The use of assessments worldwide is rapidly expanding and lawyers are still lagging at the back of the pack–way back.
An article by Lisa Belkin in yesterday’s New York Times notes that there are 2,500 "profiling instruments" that companies rely on more every year when deciding whom to hire or promote. Sixty-five percent of companies surveyed reported using assessments in 2006, up almost double from the 34 percent reported a year earlier, according to Staffing Industry Report, a human-resources newsletter.
To paraphrase her article, the content of tests has stayed more or less constant for three decades. What has changed is the workplace. The cost of losing experienced employees now represents a tremendous lost of investment. "Employers want a guarantee that a new hire will stick — and the best way to do that is to make sure that job and candidate are a good fit in the first place."
Globalization that separates performance and accountability/review across continents has further complicated the process of finding and training the best person for the job. So offering on-line testing across those continents makes these assessments not only appealing but also fast.
I am often asked by potential clients, particularly those who have been in corporate settings, if we either offer or recommend simple, cost-effective assessments for them to use in attorney recruitment, training and development. While we can recommend and administer a number of good assessments that can be highly useful — Myers Briggs Type Indicator (the most popular test in the country, used by 89 of the Fortune 100 and taken by 2.5 million Americans each year), Caliper’s Personality Profile, Birkman Method, MayerSaloveyCaruso Emotional Intelligence Test, Thomas Kilmann Conflict Instrument, among others–they are not inexpensive and they are not targeted to lawyers.
A recent college graduate friend took a Johnson O’Connor aptitude assessment, a common test for teens and young adults to help determine career possibilities. Since her father and grandfather are lawyers and she is considering going to law school, she was surprised to find that "lawyer" was not one of her designated career possibilities. She was told that a few years ago Johnson O’Connor stopped offering "lawyer" as an option for any of their test-takers. The reason? They are no longer able to reliably correlate attributes or aptitudes with the successful practice of law.
And therein lies one of the problems with assessing attorneys. While research has indeed identified a number of attributes that lawyers exhibit to a greater degree than others– for example, high pessimism, skepticism, urgency and autonomy, and low resilience, sociability and collaboration– the problem lies in the data that shows the impact these characteristics are having on practitioners. These very attributes present in so many lawyers are also the attributes contributing to the dissatisfaction and distress that the legal profession exhibits: astonishingly high rates of depression and other mental illness, substance abuse, suicide, and divorce, for starters. High rates of dissatisfaction that are also contributing to the staggering drop-out and attrition rates.
In addition to the challenge of identifying what makes for a good (as well as well-adjusted lawyer), there is also the expense of doing that well. The testing often done at corporations is highly individualized, developed after an extensive review of what attributes in fact produce productive and satisfied employees at that particular company, and sometimes at that particular location. Google hires over 10,000 new employees each year and enjoys the amazingly low attrition rate of 4%, but to accomplish that.it invests in a highly detailed questionnaire and assessment that is developed from extensive employee data That process is not inexpensive.
Not only is it the individual lawyers who have complex and sometimes hard-to-read attributes. Law firms and law departments, often in spite of their studied denial, also have "personalities." Understanding those personalities is critical in determining the type of person who will thrive or fail there.
Our unique expertise in understanding the attributes of individual lawyers, as well as each legal workplace, makes us ideally suited to help you enter the challenging world of 21st century attorney assessment, development and retention.