That's what research psychologist Kevin Dutton hammers in his new book "The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What saints, spies, and serial killers can teach us about success." Lawyers are often functional psychopaths, that is they don't go as far in letting their impulses rip as their clients who wind up committing extraordinary crimes. On the other hand, Ponzi-scheme master Bernie Madoff might well be a psychopath who couldn't keep a lid on that mental disorder and wound up going way too far. There are degrees of psychopathology.
Among the typical traits of psychopaths which serve as both tools for success and tickets to prison or even the death penalty are:
Extreme focus, ruthlessness, lack of empathy, self-centered impulsivity, dominance, mental toughness, charisma, high intelligence, coolness under pressure, charm, persuasiveness, fearlessness, and stress immunity.
Perhaps it's because some successful lawyers have these traits that we read in the legal and general media about how they embezzle the escrow accounts of clients, overbill clients, get into domestic abuse situations with lovers and spouses, and use and distribute child pornography. Having a psychopathic personality might also account for the higher-than-average rate of clinical depression, substance abuse, and suicide among lawyers.
In pop culture, law partner Will Gardner on "The Good Wife" might well be a psychopath. So might have Denny Crane been on "Boston Law."