Sunday, January 27, 2013

More On Professional Identity

This blog has often emphasized the importance of developing law students' professional identities.  I have also stressed the need to teach professionalism and professional identity across the curriculum.

Three faculty members at the University of St. Thomas have just posted an article on SSRN concerning how their law school teaches professional identity.  This appears to be an excellent program that can serve as a model for other law schools.

Empirical Evidence that Legal Education Can Foster Student Professionalism/Professional Formation to Become an Effective Lawyer by Neil W. Hamilton, Verna Monson, and Jerry Organ.

Abstract: Legal education should move toward much more effective educational engagements to foster each student’s professional formation and thus improve each student’s ultimate effectiveness as a lawyer. Part I reviewed and analyzed the empirical evidence that convincingly points toward the importance of a law student’s or practicing lawyer’s capacities and skills of professional formation for legal employers and clients. Part II reviewed and analyzed the empirical evidence about the most effective curriculum, culture and pedagogies to foster each student’s professional formation. Part III explained the professional formation curriculum, culture and pedagogies of University of St. Thomas School of Law (the empirical evidence in Part II aided in the design of this curriculum, culture, and pedagogy). Part IV analyzed empirical data demonstrating that the UST law students experience growth in moral development and professional formation over their three years of law school in a manner different from that which might be anticipated from law school generally. The data from this study reasonably support the link between the overall UST Law educational program and the increase both student moral reasoning and ethical professional identity.

Our findings add to the research presented in Part II that education to foster professional formation must engage each student at the student’s current developmental stage. The UST Law curriculum, culture, and pedagogies reflect and incorporate the earlier research analyzed in Part II. Future studies should concern evaluating which specific elements of the curriculum, culture or pedagogies were most effective. The challenge at its core is to help each student internalize deep responsibilities both for others, especially the client, and for the student’s own development toward excellence at all the competencies that a practicing lawyer must have to fulfill his or her responsibilities for others.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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