Lawyers are Fantastic Entrepreneurs!…Wait, What?!
I had the pleasure of giving a talk recently at Bond University in Australia to a group of law students about why they should be legal entrepreneurs. I thought I would share my thoughts here too. Why should you rethink your stereotypes about lawyers as entrepreneurs? Here is why:
1) Lawyers have the entrepreneurial personality type
This might seem like a crazy statement, given the archetypal lawyer that pops to mind is often introverted, detail oriented and terrified of missing a comma or sharing an unqualified opinion. Unsurprisingly, the personality type of lawyers hasn’t been of enormous public importance. More than a decade ago the ABA Journal did published a study on Myers Briggs personality types of lawyers, which is summarized in the graph below. It shows that lawyers as far more extroverted and savvy than they are often given credit for.* cough * Harvey Specter * cough *.
Thankfully, the personality types of entrepreneurs has been studied far more thoroughly than the personality types of lawyers, and it comes as no surprise that a few specific traits are prevalent: open to new experiences, conscientious, individualistic and anxious/tense. Interestingly, entrepreneurs are not stereotypically introverted or extroverted, they are often either. Kuenne and Danner in their book Built for Growth categorizes the expressions of these traits into four “types” based on interviews with thousands of successful entrepreneurs: The Driver, The Explorer, The Crusader and The Captain. You can read more about these in Kuenne and Danner’s book here. For a more academic approach to the entrepreneurial personality type, see this interesting meta-study from Harvard Business School here.
An interesting thing happens when you map the legal personality type on top of the entrepreneurial personality type. Lawyers are actually significantly above the average population on 3 of the 4 personality types:
Given that start-ups founded with two or more founders are statistically far more likely to succeed than single-founder start-ups, lawyers should reconsider their perception that they weren’t made for the start-up life. Instead, they should start looking for a co-founder that is strong in the personalty traits that they are missing.
2) Lawyers are gritty and don’t even know it
Over and over the less scientifically rigorous and anecdotal response to the question”what does it take to be a good entrepreneur” has been “grit”. Grit is just jargon for someone who works incredibly hard at something and refuses to give up. For anyone who has got through law school, you will see the parallels. Getting through law school requires that you take a long term view of what you are doing. It requires that you push through the long nights and mountains of cases to read, in the hope that one day you will win the job lottery and be in a position to write your own case or be a part of the team that argued it. Lawyers have an incredible amount of grit, imagine what they could do if they applied it to legal innovation instead of Lord Denning!
3) Risk spotting is crucial for entrepreneurship
Clients often lament that when lawyers are asked to give advice, they offer up enormous list of contingencies and detail on each potential scenario, leaving the client to sift through the paper hoping that there is signal in the noise. This kind of lawyer does not last long in the profession and goes nowhere particularly fast. Being a good lawyer is about being meticulous at spotting risk, meticulous about weighing it and addressing the those risks that cannot be avoided. Entrepreneurship is the same. Your ability to identify your key assumptions/risks and address them is fundamental to moving from an idea to an early stage start-up. Lawyers just have to be brave and take the actions they know will address the risk, leaving the small fires burning in the background.
So get out there and start your own start-up!
Do you think lawyers are actually terrible at being entrepreneurs? I would love to hear why!