Lawyers and Project Managers: cut from the same cloth?

I am sure you’ve noticed that some people really enjoy their line work while others doing the same type of work just don’t enjoy it as much.

Some people really enjoy project management.  Equally there are many people who genuinely struggle with ‘project thinking’.  Although the latter may appreciate the need for project control on some level, they have real difficulty applying even high level project thinking to their work.

A short post on the Arras web site about what makes good project managers caught my eye. It noted that:

Good Projects Managers are often born logical and analytical


Nature Vs Nurture

Does this mean that, despite all the training opportunities to acquire the skills of project management, you have to be born with an innate aptitude for it to be a good project manager?  No, of course not.  Like anything else, project management skills can be learned and developed with practice.

What does seem to happen however is that project management, like many other professions, is most attractive to people with certain characteristics.  Such people seem to have a more natural fit with project management.  Because of this they enjoy it and they gladly put effort in to become better at it.

I once went to an event at the APM (Association for Project Management) which supported this notion that project management attracts people who share some common characteristics.


Picking Colours

The event was run by people from a company called Colourworks.  They handed out 4 colour cards to everyone in the audience.  The cards were coloured red, yellow, green and blue.  On each card there were some words which described character traits.  We were asked to read each card and then place them in order, left to right.  On the left side we had to place the card we thought came closest to describing us as individuals.  The remaining cards were then placed left to right in descending order of applicability.

I’d say about 80% of those present (mostly professional project managers) placed the blue card extreme left.  The blue card read: “cautious, precise, deliberate, questioning, formal, and analytical”.

The Colour Wheel

The Colour Wheel


This came as no surprise to the people from Colourworks.  As they explained, they expected most project managers to be “blues”.  You can see all the colours and traits in the “Insight Colour Wheel”, reproduced with kind permission of Colourworks.  For more information you might want to visit the Colourworks site where they have a snazzier version of this wheel.


Accuracy of online testing (at least in my case)

A few years before the APM event the division of LexisNexis I then worked for asked all its managers to complete an online personality profile. This was a more detailed, and objective, version of the card selection game. The purpose behind this was to allow us to understand our own personality characteristics a little better as a step towards improving teamwork.

The profile report I got back was uncomfortably accurate.  Let’s put it this way, my wife and children just laughed and said “yup, that’s you”.  According to this detailed profile I was placed very firmly in the blue quadrant.


Where would most lawyers place themselves on the colour wheel?

I studied law at university, and have trained and practised as a solicitor.  I suspect that, if given the four card self-assessment test, most newly qualified lawyers would place the blue one leftmost.  The traits listed in the blue quadrant of the colour wheel look very lawyerly to me.  I’d suggest that most newly minted lawyers are natural blues.

Although I’d also suggest that to advance professionally lawyers have to become adept at ‘shuffling’ the cards, emphasising different traits of their personality as their career progresses.  Perhaps striving to make sure they end up being “reds” by the time they are made (or in order to be made) senior partners.  (This sounds like the basis for a really interesting piece of research – but then, being an analytical blue I would say that wouldn’t I?).

If the base character traits of most professional project managers and practising lawyers are indeed quite similar – blues on the colour wheel – perhaps most lawyers have a natural affinity for the discipline of project management after all?


Where are you on the colour wheel?

[yop_poll id=”3″]

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Interesting. I have used the Insights colour wheel in law firms for about 15 years. Lawyers have a wise variety of preferred colours, although there are trends Eg corporate Red, employment Yellow Green. The overall legal culture is blue. I believe that the big difference between lawyers and proj mgr is that lawyers are wordsmiths and proj mgt is a numbers discipline. A good proj mgt can think in 3 dimensions. Task, time and people. A lawyer is list driven. And they tend to dislike amazement in any form.

    1. Thanks for the comment Jamie, you have made some really interesting observations there. Ron Friedmann has just asked on Twitter why, if PMs and lawyers share the same core character traits, do lawyers seem so bad at LPM. I think you have provided a good answer, re the ability to think in 3 dimensions.

      1. Thanks for the insightful comments; I agree. In my experience, one other factor limits lawyers doing LPM: fears of _numerical_ estimates being wrong. There’s a big difference between numbers and text. A numeric estimate (in advance of an event), can after the actual data come in, be demonstrably right or wrong. Or at least that is how lawyers think. Text in contrast, is much squishier and harder to “prove” wrong. I have found lawyers very reluctant to estimate numeric value is advance because the number will almost always be “wrong,” even though it may be very close.. Business people are often satisfied to know an outcome will be, eg, closer to 10 than to 100. Lawyers worry that if they say “12” and the number is “14”, they will have been found to be “wrong.”

        1. Thanks for your comments too Ron. As ever, very perceptive. Funny enough I have been thinking of doing some posts about Earned Value Management for lawyers. To be absolutely honest, I started a draft re EVM and then backed out and did this one about the colour wheel instead! EVM can seem very complicated very quickly. Especially to lawyers – because of the numbers. The key thing is, bearing in mind lawyers’ core character type and preferred mode of working: how to make EVM (or something very like it) easy to apply?

  2. Really interesting article Antony. We have recently obtained some data looking at different professionals and their colour preferences. We can’t specify which area of law the solicitors are specialising in or at what stage of their careers they are at…

    Percentage of Norm Sample with Dominant Colour

    Blue Green Yellow Red

    Solicitor 37% 29% 22% 12%

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