lukegilman.com : The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

Icon
Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at www.lukegilman.com

Malcolm Gladwell Looks at What Makes a Successful Lawyer

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
Go to Comments | 7 Comments

As I noted here in Malcolm Gladwell on the Value of the Adversity in Personal Success and of the Outsider in Institutional Growth, Gladwell’s new book deals in part with the Uses of Adversity (preview in New Yorker). One of the examples that doesn’t make the New Yorker article, but gets a chapter of the book includes the curious biographical similarities of some of New York’s most successful lawyers:

For example, one of the chapters looks at the fact that a surprising number of the most powerful and successful corporate lawyers in New York City have almost the exact same biography: they are Jewish men, born in the Bronx or Brooklyn in the mid-1930′s to immigrant parents who worked in the garment industry. Now, you can call that a coincidence. Or you can ask—as I do—what is about being Jewish and being part of the generation born in the Depression and having parents who worked in the garment business that might have something to do with turning someone into a really, really successful lawyer? And the answer is that you can learn a huge amount about why someone reaches the top of that profession by asking those questions.

Gladwell describes the rest of the book here. This one is floating to the top of my non-law-school reading pile.

Bookmark this Page:
  • del.icio.us
  • digg
  • Furl
  • Ma.gnolia
  • Reddit
  • YahooMyWeb
  • e-mail
  • Facebook
  • Live
  • Slashdot
  • StumbleUpon

No related posts.

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

Category: book reviews

Tagged:

7 Responses

  1. Ben Richards says:

    Also, Gladwell’s explanation for Jewish legal success on working in the garment industry in NYC isn’t convincing. Seligman notes jewish performance on the verbal component of psychometric tests is above average. The Cochran/Harpending paper on Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence suggests this is partly genetic. See Charles Murray’s commentary on the paper:

    “Assessing the events of the 1st century C.E. thus poses a chicken-and-egg problem. By way of an analogy, consider written Chinese with its thousands of unique characters. On cognitive tests, today’s Chinese do especially well on visuo-spatial skills. It is possible, I suppose, that their high visuo-spatial skills have been fostered by having to learn written Chinese; but I find it much more plausible that only people who already possessed high visuo-spatial skills would ever devise such a ferociously difficult written language. Similarly, I suppose it is possible that the Jews’ high verbal skills were fostered, through secondary and tertiary effects, by the requirement that they be able to read and understand complicated texts after the 1st century C.E.; but I find it much more plausible that only people who already possessed high verbal skills would dream of installing such a demanding requirement.”

    “As soon as Jewish children born under legal emancipation had time to grow to adulthood, they started appearing in the first ranks of the arts and sciences. During the four decades from 1830 to 1870, when the first Jews to live under emancipation reached their forties, 16 significant Jewish figures appear. In the next four decades, from 1870 to 1910, the number jumps to 40. During the next four decades, 1910–1950, despite the contemporaneous devastation of European Jewry, the number of significant figures almost triples, to 114.

    To get a sense of the density of accomplishment these numbers represent, I will focus on 1870 onward, after legal emancipation had been achieved throughout Central and Western Europe. How does the actual number of significant figures compare to what would be expected given the Jewish proportion of the European and North American population? From 1870 to 1950, Jewish representation in literature was four times the number one would expect. In music, five times. In the visual arts, five times. In biology, eight times. In chemistry, six times. In physics, nine times. In mathematics, twelve times. In philosophy, fourteen times.

    Disproportionate Jewish accomplishment in the arts and sciences continues to this day. My inventories end with 1950, but many other measures are available, of which the best known is the Nobel Prize. In the first half of the 20th century, despite pervasive and continuing social discrimination against Jews throughout the Western world, despite the retraction of legal rights, and despite the Holocaust, Jews won 14 percent of Nobel Prizes in literature, chemistry, physics, and medicine/physiology. In the second half of the 20th century, when Nobel Prizes began to be awarded to people from all over the world, that figure rose to 29 percent. So far, in the 21st century, it has been 32 percent. Jews constitute about two-tenths of one percent of the world’s population.”

    https://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/jewish-genius-10855?page=all

  2. Ben Richards says:

    Murray goes on to comment:

    “What accounts for this remarkable record? A full answer must call on many characteristics of Jewish culture, but intelligence has to be at the center of the answer. Jews have been found to have an unusually high mean intelligence as measured by IQ tests since the first Jewish samples were tested. (The widely repeated story that Jewish immigrants to this country in the early 20th century tested low on IQ is a canard.) Exactly how high has been difficult to pin down, because Jewish sub-samples in the available surveys are seldom perfectly representative. But it is currently accepted that the mean is somewhere in the range of 107 to 115, with 110 being a plausible compromise.

