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Christopher Corts

Know Yourself, Learn Your Audience: Professional Identity Formation and Audience-Awareness in the 1L Legal Writing Classroom

By: Christopher Corts, Professor of Law, Legal Practice, University of Richmond School of Law

Teaching legal writing to 1Ls provides endless opportunities to help students grow their way through the stage-development process of professional identity formation. As students learn how to write in a way that effectively educates and persuades an audience of lawyers and judges, they learn important information about the particular skills, competencies, attitudes, and values they will need to develop if they are to successfully become the kinds of lawyers that employers want and society needs—the kind of lawyers they hope to be, in other words.

For today’s posting, I want to share a PIF-informed exercise I have developed in my Legal Analysis & Writing class. I will try to present it in a way that invites your own tinkering and innovation.

If you share my conviction that education toward professional identity formation (PIF) ought to be integrated into other subjects being taught in the law school curriculum, this exercise can help you experiment with one way that transparently PIF-focused education can help Fall Semester Legal Analysis & Writing students learn more about two of the primary audiences they will be writing documents for during both semesters of a 1L legal writing course: lawyers and judges.

In the opening weeks of a first-year legal analysis and writing course, legal writing professors have a unique opportunity to seamlessly integrate professional identity formation into their legal writing curriculum. As explained below, professional identity formation instruction can help legal writing professors achieve core goals in the legal writing curriculum. By introducing students to core legal writing concepts, language, and skills that students will need to succeed in the short-term (in the writing course), students will learn invaluable information about the kinds of skills, competencies, attitudes, and values that they will need to thrive as professionals in the long-term, in their hopefully-long careers as lawyers who analyze and write to help clients solve legal problems.

In the paragraphs that follow, I will attempt to briefly share what I have learned about how to integrate core analysis and writing objectives with professional identity formation-relevant content early in the 1L legal writing curriculum. To help facilitate your own experimentation, I will share the following:

(1) learning objectives to share with students;

(2) instructional resources that are useful for completing the unit of instruction;


(3) an instructional sequence you can use to execute the published objectives.

An appreciation for learning in context[i] is a core feature of any skills-based class. As professors of legal writing, we are lawyers who teach 1Ls early (and often) in their process of professional identity formation. We are uniquely positioned to introduce our students to two threshold questions from the very start of our writing courses. These two questions are familiar features of any professional communication course:

Who is your audience?  

What is your purpose for writing to them?

In the context of the opening weeks of a required 1L writing class, these two critical questions require students to do something nearly impossible for novices to do: imagine what it is like to actually be a lawyer, working in context, with limited (or possibly no) direct observation or experience.

Whatever 1Ls may come to law school knowing about the profession, even when they have practiced law in another country prior to enrolling in an American law school, this fact remains: no 1L has ever yet worked as a lawyer licensed by a jurisdiction in the American legal system.

As instructors, we know that, even as legal interns or summer associates, our students will be expected to complete core lawyering tasks in the same way that veterans of the profession complete them: in the context of a role-based, frequently-adversarial system that is populated by a range of familiar types. Whether our students’ future bosses prove to be some combination of happy, cranky, nurturing, or antagonistic, in the American legal system, all lawyers of every kind must figure out how to thrive in a stressful, unpredictable, ever-changing, perpetually time-deprived, chronically stressed-out, unapologetically-perfectionistic, hyper-achieving culture that defines us as a collective (and as individuals, if we are not intentional and careful). For better or worse.

Several years ago, wanting to give more intentional instruction about the context of lawyering earlier in my legal writing course, I started experimenting with offering a short unit of professional identity formation-style instruction during the first week of the course. I designed it to help legal analysis and writing novices do two foundational things: (1) learn about their audience (lawyers); and (2) learn how to write a simple C-R-A-C.

In the paragraphs that follow, having learned from trial and error, I will share three resources I have developed in order to help you experiment with your own version of this exercise in your legal writing class: (1) learning objectives; (2) instructional resources; and (3) an instructional sequence.

Part 1: Learning Objectives

This exercise uses conventional professional identity formation-related resources in order to achieve five learning objectives that are directly related to success in a legal analysis and writing course. Here is how I articulate the learning objectives for my students.


This short unit of instruction is designed to help familiarize you with one of every lawyer’s most frequent audiences: other lawyers. By completing this unit of instruction, you will more fully appreciate the people to whom you will be frequently writing in this course—lawyers and judges. The more you appreciate about them, the more you will understand how you need to learn, grow, and change over the next three years.

