Thursday, May 31, 2018

Dean Chemerinsky on Professional Identity Development

I have long been an advocate for law schools making professional identity development a major part of their curriculum.  Unfortunately, only a few law schools have done this, despite the fact that the Carnegie Report emphasized its importance over ten years ago.

The Center for Legal Profession at Harvard Law School has devoted an entire issue of The Practice to lawyers' professional identity.  (here)  It includes an interesting interview with Dean Erwin Chemerinsky on including professional identity training in the first-year year curriculum.

Rethinking the First-Year Curriculum

He writes,

at UC Irvine "We decided to construct the first-year curriculum around methods of analysis. It is based on the realization that common-law analysis is different from statutory analysis, which is different than constitutional analysis, and international analysis is different from other types of law. And so, the idea was that every first-year student would take a course on common-law analysis in contracts and common-law analysis in torts, a course on statutory analysis, where we would use criminal law as the vehicle, a course on procedural analysis, a course on constitutional analysis, and a course on international legal analysis. We also decided that we wanted to have a significant component of the first year focus on lawyering skills, so we devoted six units each semester to lawyering skills."

He continues,

"Then we decided that we wanted a first-year course on the legal profession. Ideally, it was to be two units each semester for the year-long course, though sometimes it was one semester for four credits. And it was meant to really teach students about the profession they were joining. It was going to cover the basics of the rules of professional conduct, but it also was about the sociology of the profession. It was some about the economics of the profession. It was also going to have a significant component of speakers’ panels—about one out of every four classes was a panel of speakers on different practice settings. The goal was to give students a much richer sense of the various career options within the legal profession. "

He adds, "I have taught professional responsibility in a number of different contexts. I think it’s important that students think about the profession and think about professional responsibility before they become substantially socialized into it. Moreover, because we expect students to be involved in lawyering from early on in their career, they really do need to know the basic rules of ethics very early on. The course really worked at Irvine."

I would add that the most important part of professional identity training is teaching students to reflect.  Reflection helps students internalize values.

(Scott Fruehwald

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