Monday, December 4, 2017
Last week, Cal Thomas wrote an article entitled The Return of Virtue. He declared, "Rarely has the idiom 'virtue is its own reward' looked better than it does in light of the sex scandals sweeping the nation." He continued, "In the train wreck of our present culture, we are witnessing the failure over the last 50 years to instruct and discipline our children in ways that as adults they are more likely to embrace the values that can lead to a virtuous life. Why did we expect any other outcome after mostly abandoning these virtues? If you penalize and discourage virtuous things you will get less virtue; conversely, if you subsidize and encourage virtue, you will get more of it." He added, "The idea behind virtue being its own reward is that people who pursue virtue enjoy a layer of protection from the sins now being exposed in so many, from Washington to Hollywood and in between. People who are faithful to their spouses in marriage, honest in their financial dealings, respected for their character and integrity in public and in private don’t have to worry about being 'embarrassed and ashamed,' as Sen. Al Franken said of his behavior toward some women."
Do law schools have a responsibility to instill virtue in their students? I would say yes, considering the importance of lawyer honesty and integrity to the functioning of our legal system.
How can law schools help instill virtue in their students? Through universal professional identity training.
Professor Neil W. Hamilton has reported on a recent conference on professional identity training: The Next Steps of a Formation-of-Student-Professional Identity Social Movement: Building Bridges Among the Three Key Stakeholders – Faculty and Staff, Students, and Legal Employers and Clients. His article begins, "The major challenge for this symposium on next steps for the formation-of-student-professional-identity social movement is how substantially to increase the number of law students nationally who experience required professional-identity curriculum."
"The major challenge for this symposium on next steps for the formation-of-student-professional-identity social movement is how substantially to increase the number of law students nationally who experience required professional-identity curriculum. A foundational question is what are the elements of student professional identity that such a curriculum is fostering? There are substantial common themes in definitions of student professional identity in the articles in this symposium. For example, William Sullivan writes “The third apprenticeship is concerned with providing entrants to the field effective ways to engage and make their own the ethical standards, social roles and responsibilities of the profession, grounded in the profession’s fundamental purposes.” The Bilionis and Hamilton articles recommend that the formation of professional identity entails the student’s acceptance and internalization of a responsibility (1) for his or her continuing development toward excellence at all of the competencies of the profession, and (2) to others whom the student will serve as a professional including clients, colleagues, and the legal system.
Section I synthesizes themes from the nine articles in the symposium that discuss the process over the last 25 years of creating a framework to understand the formation of student professional identity. Section II synthesizes themes from the four articles in the symposium that advocate “going where they are” and building bridges among the three key stakeholders (faculty/staff, students, and legal employers/clients) to foster the formation of each student’s professional identity. Section III synthesizes existing scholarship in general, including this symposium, to articulate the most effective strategies to achieve the goal of increasing the number of students nationally who experience required professional-identity curriculum."
Conferences like the above do a lot for showing the need for universal professional identity training. But, the stakeholders, faculty and staff, students, and legal employers and clients, must push for professional identity training at their law schools. The legal profession and the public needs lawyers to be virtuous professionals. Perhaps, with the multitude of sexual harassment scandals in entertainment, news, politics, and business, there will be a large-scale movement for professional identity training at law schools, just as their was a push for legal ethics classes after Watergate.