Summer Associates Who “Flex” Land Jobs

From Mary Crane (, who conducts our 1L Etiquette Dinners.

Behavioral psychologists have long posited a working model that categorizes behaviors into four general groups. Every person possesses characteristics of each of the four behavioral styles. When people experience stress, however, most resort to one group of behaviors over the others. I refer to these behaviors as their fallback style.

People who succeed at work observe the actions of others and then adjust their own behaviors so that both parties work within the same framework. Behavioral psychologists call this adjustment “flexing.”

The DISC model helps you anticipate and respond to the behaviors of coworkers and supervisors.

What are the four behavioral styles?

The DISC model focuses on four groups of behaviors each of which brings assets and liabilities to the workplace. The behaviors include:

Driving behaviors:

Motto: When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

People with these behaviors are: independent; efficient; decisive; and goal-oriented.

A supervisory lawyer in Driving-mode may say: “Just give me your best bottom-line answer.”

The advantages associated with Driving behaviors include: Drivers complete tasks quickly.

The disadvantages associated with Driving behaviors include: Divers may fail to consider multiple options, and oftentimes, they fail to recognize the contributions that others make to projects.

Intuiting behaviors: 

Motto: There’s always room to improve the system!

People with these behaviors are: enthusiastic; expressive; creative; and non-conformist.

A supervisory lawyer in Intuiting-mode may say: “Don’t just think outside the box. Break the box!”

The advantages associated with Intuiting behaviors include: Intuitors explore new and creative solutions to problems.

The disadvantages associated with Intuiting behaviors include: Others often perceive that Intuitors enjoy brainstorming more than they enjoy tackling mundane but necessary tasks.

Socializing behaviors: 

Motto: Nice people finish first.

People with these behaviors are:  amiable; respectful; great listeners; and great team players.

A supervisory lawyer in Socializing-mode may say: “The practice of law is first and foremost a people business. Make sure that you focus on building relationships.”

The advantages associated with Socializing behaviors include: Socializers tend to be the most loyal workers within any organization. They are the glue that holds a unit together.

The disadvantages associated with Socializing behaviors include: Others worry that Socalizers make decisions based on feelings rather than facts.

Correcting behaviors: 

Motto: If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it right!

People with these behaviors are:  accurate; organized; practical; and precise.

A supervisory lawyer in Correcting-mode may say: “Bring me copies of all of the cases that you cited in this portion of the memo.” When they do this, don’t assume that the supervisory lawyer doesn’t trust that you interpreted the cases correctly. Rather, understand that Correctors need this background information.

The advantages associated with Correcting behaviors include: Correctors always do it “right”; they hate mistakes.

The disadvantages associated with Correcting behaviors include: Others often view Correctors as suffering from paralysis-by-analysis.
What should summer associates know about behavioral styles?

Summer associates should understand the assets and liabilities that he or she brings to the workplace. A summer associate who possesses Driving behaviors, for example, may be able to tell a supervising partner, “If you need this done really fast, that’s something I do naturally.” At the same time, the summer associate with Driving behaviors might wish to regularly remind himself that he should slow down and ask others for their input.

Summer associates gain an additional benefit when they understand that each lawyer with whom they interact may possess a different behavioral style. To the extent that a summer associate identifies the preferred behaviors of a supervising lawyer and then adjusts to work within that supervising lawyer’s framework, the summer associate is more likely to be viewed as a valuable contributor with high emotional intelligence.

Throughout the upcoming months, law firm hiring committees will seek to determine whether individual summer associates “fit” within their organization. Firms view technical knowledge as a huge plus. Increasingly, however, those same firms view a summer associate’s  ability to work with a wide variety of people as a make-it-or-break-it skill. Knowledge of behavioral styles helps summer associates demonstrate flexibility.
Do behavioral styles have other applications of which summer associates should be aware?

You bet they do.

For many summer associates, their office experience will mark the first time that they will need to manage multiple projects with shifting deadlines. Law firms view the ability to manage time and projects effectively in a time sensitive manner as a critical success factor. Yet nothing about law school teaches students how to master this challenge.

It turns out that different time management tools resonate with each of the behavioral styles. Drivers, for example, manage time and projects best via simple prioritized to-do lists in printed or electronic format. When given adequate time to focus attention on key projects, they’ll produce impressive results. In contrast, Intuitors need more creative ways to visualize their assignments. Color-coding can help them with prioritization. Rather than churning and burning on one project, Intuitors often find that their performance improves when they devote short bursts of energy to a project and then reward themselves with a quick diversion.

By the way, established lawyers also benefit from understanding behavioral style preferences. Anyone who manages other lawyers and staff should be aware of the DISC behavioral framework. I am reminded of two partners who attended one of my programs and told me afterward that they had planned to place an associate within their group on a performance improvement plan. Once they learned about behavioral styles, they said that they recognized their associate approached issues from a very different framework. Instead of undertaking a potentially harsh constructive feedback conversation with the associate, the partners decided to adjust how they managed this junior lawyer to improve performance.

Finally, anyone who communicates with clients or is beginning to think about business development should be made aware of the critical importance of flexing to unique styles. Clients view lawyers who “flex on the fly” as super responsive.