Take a Hard Look….

♬ Take a look, take a look
Take control of yourself
For a moment realise
We are thinking today
Today, Today–
Take a look…♬

Lyrics and Music by Andy Sears, recorded by Twelfth Night.

On Nov. 30, 2010, psychologists at the University of Toronto and Tufts University released a study that makes a link between profitability of law firms and college yearbook photos of managing partners.

They reported that:

[L]aw firms are more profitable when led by managing partners with powerful looking faces. Further, an individual’s career success can be predicted as much as 30 to 40 years earlier simply by looking at their face.

It seems that:

“Appearance matters a great deal when it comes to judging people,” says Professor Nicholas Rule of the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto, lead author of a new study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. “This includes clothing, posture, and hairstyles, but the real window to judging people is the face. We developed a method to measure facial power and found that it is a strong predictor of law firm profitability.”

Nicholas Rule and co-investigator Nalini Ambady of the Department of Psychology at Tufts University undertook their study by having people judge photos of 73 managing partners from the top 100 law firms in the United States for the year 2007. They used a scale of 1 to 7 to measure qualities such as dominance, facial maturity, likeability, and trustworthiness, with 7 indicating high amounts of those qualities.

What is amazing about this study is that: “Half of the judges rated current photos downloaded from law firm websites, while the other half rated college yearbook photos of the same individuals, which on average were taken 33 years prior.”

“The ratings of dominance and facial maturity for photos averaged together to form a measure of perceived power for each leader,” says Rule. “We correlated those scores with the profits of the leaders’ respective firms and found that they are positively associated with one another, both for the judgments made from current photos and those made from college yearbook photos.”

“So, if you knew nothing about law firms other than what the faces of their leaders looked like when they were in college, you could predict their firms’ profits today,” Rule says. “Facial cues to success may therefore be consistent across much of the lifespan – approximately 20–50 years.”

This research has deep implications for law firms seeking to improve their overall firm profitability! Rather than focus on such traditional measures such as Effective Hourly Rates (EHR), Profits per Partner (PPP) or other more financially-oriented criteria of financial success (perhaps these come later, after choosing the right managing partner), they should be analyzing the photographs of potential managing partners and choose the one that ranks highest in terms of “dominance, facial maturity, likeability, and trustworthiness.”

Take a look, take a look at the findings which are presented in a paper titled “Judgments of Power from College Yearbook Photos and Later Career Success”, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.


  1. Some people have pointed out that the people involved are all white men – which may tell you something about the society that produces these ‘top’ law firms – ‘top’ in the sense of profitability rather than quality or creativity or work environment. And it may tell you something about social class and how certain people inherit success.

    That said, it may also confirm that ‘lookism’ works for men as well as for women – in law firms, probably better for men than for women.

  2. This article appears to suggest that law firms should use blatantly discriminatory hiring practices. I find it deeply offensive not to mention unethical to suggest that law firms should ignore human rights codes by duplicating social stereotypes and biases in their hiring. One does not have to read between the lines much here.