Specifically, completing this exercise will help you:

    • identify the features that help to demarcate law as a “profession”;
    • identify some of the issues related to quality, equity, well-being, and the delivery of legal services that all lawyers are professionally obligated to address as part of our duty to maintain the health and integrity of the profession and society’s system of legal justice;
    • identify some of the skills, values, and competencies that data suggests are most relevant to legal practice in America;[ii]
    • assess your own proficiency at the skills and competencies that data suggests are most relevant to legal practice in America; and
    • use your own self-assessment to practice writing a simple argument in the C-R-A-C form that is familiar to all lawyers, and which helps to distinguish legal arguments as belonging to a particular genre or type.


Notice: the final learning objective adds an additional layer of legal writing-specific instruction to the exercise. It helps to more seamlessly embed “professional identify formation”-style content and also justify it for especially literal-minded students who are expecting instruction relevant to Legal Analysis and Writing (or whatever your course may be titled).

In my experience, students embrace the purposeful design of the exercise. They have even enjoyed it; rare is the 1L who does not appreciate an opportunity to start a new educational initiative by thinking about herself! And it helps to teach students that professional identity formation can be easily integrated into a first-year legal analysis and writing course. All students can be assured that they will be learning about the skills most relevant to successful work as a professional by learning two of the skills most relevant to success in this course: (a) knowing your audience; and (b) expressing an argument that adheres to a simple IRAC / CRAC form in an audience-sensitive way.

Part 2. Instructional Resources

To achieve the learning objectives identified above, I draw from several resources:

A.  Excerpts from historical, first-person accounts of what it means to “be a lawyer”—especially those written by lawyers from historically-marginalized communities;[iii]

B.  Information about the history of the profession,[iv] professionalism, professional oaths, and other legal writing-specific educational content[v] published by state bar associations[vi];

C.  The “Profile of the Profession” data[vii] that is published annually by the American Bar Association; and

D.  Data about the skills, values, and competencies most relevant to legal practice.[viii]

In endnotes referenced above, I have identified particular texts and resources I have used through the years. But I have tried to describe the four general categories of instruction that I have tried to include. Collectively, these different categories help to capture what it means to be a professional and what it means to be a lawyer, specifically. And what skills, values, and competencies lawyers in America value in themselves and expect of other lawyers, given the particular needs of clients. There are a wealth of resources you can draw from. New resources are being updated and made available all the time. Experimentation is encouraged!

Part 3. The Instructional Sequence

Putting all of this together, the instructional sequence looks something like this:

  1. Preparation for class. Prior to class, I assign foundational homework to prepare students to complete the instructional sequence. The homework is usually some intentionally-curated combination of readings excerpted from suggestions I provided in end notes to Instructional Resources A. and B. in Part 2 above.Because I will be asking the students to write an IRAC / CRAC for the first time, I also assign a brief written introduction to IRAC / CRAC. I use an excerpt from the textbook I have adopted for my course[ix], but many other resources – including short videos published online – are easily accessible and can achieve the same purpose.
  2. In-Class Lecture and Work. During class, I deliver a lecture (with visual illustrations) that briefly introduces students to three topics:
    • (i) the most recent “Profile of the Profession” data published annually by the American Bar Association (as described in letter C. in the list of Instructional Resources provided in Part 2 above);
    • (ii) scholarship and data related to the professional skills, values, and competencies that are most relevant to legal practice (as described in letter D. in the list of Instructional Resources provided in Part 2 above);
    • (iii) the significance IRAC / CRAC in legal analysis and writing.
  3. Homework. After class, I have students complete two exercises, which they finish on their own time as homework following class.
    • First, they should complete a brief self-assessment exercise that asks students to rate and justify their proficiency in the skills and competencies covered in the readings and lecture (#1 & #2 above).
    • Second, when they have created that self-assessment exercise, they should complete an exercise that asks them to use the simple CRAC form to argue that they will make an effective lawyer based upon their ability to articulate a minimally-competent level of proficiency for three of the lawyer-competencies identified in the self-assessment exercise.For example, a simple C-R-A-C-style paragraph could mirror this form (with each student filling out the bracketed information based upon her assessment):

I believe I will make an effective Lawyer.[x] An effective lawyer is someone who can competently perform three or more skills that data suggests lawyers need for effective practice.[xi] Currently, I am at least minimally competent at doing [list 3 skills[xii] from the self-assessment tool that you can currently perform with at least a minimal level of proficiency].[xiii] For example, [here, in a series of short sentences, list each of the justifications you gave for the proficiency rating you assigned yourself for each of the three competencies you identified in the previous sentence.] In all these ways, since I have demonstrated I am at least minimally competent at doing [list again the three competencies selected above], I believe I will make an effective lawyer.[xiv]

