Thursday, August 20, 2015

Neil Hamilton on Professional Formation with Emerging Adult Law Students

Prof. Neil Hamilton at University of St. Thomas in Minnesota is a leading voice in professional formation in law schools and in the scholarly evaluation of our enterprise of educating effective professionals.   I met Prof. Hamilton first at an intensive weekend program on professional formation through St. Thomas's Halloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions.

Prof. Hamilton has published a new article synthesizing data the developmental stages of emerging adult students and their ownership over their own professional development.  Prof. Hamilton discusses how his new ROADMAP curriculum (ABA Books, 2015) can help students move forward developmentally to create and implement a written plan for professional development.  The ROADMAP curriculum won an ABA Gambrell Award last month. 

Here is a link to the article, Professional Formation with Emerging Adult Law Students in the 21-29 Age Group: Engaging Students to Take Ownership of Their Own Professional Development Toward Both Excellence and Meaningful Employment, forthcoming from JOURNAL OF THE PROFESSIONAL LAWYER.  

Here is Prof. Hamilton's abstract for the article:

Four factors have converged that require law faculty to add an additional foundational learning outcome, focused on helping each law student to take ownership over her own professional development, to the traditional emphasis of legal education on technical competencies such as doctrinal knowledge, legal analysis, and legal research and writing.

First, we have a new understanding of the importance of the development of each student toward an internalized ethic of responsibility and service to others, plus an internalized commitment to professional development toward excellence. Second, there are both new data to consider on the developmental stages of students who are emerging adults in the 21-29 age group and new data that a substantial proportion of law students are at an earlier stage of taking ownership over their own professional development than where the faculty and the profession want them to be. Third, we have a new understanding of curriculum that is effective in helping each student take ownership of her own professional development. Fourth, both potential applicants (in deciding which institution to attend) and the federal government (concerned about student loan repayment) are increasingly emphasizing gainful employment outcomes.

Taken together, the four factors are impelling law schools and the legal profession to define a professional formation learning outcome where each student takes ownership over creating and implementing a written plan to use her time in law school most effectively for her own professional development toward both excellence at the competencies needed to serve others well and, ultimately, meaningful employment.

Recent empirical research on emerging adults in the 18-29 age range indicates their dominant motivation is to achieve self-sufficiency, which in turn has two principal sub-elements: (1) accepting responsibility for yourself; and (2) becoming financially independent. Legal educators (both faculty and staff) must help each student to understand that in order to achieve self-sufficiency, the student must take ownership to create and implement a written plan for his professional development toward excellence at the competencies needed to serve others well (this is the key learning outcome) across the whole arc of his or her studies, career, and life. This paper analyzes new assessment data demonstrating the effectiveness of a new curriculum designed to help each student take ownership over her professional development.

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