Should Law Firms Test for Talent?

Most companies invest significant time and resources in testing, developing, and coaching their staff. This affords employees in all departments, including in-house counsels, the opportunity to grow personally and professionally. This allows for a better understanding of individual strengths, weaknesses, tension points, and opportunities for growth. It also helps cultivate a stronger culture—as in many cases this allows for tangible sense of mutual investment and commitment.

Surprisingly, a recent article for the American Lawyer by Aric Press describes an interesting finding related to law firm testing—the majority of AmLaw 200 firms do not do much at all in the way of testing, training, or coaching their attorneys. In fact, Press believes law firms have a great deal to learn from their clients in terms of recruiting and developing their valuable assets. Press notes this “seems odd” given that “firms now hire fewer associates” which means their margin for error has gotten significantly smaller.

There are a few law firms that utilize predictive testing, including Dechert and McKenna Long & Aldridge. However, as Press notes, these firms seem to be few and far between. Most firms tend to take a strong and negative perspective towards predictive testing. The question is, what explains this? Are firms right in not doing so, or should they reverse course to become more like their clients?

One explanation cited by many is the imperfect nature of talent testing. As one expert Press interviewed suggests, most psychological and emotional intelligence tests are capable of accounting for “roughly half” of a person’s behaviors. In this sense it becomes a glass half-empty, glass-half full debate as some tend to insist that 50/50 is unfavorable, while others believe it is better to know something than nothing.

Generally the tests indicate lawyers on the whole have “high skepticism, need for autonomy, abstract reasoning skills, and urgency, but low sociability and resilience”. However, as Press notes, the predictive value and benefit for law firms “comes with the exploration of the other traits. What’s your particular mix of aggressiveness, creativity, ego-drive, empathy, gregariousness, and the rest? And how do your values—tradition, pragmatism, achievement, etc.—align with your personality traits and your emotional intelligence scores?” Such information, if revealed, can be useful in determining things like fit, compatibility, and role.

Examples of tests that are frequently used by companies across sectors include the Caliper test (attitude questions and number pattern problems), Myers-Briggs (personality, thinker vs. feeler, etc.), and the Troutwine Athletic Profile (traits, used by NFL Teams in judging talent at the Draft Combine). Similarly, a recent book by Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder, published in conjunction with Clifton and Gallup hones in on the concept of strengths. Rath’s firm belief is that more important than improving one’s weaknesses is the idea of playing to and structuring around one’s strengths.

It remains to be seen whether law firms will make use of talent testing and coaching. The question in the meantime seems to be, why not?

 

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