Sunday, July 29, 2012

Teaching Professional Identity

One of the Carnegie Report's three apprenticeships is the "apprenticeship of identity and purpose," which "introduces students to the purposes and attitudes that are guided by the values for which the professional community is responsible."  This apprenticeship involves more than teaching students the rules of legal ethics.  It is intended to inculcate law students with the characteristics of professional identity.  In other words, law schools should teach students what it is like to be a lawyer, including their ethical duties to their clients, the courts, and the public.

David Thomson has been one of the leaders in emphasizing a "role in our pedagogy for the intentional formation of professional identity in our students."  He has a post on the subject at his blog here.  He labels his appoach the “Guidance Sequence for Formation of Professional Identity (GSFPI).”  This "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 decided to resolve the dilemma; and 4) Some form of feedback and response from the professor about the decisions and choices the student made."  He adds,

"In the Discovery class that I teach, every discovery document the students prepare offer opportunities for identification of ethical issues, and the memos that accompany each assignment specifically ask the student to explain the choices they made and reflect on how and why they made those decisions.  In the final step of the sequence, I provide margin feedback on their memos, and one of the criteria in the grading rubric on each assignment addresses the accuracy and quality of the identification of the ethical issue, and the depth and clarity of the reflection."

Professional identity is something that all law schools must instill in their students.  We can no longer sit around and ignore the professional failings of many of those in the legal profession.  Professor Thomson's approach is a significant method of dealing with this need.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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