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Why Lawyers Need a Good Psychology Class to Succeed

Maybe lawyers need more than just skills training to succeed in a law firm job. If these two recent articles are any indication, law students might benefit from a healthy dose of psychology courses as well.

Both suggest that lawyers' success hinges not just on legal acumen or business development skills, but also the ability to understand and avoid succumbing to the kinds of mind games that can doom a lawyer's performance.  For example, the ABA Journal discusses the recent work of Suffolk University law professor Andrew Perlman, who references sociological studies on group behavior to explain lawyers' tendency to discard their independent judgment and conform to group opinion when confronted with ambiguous questions, such as those involving ethics.  Perlman further contends that the hierarchical nature of law practice reinforces conformity, since those with low social status are more likely to comply with a directive from a higher authority.

Meanwhile, at My Shingle, I posted about a study concluding that a lack of control in a job situation has a fundamental effect on one's mental abilities and correspondingly, job performance. That's because a lack of power forces people to constantly re-evaluate and second guess themselves, thus redirecting their efforts from substantive tasks and diminishing their performance.  So many law firm associates may perform poorly simply because they're too busy worrying about whether they're pleasing their superiors rather than focusing on the substantive aspects of a task.

Psychology courses won't eliminate these types of forces from the legal profession. But if law students understand that they're susceptible to pressure to conform to even ill-advised group opinions or that a lack of power on a job can impair performance, at least they'll be better able to understand and deal with these issues when they arise.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on May 22, 2008 at 03:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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