    The IQ mean for the American population is “normed” to be 100, with a standard deviation of 15. If the Jewish mean is 110, then the mathematics of the normal distribution says that the average Jew is at the 75th percentile. Underlying that mean in overall IQ is a consistent pattern on IQ subtests: Jews are only about average on the subtests measuring visuo-spatial skills, but extremely high on subtests that measure verbal and reasoning skills.

    A group’s mean intelligence is important in explaining outcomes such as mean educational attainment or mean income. The key indicator for predicting exceptional accomplishment (like winning a Nobel Prize) is the incidence of exceptional intelligence. Consider an IQ score of 140 or higher, denoting the level of intelligence that can permit people to excel in fields like theoretical physics and pure mathematics. If the mean Jewish IQ is 110 and the standard deviation is 15, then the proportion of Jews with IQ’s of 140 or higher is somewhere around six times the proportion of everyone else.”

  3. lukegilman says:

    Ben, thanks for the comment. I haven’t received my copy of Gladwell’s book to evaluate the argument he makes there. I suspect his views on Murray’s group intelligence argument would track his article on I.Q. last year. None of the Above: What I.Q. doesn’t tell you about race on the question – If what I.Q. tests measure is immutable and innate, what explains the Flynn effect—the steady rise in scores across generations?

    I won’t pretend to have any expertise on this issue, with only a fuzzy recollection of reading the Bell Curve many years ago. I wonder, however, what good could come out of assessing intelligence by race? Even accepting the validity of the statistical data for the sake of argument, I would question its usefulness. The contributing influence of race is surely less of a factor in personal success for any one individual than the effort expended in achieving it. Measuring group characteristics could lead one to believe either that one is inherently incapable of achieving success in a field for which one isn’t genetically ‘suited’ or to undervalue the necessity of hard work in a field for which one is genetically ‘suited’. Neither outcome provides incentives for achievement and so I tend not to value racial characteristics as a factor for normative rather than descriptive reasons.

    Gladwell also give us reason to question the impact of IQ on success with his example of Christopher Langan who, it is claimed, has one of the highest recorded IQs, but prefers blue collar work. “Success” however we might define it, doesn’t necessarily track intelligence. Langan, for all I know, is perfectly happy and has perhaps found an optimal lifestyle for himself, but “success” measures something different, requiring ‘intelligence plus’ – a threshold intelligence to which, ceteris paribus, must be added something, perhaps a mix of ambition, luck, pragmatism, social charisma, who knows what else – this is what I’m hoping Gladwell sheds some light on. Particularly interesting would be comparative levels within groups as you describe them – for instance a comparison of Jewish women with an I.Q. of 140 from a particular geographic area.

  4. lukegilman says:

    Edward Tenner and John Horgan have a particularly interesting conversation on the book in Slate, Outliers Have Outliers, Too.

  5. Ben Richards says:

    “If what I.Q. tests measure is immutable and innate, what explains the Flynn effect—the steady rise in scores across generations?”

    Thanks for the link to Gladwell’s article. I think he’s creating a bit of a convenient whipping boy in how he’s describing the views of the “idealogues”. None of the people he mentioned have denied the importance of environmental factors (he’s not the first to do that though, in 1988 Mark Snyderman & Stanley Rothman did a survey of how these issues were portrayed in the media & they found journalists tended to paint it as an argument between those who consider variation is 100% hereditary vs those who think it is 100% environmental. Snyderman & Rothman found out of the 600 or so academics they surveyed that the majority thought differences were a combination of the two).

    The Flynn information is interesting. Linda Gottfredson discusses his research on her faculty page( http://www.cato-unbound.org/2007/11/08/linda-s-gottfredson/shattering-logic-to-explain-the-flynn-effect/). One reason for the rise may be nutrition, for instance average height increased over the same period. Others suggest that education is more widespread, there is better pre-natal care etc.

