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At Least Among Lawyers, Strong Faces Head More Successful Firms

Law firms are more successful when headed by lawyers with powerful-looking facial features, according to psychologists at the University of Toronto and Tufts University.

Interestingly, this success would have been possible to predict by looking at their faces 30 to 40 years beforehand.

For the study, photographs of 73 manager-partners from the top 100 law firms in the United States were judged (on a scale of 1 to 7) by volunteers for the following attributes:  dominance, facial maturity, likability, and trustworthiness.

“Appearance matters a great deal when it comes to judging people,” said Nicholas Rule, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto.

“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.”

Although half of the judges rated current photos that had been downloaded from law firm websites, the other judges were given college yearbook photos of the same individuals, which were taken, on average,  33 years prior.

The dominance and facial maturity ratings were averaged together to create a measure of perceived power for each leader.

“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,” said Rule.

“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 said. “Facial cues to success may therefore be consistent across much of the lifespan – approximately 20-50 years.”

Even though the study only analyzed the faces of law firm leaders, Rule believes that the results would also apply for business, government, and other sectors. “In previous work, we’ve found similar effects with CEOs and political candidates,” he said.

“Judgments of faces predicted a Fortune 1,000 company’s success and the percentage of votes that candidates received in the U.S., Canada, and Japan. These findings suggest that judging college yearbook photos might predict the outcomes for leaders in those domains as well.”

Rule conducted the study with co-investigator Nalini Ambady of the Department of Psychology at Tufts University.

Source:  University of Toronto

At Least Among Lawyers, Strong Faces Head More Successful Firms

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). At Least Among Lawyers, Strong Faces Head More Successful Firms. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 3 Dec 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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