krakowski, 1984; Reich, 1976.) In addition,researchers have examined how the personality characteristics of attorneys distinguish them from other occupational groups (e.g., Bohn, 1971; Krakowski, 1984), but rarely have researchers attempted to gain a greater understanding of the individuals within this profession.
Although the stereotype of attorneys seems to revolve around their image in the courtroom, some attorneys will never be involved in such proceedings. Therefore, grouping all attorneys together may provide an incomplete assessment of the personalities of attorneys in various practice areas (e.g., tax, litigation, corporate, criminal, real estate, family law, etc.). To gain a complete understanding of individuals involved in this complex profession, it is important to understand how the personality characteristics of trial and non-trial attorneys differ.
Only one study has examined characteristics that distinguish trial from non-trial attorneys and that study did not examine their personality characteristics. Dabbs, Alford, and Fielden (1998), instead, examined whether trial and non-trial attorneys differ in testosterone levels and the use of complex language features.
Dabbs et al. found that male and female trial lawyers had higher testosterone levels than non-trial lawyers of the same gender. In addition, they found that trial lawyers used fewer cognitive mechanisms than appellate lawyers in oral arguments before the Supreme court.
Our current survey of trial and non-trial attorneys examined the personality characteristics of Self-Monitoring, Public Self-Consciousness, Social Anxiety, Machiavellianism, and Impulsive Sensation Seeking. This research was approved by the Psychology Department and University Human Subjects Review Boards at Denison University.
In addition to addressing the appreciable limitations in our understanding of the trial and non-trial attorneys' personality, this study was also an attempt at furthering the field of psychology and law. We hope to aid in the dissemination of knowledge between individuals in the fields of psychology and law through this website and its Resource Guide to Topics in Psychology and Law.
Psychology and law is an area that has only exploded in the past 25 years. Since the mid 1990s, the American Psychology/Law Society and Division 41 of the American Psychological Association (APA) have been working hard to open the lines of communication between psychologists and professionals in our legal system. And this past October the largest interdisciplinary conference of its type was co-sponsored by the APA and the American Bar Association.
There are many areas of psychological research that could provide legal professionals with valuable knowledge. For example, research on the impact of inadmissible evidence on jury decision-making, the effect of defendant and victim characteristics on sentencing decisions, and jurors? understanding of scientific evidence (just to name a few) could be extremely useful to the legal system. Thus, in order for the field of psychology and law to advance, a reciprocal relationship is necessary. Increased communication is warranted to inform attorneys of the types of psychological research that is available and to determine what types of research would be of interest to attorneys.
We developed five hypotheses based on the scant prior literature on the personality characteristics of attorneys: (1) Trial attorneys will demonstrate higher self-monitoring behavior than non-trial attorneys, (2) trial attorneys will be higher than non-trial attorneys in public self-consciousness, (3) non-trial attorneys will be socially anxious to a greater extent than trial attorneys, (4) trial attorneys will be higher on Machiavellianism than non-trial attorneys, and (5) trial attorneys will demonstrate impulsive sensation seeking to a greater extent than non-trial attorneys.
A total of 300 practicing Ohio attorneys were selected to receive our questionnaire.
240 Ohio attorneys were selected from the Martindale-Hubbel Lawyer Locator Database. Martindale-Hubbel has been a guide to the American legal profession since it was founded in 1868. Today, it is a primary resource for obtaining information about attorneys and law firms. The law directory consists of more than 900,000 lawyer and law firm listings orgainised in multiple ways, including state and major practice area.
From the Martindale-Hubbel Law Directory, we selected 120 Ohio attorneys that we anticipated would be primarily trial attorneys by randomly selecting from the sample listed as specializing in appellate practice, criminal law, and litigation.
We also obtained the names and work addresses for 120 attorneys that we expected would be primarily non-trial attorneys by randomly selecting from all 51 of the other Martindale-Hubbel categories listed (e.g., family, real estate, business, and many more).
An additional 60 attorneys were randomly selected from a Denison University Career Development Center list of alumni who are legal professionals practicing in Ohio.
The survey consists of five personality scales with the items interspersed throughout the questionnaire. We received copyright permission to use the Self-Monitoring, Public Self-Consciousness, Social Anxiety, Machiavellianism, and Impulsive Sensation Seeking scales in this survey.
The social psychological construct of Self-Monitoring meausures the willingness to tailor one's social behavior to fit shifting norms of appropriateness, the awareness of one's effects on others, and the ability to regulate nonverbal cues to influence the impressions of others(Snyder, 1974.)
Snyder's revised Self-Monitoring Scale (1974) consists of 18 items, making up 3 subscales: Acting, Extraversion, and Other-Directedness. The Acting factor deals with acting, entertaining,spontaneous public speaking, and the ability to lie. The Extraversion factor centers around being the center of attention, telling jokes and stores, and being good at charades. Other-Directedness includes items that deal with an orientation toward others. Examples of Self-Monitoring Items include, "I have considered being an entertainer," and, "I feel a bit awkward in company and do not show up quite as well as I should," (Snyder, 1974.) Permission to use this scale was granted by the American Psychological Association and M. Snyder.
Public Self-Consciousness and Social Anxiety are both subscales of the revised Self-Consciousness Scale (Fenigstein, Scheier, & Buss, 1975). The Public Self-Concsiousness subscale contains 7-items and assesses the tendency to think about self-aspects that are public and that people form impressions from, such as "mannerisms, stylistic quirks, and expressive qualities" (Scheier, 1985, p. 687.)
The Social Anxiety, 6-item, subscale measures the sense of apprehensiveness over being evaluated by others in a social context as well as a feeling of doubt about being able to create an adequate self-presentation (Scheier, 1985.) Copyright permission to use the Social Anxiety and Public-Self Consciousness scales was granted by M. Scheier.
Machiavellianism describes the willingness to manipulate others in interpersonal situations. It also denotes a cynical perspectve on human nature and a lack of concern for conventional morality. The 20-item Mach IV used in this survey was developed by R. Christie and F. L. Geis(1970). Examples of questions from the Mach IV are: "There is no excuse for lying to someone else," and "Anyone who completely trusts anyone else is asking for trouble," (Geis, 1970.) Academic Press approved our use of the Machieavellianism scale.
Impulsive Sensation Seeking was measured through the Zuckerman-Kuhlman Personality Questionnaire (ZKPQ) that was developed by M. Zuckerman and D. M. Kuhlman (1993). The 19-item Impulsive Sensation Seeking Scale of the ZKPQ consists of two factors: impulsivity, which describes a lack of planning and a tendency to act without thinking, as well as sensation, which describes a general need for thrills, excitement, and change. Examples of questions measuring Impulsive Sensation Seeking include, "I sometimes like to do things that are a little frightening," and "I very seldom spend much time on the details of planning ahead," (Zuckerman, 1993.) M. Zuckerman granted permission for the use of Impulsive Sensation Seeking in this research.
Findings are currently being updated and will be available at a later date.