    “Even accepting the validity of the statistical data for the sake of argument, I would question its usefulness.”

    I think that’s right. Interestingly the point that Seligman (and I think Murray & Herrnstein) make is that people should be treated as individuals, not as members of groups. They make the point that groups overlap, so individually you can’t determine much about someone from their ethnicity. Seligman points out though, that when there are laws that ban testing if it has a disproportionate impact, and that require group preferences, then the question of why group differences exist is almost inescapable. His solution, again, is to treat people as individuals (he makes the point that this is what happens in the army & suggests people get respected for their individual achievements with no second guessing).

    “a threshold intelligence to which, ceteris paribus, must be added something, perhaps a mix of ambition, luck, pragmatism, social charisma, who knows what else – this is what I’m hoping Gladwell sheds some light on. Particularly interesting would be comparative levels within groups as you describe them – for instance a comparison of Jewish women with an I.Q. of 140 from a particular geographic area.”

    Yes, I guess that’s why biographies are always popular – we all want to find out what particular traits lead to someone’s success. In terms of law, presumably in addition to having good verbal & logic skills, things like self discipline, being able to build relationships inside & outside the firm & backing yourself would be important factors.

    A good book in this regard is ‘The Trusted Advisor’ by David Maister. Another is ‘The Anatomy of a Great Executive” by John Wareham which gets a little psychoanalytical, but is interesting nonetheless.
    http://www.amazon.com/Trusted-Advisor-David-H-Maister/dp/0743212347

  6. lukegilman says:

    Thanks for pointing out Maister’s books. I keep hearing that name so I finally ordered a few, including Trusted Advisor.

    In looking up Wareham’s book, I also came across his late work, How to Break Out of Prison, which one might cynically look at as a natural progression, but turns out to be a far more interesting look at the mental ‘prisons’ that lead to failure in both corporate leaders and the actually incarcerated.

    It reminded me of similar anecdotal comparisons between entrepreneurs and convicts from Catherine Rohr with the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, who notes more than superficial similarities in their approach to opportunity and risk.

    I wonder how much of empirically measurable differences between groups could be attributed to social groups adapting to environmental demands for talent both on the short and long-term and perhaps longest (evolutionary) term, if I might use that in the general, non-scientific sense.

    One of my interests in Gladwell’s book, which I received today, just in time for thanksgiving, is my unverified suspicion that the American educational system sees such a pitiful return on educational investment because we invest in creating privilege rather than creating challenge and that it’s only by restoring a desire to truly challenge our kids in educational environments that we will see real change. Our educational superstructure seems to sway between competing ideologies of a vaguely sink-or-swim market approach on one side and a overly-egalitarian privilege for the people approach on the other. I find neither ultimately very productive, but have been impressed with what I’ve seen of Teach for America and the local KIPP and Yes! College Prep programs here in Houston.

    Well enough rambling for tonight, but I’ve really enjoyed this conversation.

  7. Ben Richards says:

    “It reminded me of similar anecdotal comparisons between entrepreneurs and convicts from Catherine Rohr with the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, who notes more than superficial similarities in their approach to opportunity and risk. ”

    That is interesting, and reminds me of the comparisons in ‘Freakanomics’ about seemingly quite different groups and how they both respond to incentives in their environment. No doubt there would also be similarities in terms of drive, ambition, and efforts to gain status in their particular environment. A fairly tacky, but interesting, book is ‘Testosterone Inc’ which traces the aggressive & driven approaches of Al ‘Chainsaw’ Dunlap, Jack Welch & some other high profile businessmen. The authors suggests they all exhibit characteristics of high testosterone with their womanising, and risky approaches (it’s a bit simplistic, but an entertaining read!). A better book incorporating evolutionary psychology & economics is ‘Origin of Wealth’ by Eric Beinhocker, a consultant at McKinsey.

    Interesting about the changing educational philosophies. I live in NZ & our system has veered from very exam focused, to more internal assessments which doesn’t fail as many people but has been accused of ‘dumbing down’ the syllabus.

    Hope you enjoy the books!

Leave a Reply

Categories