Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Professionalism versus Professional Identity

Some writers in the legal education reform movement have stressed the need to distinguish between "professionalism" and "professional identity" and to teach professional identity as a central part of law school.  David Thomson has just posted a paper on this subject entitled 'Teaching' Formation of Professional Identity.  He explains "how Professionalism relates to behaviors, such as timeliness, thoroughness, respect towards opposing counsel and judges, and responding to clients in a timely fashion."  On the other hand, "Professional identity relates to one’s own decisions about those behaviors (which sounds like overlap, but it is not), as well as a sense of duty as an officer of the court and responsibility as part of a system in our society that is engaged in upholding the rule of law."  In my view, professional identity is metacognitive, while professionalism is how lawyers specifically apply professional identity. 

Abstract: The Carnegie Report criticized legal education for, among other failings, not being intentional about the formation of professional identity among its students. As we develop our thinking about professional ethics instruction, we should be explicit about what we mean. In recent discussions, the terms "Professionalism" and "Professional Identity" have been used interchangeably. While there is some overlap between them, each contains components that are distinct from the other.

This article will offer a definitional line with which to articulate the distinction and a pedagogical process by which we might address the concern articulated in the Carnegie report. The problem is that formation of an identity is not something we can “teach” per se, since you cannot teach someone to form his or her identity. This article will offer a framework that should be applicable across the curriculum. It describes a combination of guidance steps that ideally take place in a particular order, which the article calls a “Guidance Sequence for Formation of Professional Identity (GSFPI).”

The sequence has four essential components. 1) An exercise or a writing assignment that sets up an ethical dilemma as it appears in practice; 2) An identification by the student of the ethical quandary raised in completing the assignment; 3) An expression by the student of the ethical issue and their reflection on their own decisions about how they resolved the dilemma; and 4) Some form of feedback and response from the professor about the decisions and choices the student made. The article describes several law school course contexts in which this sequence might be used, with an emphasis on teaching through simulations.

(Scott Fruehwald)


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