Monday, April 28, 2014

Teaching Professional Identity to Law Students

I have been thinking a lot about professional identity lately, and I've concluded that all law schools need to teach professional identity, including at least one class devoted specifically to the subject.  A few law schools (St. Thomas, Mercer, IU) already do so, but the vast majority don't.

While all law schools have ethics classes, these are narrower than what should be learned in a professional identity class.  Legal ethics classes mainly teach the rules, and they present a faulty picture of the lawyer's role, which also should also include a lawyer's ideals and personal morality, as well as the norms and practices of the legal field.  As two authors have stated, "[T]eaching to the profession’s code perpetuates the notion that conduct not prohibited by the rules is ethically permissible. Thus, rather than promoting professional ideals to which one aspires, the rules serve as the prevailing ethical norms, rather than the minimum standards that keep you out of trouble."  (Muriel J. Bebeau & Verna E. Monson, Guided by Theory, Grounded in Evidence: A Way Forward for Professional Ethics Education, in Handbook of Moral and Character Education 562 (Larry P. Nucci & Darcia Narvaez eds, 2008).  In other words, "the only difference between a lawyer told to be professional who acts in this way, and one who acts this way because of her professional identity, is that the lawyer herself believe that these are the ways she should act."  (Benjamin V. Madison III, The Emperor has No Clothes but Does Anyone Really Care? How Law Schools are Failing to Develop Students’ Professional Identities and Practical Reasoning, (, at *27-30 (2014)).

Dean Daisy Floyd has written an excellent introduction to professional identity, Daisy Hurst Floyd, Practical Wisdom: Reimagining Legal Education, 10 U. St. Thomas L.J. 195, 196 (2013) (here).  Everyone who is on a curriculum committee needs to read it."

(Scott Fruehwald)

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