    • Third, I collect the self-assessment instruments and the simple C-R-A-C. I do not mark, comment upon, or grade the self-assessment instrument. I do assess and provide detailed feedback – but not a grade – on the simple C-R-A-C paragraph. But when I assess it, I am only commenting on the correct form—whether they effectively wrote each component of the C-R-A-C acronym in that sequence.
    • Fourth, much later in the year, during the final class in Spring, I distribute the self-assessment exercise completed in Fall and ask students to read it, reflect on everything that has happened in the 1L year since the start of the Fall semester (when we completed the exercise), and update it. By asking students to complete the exercise again, they are able to make it current with any new experiences that they might have gained during the 1L year. By using this exercise to effectively book-end the 1L year in my course, I am able to help students appreciate the iterative process of self-reflection that will be key to lifelong learning in the profession. (Lifelong learning is a core lawyering skill!) This approach captures the stage-development process that I understand to be a hallmark of the professional identity formation process.

If you have any questions about how to plan or implement this exercise, or if you would like to share with me your own exercises or experiences doing comparable activities in the context of your course, please email me at

Christopher Corts is Professor of Law and Legal Practice at the University of Richmond School of Law.

[i] “There may be better and worse ways to learn to solve problems, but there appears to be no substitute for context. ” Gary L. Blasi, What Lawyers Know: Lawyering Expertise, Cognitive Science, and the Functions of Theory, 45 J. LEGAL EDUC. 313, 386-87(1995).

[ii] Whereas instruction designed for “professional identity formation” might emphasize education about professional culture as part of a process of indoctrination and enculturation, in the legal writing classroom, context is important for more discipline-specific reasons: because it can help students learn how to identify, research, analyze, and solve legal problems in order to write or verbally communicate coherent solutions for diverse audiences situated within that professional context. “There may be better and worse ways to learn to solve problems, but there appears to be no substitute for context.” Gary L. Blasi, What Lawyers Know: Lawyering Expertise, Cognitive Science, and the Functions of Theory, 45 J. LEGAL EDUC. 313, 386-87(1995).  

[iii] See, e.g., Virginia Drachman, “Women Lawyers and the Origins of Professional Identity in America: The Letters of the Equity Club, 1887 to 1890,” (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1993). See also Constance Baker Motley, Equal Justice Under Law, (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux 1998).

[iv] To give one example: in the past I have used excerpts from Anton Chroust’s two-volume history of the profession, The Rise of the Legal Profession in America (1965). Of course, more contemporary histories are easily available (and probably more easily accessible to readers!) in a shorter form: articles, excerpts from professional responsibility textbooks, etc. My goal is to provide a short excerpt that helps the reader understand what it means to be “a profession” (as opposed to some other career) and what marks “legal professionals” as “professionals” in a sociological sense.

[v] See, e.g., The Supreme Court of Ohio Commission on Professionalism, “Professionalism Do’s and Don’t’s: Legal Writing,” accessible online at

[vi] To give one compelling example, the state of Ohio publishes a number of professionalism resources that can introduce law students to the values and ideals of the profession—including some specific to legal writing. See, e.g., “Professional Ideals for Ohio Lawyers and Judges,” accessible online at See also The Supreme Court of Ohio Commission on Professionalism, “Professionalism Do’s and Don’t’s: Legal Writing,” accessible online at

[vii] The ABA maintains an interactive website that houses all of the data. See

[viii] There are an ever-increasing number of resources you could use to help craft this exercise. In the past, I have found the IAALS “Foundations for Practice” webpage to be a sensible place to start. See To read the original report, see Alli Gerkman and Logan Cornett, “Foundations for Practice: The Whole Lawyer and the Character Quotient” (2016), accessible online at  Allyson Carrel and Cat Moon have innovated an “agile competency model for the modern legal professional” called “Design Your Delta,” accessible online at For a thoughtful, scholarly approach, see also Neil Hamilton, “Empirical Research on the Core Competencies Needed to Practice Law: What Do Clients, Lawyers, New Lawyers, and Legal Employers Tell Us?,” The Bar Examiner 6-16 (September 2014).

[ix] Jill Barton and Rachel Smith, “Handbook for the New Legal Writer,” Aspen Publishing, (2d ed., 2019).

[x] This first sentence is a CONCLUSION.

[xi] This second sentence is a RULE.

[xii] Do not worry about the arbitrariness of this rule selection for now. Later in the course, as we learn more about hierarchies of authority, we will learn how to synthesize binding and persuasive rules that are less arbitrary—and more compelling to our reader—than this crude rule. For now, we just need to pick three competencies so we can create a rule and practice articulating a simple, coherent argument in a recognizable C-R-A-C form our reader will expect.

