The Whole Lawyer: Consistent Across All Workplaces

Zachariah DeMeola Zachariah DeMeola
Former Director of Legal Education and the Legal Profession
March 8, 2018

In July 2016, IAALS published Foundations for Practice: The Whole Lawyer and the Character Quotient, which shared findings from a survey that asked more than 24,000 lawyers what new lawyers need as they enter the profession. We presented these lawyers with a list of 147 different legal skills, professional competencies, and characteristics (collectively, “foundations”), which we organized into 15 categories.(1) Overall, respondents identified 77 Foundations necessary for new lawyers in the short term. These foundations are the recipe for success that practicing lawyers believe new lawyers need right out of law school and include much more than intelligence and legal competency; respondents overwhelmingly indicated that new lawyers need character, too. We called the new lawyer who exhibits this combination of 77 specific characteristics, professional competencies, and legal skills the “whole lawyer.”

In the survey, we also collected from respondents ten demographic and practice-specific characteristics, including, where applicable, law firm size.(2) We thought we might observe interesting, informative, and actionable differences across these demographics and characteristics. However, as we conducted analysis of the survey data for The Whole Lawyer and our subsequent report, Hiring the Whole Lawyer: Experience Matters, it became clear that our expectation was misplaced.

In Experience Matters, we reported that the responses we saw across demographics in the hiring criteria section of the survey were actually more similar than different. Respondents tended to view each hiring criterion as helpful, regardless of their specific demographic characteristics. Likewise, in our analysis of the 77 foundations that form the whole lawyer, the differences among respondents were so small in number that one of the most remarkable aspects of the study was how similar the results actually were across groups of respondents.

The similarities we saw in responses across demographics, firm sizes, and practice-specific characteristics suggest that law schools, the profession, employers, and others can broadly employ the Foundations for Practice with confidence. The 77 characteristics, professional competencies, and legal skills that constitute the whole lawyer are consistent and definitive across respondent groups.

That said, even though the responses are much more similar than different, there are some differences readers will find interesting. The stories those differences tell are notable for what they reveal about the dynamics of different legal work, particularly among practice settings and firm sizes, but these differences also confirm what one might guess about a particular practice setting or firm size. For instance, lawyers in private practice tended to rank civil litigation practice foundations, being visible in the office, and adhering to proper collections practices as more important than did business in-house attorneys and lawyers in government and other practice settings. With regard to firm sizes, solo practitioners emphasized the ability to exercise independent judgment as more critical than being visible in the office, while the largest firms (51 or more lawyers) placed more value in the ability to generate a high quantity of work in new lawyers than did smaller firms.

In two upcoming blogs, we will share and explore these differences and others so that those using the 77 Foundations for Practice that make up the whole lawyer can understand how lawyers in different workplaces may value them.


1.  There are three Foundation Types (Legal Skills, Professional Competencies, and Characteristics), and fifteen Foundation Categories, which include Business Development and Relations, Communications, Emotional and Interpersonal Intelligence, Involvement and Community Service, Legal Thinking and Application, Litigation Practice, Passion and Ambition, Professional Development, Professionalism, Qualities and Talents, Stress and Crisis Management, Technology and Innovation, Transaction Practice, Working with Others, and Workload Management. So, for instance, a specific foundation, such as “having a strong work ethic and putting forth the best effort” falls under the “Characteristic” Type of Foundation, in the Category of “Passion and Ambition.”

2.  Gender, racial and ethnic background, income, primary work setting, type of practice, area of expertise, interactions with new lawyers in the workplace, office location, years of experience, and law school attended.