Tuesday, May 3, 2022

"Teaching" Professional Identity: A New Book for Administrators and Professors

Professors Neil W. Hamilton and Louis D. Bilionis, two leaders of the professional identity development movement,  have just published a book to help administrators and law professors satisfy the new ABA requirement that professional identity training be included in the law school curriculum:

Law Student Professional Development and Formation: Bridging Law School, Student, and Employer Goals

You can download the book for free here.

    The authors write, "This book is written for law school faculty, staff, and administrators who would like to see their school more effectively help each student to understand, accept, and internalize the following:

1. Ownership of continuous professional development toward excellence at the major competencies that clients, employers, and the legal system need;

2. a deep responsibility and service orientation to others, especially the client;

3. a client-centered problem-solving approach and good judgment that ground each student’s responsibility and service to the client; and

4. well-being practices.

Chapters 2 and 3 focus on strategic planning to realize the foregoing benefits at your school. "Chapter 2 explains and stresses the importance of purposefulness in the law school’s efforts to help students to realize the four PD&F goals. The reader will find a framework for bringing that purposefulness to work in the law school. Chapter 3 explores how competency-based education can serve as a possible framework for purposeful support of students toward the four goals."

"Chapters 4 and 5 focus on practical implementation steps to realize the benefits we just outlined at your law school. Chapter 4 brings forward ten principles from the literature on higher education that should inform the development of any law school curriculum to foster each student’s progressive growth toward later stages of development on the four PD&F goals. Chapter 5 stays with the practical, turning attention to how interested faculty, staff, and administrators can lead their school toward more purposeful support of students and their PD&F goals."

The authors emphasize that professional identity development requires a new approach to learning: "Law professors contemplating what their school can do to better help students in their formation of professional identity likely will presuppose that the answers involve some form of transmission of knowledge by the faculty to students. After all, isn’t that what teaching is, and isn’t teaching what a law school does?

Framing the law school’s capacities that way defines legal education and the law school’s appropriate functions too narrowly. Teaching as it is customarily envisioned – the transmission of expert knowledge by a professor who imparts doctrinal wisdom and hones student skills in analysis and synthesis – figures enormously. But the education of the American lawyer involves more. Other kinds of experiences are formative for the developing lawyer and thus, in a real and meaningful sense, an integral part of the legal education. The challenge for law schools is twofold: to see legal education in those broader terms and to recognize that society expects law schools to take responsibility for legal education in those broader terms."

They continue: "Accepting this responsibility means embracing a leadership challenge. The question is not so much what additional expert knowledge the law faculty can convey, but rather what the school as a whole can do to maximize the formative potential of the pre-professional-employment period – what diverse talents, techniques, and resources it can muster and deploy."  (emphasis added)

This requires three steps.  "First, it is necessary to be frank about the period for which the law school bears responsibility. . . . The period really begins not with matriculation but with increasingly intensive recruitment and admissions processes that initiate the student’s professional socialization. The period ends not at graduation but with the passing of the bar examination and the securing of a job – activities that law schools support with expanded postgraduation services. And those summers are not 'breaks' that punctuate the period but months designated for realworld experiences that schools promote and facilitate, and even create and subsidize, because they are central to development."

"The second step is to draw into view the diverse formative experiences that occur (or could occur) in that pre-professional-employment period, together with the varied times, spaces, and talents associated with those experiences. These represent the assets that can be committed to supporting students in the formation of their professional identity. By inventorying the experiences carefully, and associating each experience with one or more of the competencies that the school sees as integral to its working conception of professional identity, the school can see with clarity the student’s development opportunities and the functions they serve."

"A richer picture of the pre-professional-employment period allows the law school to move to the third step – the formulation of purposeful strategies to fortify each formation experience and to unite them all in a coherent, staged, sequenced, and supported whole that maximizes the benefits for students."

This stage has two dimensions.  "On a more general level, relationships and collaborations need to be forged among the many people and organizations that afford students formation experiences. Lines of communication between these parties need to be opened. Ways of coordinating, enhancing, reinforcing, and leveraging their varied efforts need to be imagined and implemented. These things will not occur unless the law school takes the lead in spearheading them. On the finer level of specific strategies and actions, appraisals of the value and potential of each formation experience need to be conducted. What pedagogies can be introduced around each experience – before, during, and after it – to maximize its benefit? Who among the many, from the school’s faculty and staff to stakeholders and participants outside the school, are best situated to help the student maximize that experience, and in what way may they help? What formative assessment opportunities are presented by the experience? What developmental milestones, or assessments that might later be bundled into a summative assessment, might be involved?"

The authors further develop how professional identity training should occur.  "What Dr. Robert Sternszus has said for medical education holds for law: '[T]he role of professional education should be to guide and support learners in the process of identity formation, rather than ensuring that learners understand medical [or legal] professionalism and demonstrate professional behaviors.'  Students need experiences as active participants in situations that signal the profession’s shared values, beliefs, and behaviors. They need encouragement to make the process of their identity formation their own and to reflect on the process as it unfolds. They need assistance in comprehending what they are going through."

"This calls for teachers who can curate and coach. By curating, we mean staging the experiences and environments that will promote professional identity development, connecting them conceptually to one another in an intelligently sequenced fashion, and guiding students through them with a framework that helps the students understand their own development through the process."

"'Coaching is the thread that runs through the entire apprenticeship experience and involves helping individuals while they attempt to learn or perform a task. It includes directing learner attention, providing ongoing suggestions and feedback, structuring tasks and activities, and providing additional challenges or problems. Coaches explain activities in terms of the learners’ understanding and background knowledge, and they provide additional directions about how, when, and why to proceed; they also identify errors, misconceptions, or faulty reasoning in learners’ thinking and help to correct them. In situated learning environments, advice and guidance help students ... to maximize use of their own cognitive resources and knowledge, an important component in becoming a professional.'"

The authors stress that professional identity development should not only be across-the-curriculum, but throughout the entire law school.  For example, "Law school colleagues working in the career services area have much to gain by implementing professional identity formation initiatives in their work with students."

The above only gives a sample of the detail about professional identity training that is in Hamilton's and Bilionis's book.  As someone who has been studying professional identity training for the last few years, I can attest that the advice they give in their book will help administrators and faculty create a new approach to legal education.

(Scott Fruehwald)

Note: The authors recommend two of my books to help students develop their professional identities. (p. 126) “Models and guides are available to make initiative practicable, easy to execute, efficient, compatible with one's practices and values, and likely to succeed - the criteria that make it easier for people to change and innovate.8

Fn. 8: See Bilionis, supra note 1, at 612-16. For example, Scott Fruehwald has a number of useful professional identity exercises in his book, How to Grow a Lawyer 166-95 [(2018). Fruehwald also has many useful reflection questions on professional identity and self-regulated learning in his book, Developing Your Professional Identity: Creating Your Inner Lawyer 1-39 (2015)."

I should point out that the "How to Grow" book is intended for law professors and administrators, while "Developing Your Professional Identity" is written for law students.  I believe that the best way to teach professional identity is through reflection questions.  Both books include lots of reflection questions.

 

 

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