[xiii] This third sentence provides ANALYSIS of the rule; it applies the three competencies above to your self-assessment. The next sentence provides justification for the way you are here applying the rule; it is part of your ANALYSIS, too, because it helps the reader understand your rationale for concluding that you will make an effective lawyer given the rule (that data suggests the three named competencies are relevant to effective lawyering).

[xiv] This is your final CONCLUSION.

Patrick Longan

Meeting Students Where They Are

By: Patrick E. Longan
W.A. Bootle Chair in Ethics and Professionalism
Mercer University School of Law

One of the first lessons I learned about teaching professional identity was Neil Hamilton’s oft-repeated observation that we must “meet the students where they are.” This may also be the most important lesson I have learned.

Let me give you an example. At Mercer, a big part of our professional identity course is a series of small group discussions of hypothetical dilemmas the students might face in practice. In one, they are in role as a junior partner in a large firm and discover evidence that a more senior partner, who is a rainmaker and the source of most of their work, may be overbilling their biggest client, a large corporation. The students are asked to come up with a plan for how they are going to proceed and to be ready to convince others in the small group discussions of the wisdom of the chosen course.

This is a classic problem of practical wisdom. There are many values in play, and they are in tension with each other. The junior partner wants to keep a good relationship with the senior partner, for personal and professional reasons. The senior partner has been a mentor, and, without a steady flow of work from the senior partner, the junior partner’s future in the firm is in doubt. At the same time, the junior partner has obligations to protect the firm and the client from the senior partner’s possible wrongdoing. Overlaying those conflicting goals is irreducible uncertainty. Before taking action, the junior partner cannot know for sure whether the senior partner is overbilling or how the firm will react to any questions the junior partner might raise.

The students receive some guidance about how to approach such problems. At a fundamental level, they know that one of the non-negotiable components of a lawyer’s professional identity is fidelity to the client. We teach it as a virtue and articulate it in first-person terms: “I am the kind of lawyer who fulfills my duties of utmost good faith and devotion to my client, and I do not permit my personal interests or the interests of others to interfere with those duties. For this problem, the students also receive more detailed instructions. The problem offers them the options to do nothing, to raise the issue directly with the senior partner, to consult in-house ethics counsel, or to report the partner to the bar.

Because of all the uncertainty, there is no one right answer. Maybe the senior partner is a thief. Maybe he’s a sloppy timekeeper. Or maybe the partner has an arrangement with the client that allows him to bill a certain number of hours each month regardless of how many hours he actually expends. The students have to think through those possibilities and decide what to do.

This is where the lesson “meet the students where they are” comes in. Although there is no single right answer, at least one answer is wrong: the junior partner cannot choose to do nothing. Once a lawyer has substantial reason to believe that their client may have been the victim of overbilling by a partner in the firm, the lawyer must at least inquire further. Fidelity to the client demands action. In the possible overbilling scenario, there are better and worse ways of proceeding, but the lawyer must proceed in some way, even if it is against self-interest.

Every year we learn that many first-year law students cannot bring themselves to accept, even in a law school hypothetical, that they might be required to take personal risks to protect a client from the acts of another. When the students do a written reflection on the exercise, many write, with great candor and self-awareness, that they would not do anything that would put their position at risk, because they feel a primary obligation to protect themselves and their families from the loss of their jobs. Some describe this decision as “minding my own business,” or “staying in my lane,” or – my personal favorite – “not my circus, not my monkeys.” More than a few foresee catastrophic personal consequences if they lose their job. Others justify the decision by pointing out that the client in the hypothetical is a big corporation that would not miss the money.

Students do not respond in these ways because they suffer from character flaws. They are simply at an early stage of their professional identity development. It is our job to “meet them where they are.”

The most important part of doing that is not to be preachy or judgmental about the decision to do nothing in order to protect themselves. We should expect many students to have a self-interested disposition rather than a fiduciary one at this stage. Law students are all high achievers, and being disposed to look out for #1 has helped them succeed. Although we do not shrink from explaining that the decision to do nothing is unacceptable, we do so in a kind and understanding way. For example, we try to help the students see the situation through the client’s eyes. The client has to trust the lawyer and the law firm because the client is unlikely to be able to detect overbilling. The client would surely feel entitled to know if one of the firm’s lawyers was stealing from the client, if for no other reason than to begin the search for a new law firm. The reasons why acting as a fiduciary to a client are non-negotiable begin to emerge from those discussions.

