Are Lawyers All Raging Psycopaths?
The book Wisdom of Psychopaths by University of Oxford psychologist Kevin Dutton has recieved a lot of attention from the media and has been reviewed in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and The Guardian. Dutton argues that there are “functional psychopaths” who—unlike criminal psychopaths—use their unempathetic, ruthless, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society. Dutton goes further, however, to postulate that some jobs are especially fertile grounds for functional psychopaths.
Based on Dutton's research, the second most psychopathic profession is that of a lawyer. (The first is a CEO). This has spurred a lot of discussion in the legal community.
Dutton argues that there are “functional psychopaths” who—unlike criminal psychopaths—use their unempathetic, ruthless, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society. Dutton further postulates that some jobs are especially fertile grounds for functional psychopaths.
Dutton argues that psychopathic traits such as arrogance, ruthlessness, deceitfulness, manipulation, and charisma can help CEOs and attorneys succeed in their professions. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Individuals [with psychopathic personality disorder] are arrogant and self-centered, and feel privileged and entitled. They have a grandiose, exaggerated sense of self-importance and they are primarily motivated by self-serving goals. They seek power over others and will manipulate, exploit, deceive, con, or otherwise take advantage of others, in order to inflict harm or to achieve their goals. They are callous and have little empathy for others’ needs or feelings unless they coincide with their own. They show disregard for the rights, property, or safety of others and experience little or no remorse or guilt if they cause any harm or injury to others. They may act aggressively or sadistically toward others in pursuit of their personal agendas and appear to derive pleasure or satisfaction from humiliating, demeaning dominating, or hurting others. They also have the capacity for superficial charm and ingratiation when it suits their purposes. They profess and demonstrate minimal investment in conventional moral principles and they tend to disavow responsibility for their actions and to blame others for their own failures and shortcomings.
Psychopathic traits of self-confidence, cold-heartedness, manipulation, deceitful charm, and ruthlessness might help in some legal situations. But this view, taken alone, is very simplistic. A psychopathic inability to be honest, be considerate, and "play nice" can be absolutely career-ending for a lawyer. Although it is not apparent from shows about lawyers on television, lawyers get disbarred all the time for carrying out some of the "psychopathic" behavior described above. The American Bar Association ("ABA") enforces its Rules of Professional Responsibilty actively, and a lawyer that behaves unethically not only risks losing his job at a law firm, but of getting sanctioned by the ABA or by a court. Indeed, the lawyer who wrote Confessions of a Sociopath admits that her sociopathic tendencies got her fired from a top-tier law firm.
Law is seldom as dramatic or hostile as portrayed on television; and for most attorneys, courtesy, professionalism, respect, and honesty is paramount. These traits are required in order to win over clients, deal with opposing counsel productively, settle on cases that should be settled, interact with other lawyers on a regular basis, gain referrals from colleagues, and not aggravate judges (who tend to detect and abhor attempts at manipulation, gaming, unnecessary aggression, or dishonesty).
Contrary to popular belief, psychopaths are not considered to be mentally ill. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), released by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 2013, lists psychopathy under the heading of Antisocial Personality Disorders (ASPD).
Key traits of the psychopath include:
A disregard for laws and social mores
A disregard for the rights of others
A failure to feel remorse or guilt
A tendency to display violent behavior
It is consequently very important to start calling a psychopath, a psycopath, because they can be trained and managed but not cured and it is important to counter the damage they do to society when they employ a combination of charm, manipulation, intimidation, and sometimes, even violence to control others and to satisfy their own selfish desires.
Dr. Nigel Blackwood, a leading Forensic Psychiatrist at King’s College London, has stated that adult psychopaths can be treated or managed but not cured and it is therefore necessary and essential to identify and label them, to counter their negative influence.
While they are too callous and unemotional to be bothered by social stigmatization, the ultimate need for branding them is to defang their negative influence. Make it common practice to call a psychopath a psychopath, and their influence will be destroyed.
Because of their strong interpersonal skills, most psychopaths can present themselves quite favorably and many function successfully in society. However, as explained by psychologist Dr. Paul Babiak and his colleagues, a number of the attitudes and behaviors common to psychopaths are distinctly predatory in nature and they tend to view others as either competitive predators or prey.
When psychopaths view others as prey, their lack of feeling and bonding to others allows them to have unusual clarity in observing the behavior of their intended victims. Moreover, they do not become encumbered by the anxieties and emotions that normal people experience in interpersonal encounters and that is why they are ultimately a threat to others.
A psychopathic inability to be honest, be considerate, and "play nice" should be absolutely career-ending for a lawyer. It is necessary and essential to have lawyers who carry out the "psychopathic" behavior described above, disbarred, because if we fail to actively enforce Rules of Professional Responsibilty, we merely encourage and enable the psychopath.
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