Tuesday, March 2, 2021

ABA Proposes to Add Professional Identity Training to Law School Opportunities

We have advocated the addition of professional identity training to the law school curriculum many times on this blog.  Despite our efforts and those of many others, only a few law schools offer professional identity training.  This may soon change.  The Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has proposed a change to Standard 303 that would require law schools to provide substantial opportunities for "the development of professional identity."  (here)

Here is the proposed change to Standard 303:

Standard 303. CURRICULUM:. . .

(b) A law school shall provide substantial opportunities to students for:

(3) the development of a professional identity.

New Interpretation 303(5) would state:

"Professional identity includes, but is not limited to, the knowledge, skills, values and morals, goals, and personality traits considered foundational to successful legal practice. Students should have frequent opportunities to develop their professional identity during their time in law school, starting in the first year. These opportunities should not take place solely in one course but should be varied across the curriculum as well as in co-curricular and professional development activities as the development of a professional identity requires student reflection and growth over time."

If adopted, this program would be a significant change in the law school curriculum.  Professional identity development is very different from the current legal ethics class.  Ethics is the rules of professional conduct, while professionalism is the ability to act in a professional manner, such as politeness, thoroughness, and getting work done on time. In contrast, professional identity is a lawyer’s personal legal morality, values, decision-making process, and self-consciousness in relation to the practices of the legal profession (legal culture).  It is the “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)  It requires self-reflection and the "nurturing of of a sense of professional self-consciousness.  (Id.)  In sum, professional identity provides the framework that a lawyer uses to make all her decisions.

I strongly support the adoption of this proposal.  You can send comments on the proposal to Fernando.Mariduena@americanbar.org until March 31.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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