Monday, April 12, 2021

Adding Professional Identity to The Law School Curriculum

Last month, I mentioned that the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar had proposed a change to Standard 303 that would require law schools to provide substantial opportunities for "the development of professional identity."  (here)  The comment period has now closed.

There were a large number of comments, most of which were positive. (here)  The most important comment came from the Holloran Center: "The Center strongly endorses the Council's proposed revisions to Standards 303."

However, the Center did note that the interpretation needed to be more focused. ''We propose the modest changes to Interpretation 303-5 discussed below to bring the Interpretation's language into line with the scholarship on fostering each student's formation of a professional identity."

Here is the Council's proposed interpretation: "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."

Here is the Center's suggested change: "Professional identity focuses on what it means to be a lawyer and the special obligations lawyers have to their clients and society. The development of professional identity should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices 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."

(Sorry, I could not reproduce the Center's marked up version on this platform  You can find it here.)

 The Center wrote, "The reason for these modest changes is that the Council's proposed Interpretation 303-5 language is overbroad in saying that "Professional identity includes, but is not limited to: the knowledge, skills, values, morals, goals and personality traits considered foundational to successful legal practice." The concept of a student's formation of a professional identity is most clearly articulated in the five Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching's studies of higher education for the professions: clergy (2006); lawyers (2007); engineers (2009); nurses(2010); and physicians (2010). In these five studies the Carnegie Foundation defined the formation of a professional identity in the context of the three general apprenticeships that the new entrant to each profession endeavors to master: the cognitive apprenticeship, the practical apprenticeship, and the apprenticeship of professional formation. The cognitive apprenticeship "focuses the student on the knowledge and way of thinking of the profession." In other words, the cognitive apprenticeship concentrates on the analytical skills unique to each profession applied to the doctrinal knowledge of that profession. The second apprenticeship is "a practical apprenticeship to learn skilled know-how and clinical reasoning." These are the practical (not analytical) skills necessary for effective practice and include, for example, all the relationship skills necessary to engage with clients and colleagues. This apprenticeship usually involves practice-based learning. The third apprenticeship is the apprenticeship of formation of a professional identity, which "introduces students to the purposes and attitudes that are guided by the values for which the professional community is responsible."

The most important element of a professional identity is internalizing a deep responsibility to the person served (the client) and society in the area of the profession's responsibility. The formation of a professional identity is "an on-going self-reflective process involving habits of thinking, feeling, and acting.” It is a lifelong commitment to continued progress toward excellence and the values and guiding principles of the profession.

The Council’s proposed Interpretation 303-5 defining professional identity includes all three apprenticeships: “knowledge” – the first apprenticeship; “skills” – the second apprenticeship; and “values” and “morals” – the third apprenticeship. We recommend clarifying that professional identity “focuses on what it means to be a lawyer and the special obligations that lawyers have to their clients and society. The development of professional identity should involve an intentional exploration of the values and guiding principles considered foundational to successful legal practice.”

In addition, since the publication of Educating Lawyers in 2007, and particularly in the last several years, with the 2014 Survey of Law Student Well Being11 and the Report of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well Being,2 there has been much greater awareness that the well-being of law students and lawyers is profoundly important to the legal profession and to the clients that lawyers serve. We believe “well-being practices” are just as important to understanding what it means to be a lawyer and to prepare oneself for long-term success as a lawyer as the values and guiding principles that are already referenced in this clause. We therefore recommend inclusion of “well-being practices” as part of this sentence describing professional identity."  (I omitted the footnotes because they do not reproduce well on this platform.  You can find them at the link above.)

Several other commenters agreed with the Holloran Center's more focused language, including an extended comment by the Regent Center for Ethical Formation.  (here). 

As I have stated before, I strongly support this proposal.  Law students need to learn about what it means to be a lawyer as much as they need to learn legal rules and how to apply them.  I also support the Holloran Center's more-focused revision to the interpretation.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_skills/2021/04/adding-profesional-identity-to-the-law-school-curriculum.html

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