Another aspect of “meeting them where they are” is to address their fears of losing their jobs if they report the senior partner. That is a possible outcome in the scenario. But some students panic because they foresee economic catastrophe.  Some say they fear “not being able to feed my family” or “losing everything I worked so hard for” if they lose their job. These fears are real because that is “where students are.” Many students lead precarious economic lives. Many have no assets or income and live on massive student loans that someday will need to be repaid. Their nervousness about money leads them, in responding to the problem, to cling to the good job they have with lockjaw tenacity, even if the client suffers. But the students do not appreciate that their economic lives as lawyers will be different from their economic lives as students. They do not realize that losing this particular job is unlikely to be quite so catastrophic. There are other firms, other jobs, other clients. There are steps they can take to insulate themselves from possible effects of switching jobs by cultivating their skill, reputation, and client base. At least in this part of the problem, we can speak some comfort to them. Although there is reason to be afraid of losing a job, there is likely no need to be terrified of it. We can start to move them from where they are to a place less filled with economic dread.

A final aspect of “meeting them where they are” in the handling of this problem is to address the suggestion that they owe less of a duty to a big corporate client than to a more sympathetic or impoverished one. The temptation to think that way at an early stage of professional identity development is understandable. Some of our students take a dim view of big business and instinctively feel entitled to condition their conduct as lawyers on the moral worthiness of the client.

If we handle this approach with understanding and patience, we can help the students cultivate a more mature professional identity. Early in the semester, we read a story about a criminal defendant who was executed after he received terrible representation, perhaps in part because his lawyers did not think he deserved it. After all, the client was a “wife-killer.” The students mostly were outraged by that. Many said “everyone deserves the lawyer’s best efforts” or something along those lines. When we play back those sentiments in our discussions about the representation of a large corporation, the students begin to move from where they are to a more sophisticated understanding of the lawyer’s role. If you can’t be 100% of a lawyer for a wife-killer, don’t represent him. If you can’t give your all for a big corporation, do something else. But the students begin to appreciate that selective fulfillment of the lawyer’s duties, depending upon the worthiness of the client, is not an option.

This is a specific example of a general point. Professional identity development is a process. Most law students are at an early stage. If we “meet them where they are” with understanding and kindness, we can help move them to where they need to be. Neil Hamilton taught me that. For this and so much else – thank you, Neil.

Please feel free to contact me at if you any questions or comments about this post.

Patrick Longan
is the William Augustus Bootle Chair in Ethics and Professionalism in the Practice of Law at Mercer University School of Law and is Director of the Mercer Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism

Karen Gross


By: Karen Gross, Founder & CEO of Citizen Discourse

The group of 2L and 3L students huddled around a long conference table, leaning in so as not to miss a word. These students are enrolled in the Access to Justice Project Management class I co-instruct with Victor Quintanilla at Indiana University Maurer School of Law. The person they are eager to hear from is Calvin, who is a clemency client of mine. He’s been incarcerated at the Greensville Correctional Facility in Jarratt, Virginia since he was 18 years old. Calvin is 38. Right now, Calvin is looking at another forty years of his life locked away.

“Based on your personal experience with the justice system, what advice do you have for law students hoping to contribute to a more just legal system?”

In his slow and deliberate cadence, Calvin responded, “Every person has a story. Take the time to listen.”


Unlike breathing, which we do unconsciously, to really listen with the objective to understand the other person requires intention. Otherwise, it’s just hearing. In class, we center the practice of active listening: from mirroring and reflective listening to empathic listening and humble inquiry. We think about scenarios where, as lawyers, these different listening approaches are effective tactics.

Let me back up and introduce myself since I’m new to this space. My name is Karen Gross. I am a practicing attorney, a consultant, a facilitator and instructor, and a social justice advocate. Out of a concern for the state of our democracy and a growing interest in restorative practices, I started an organization whose mission is its name: Citizen Discourse. Citizen Discourse gatherings make space for participants to develop more effective communication, self-awareness, and other valuable human skills. The crux of the Citizen Discourse approach involves a human-centered scaffolding for conversations, coupled with a social contract that defines relationships, sets norms, and builds buy-in. Together, these elements help foster psychological safety which lay the foundation for authentic interactions seeded in trust.

I work with law schools supporting and encouraging law students to think about their professional identities, their values, and the emotional intelligence skills it takes to align actions with values. With the newly revised ABA Standard 303, I hope to share this approach and resources with schools looking for a more holistic strategy for embedding professional identity formation.


Last week I reached out to the student who asked Calvin for his advice to see what she thought of his answer. She responded with:

“I came to law school with aspirations of ‘changing the world,’ and expected law school to teach me how to do that — and I know many colleagues who share that sentiment. Calvin’s advice reminded me that some of the most valuable elements of my practice will be traits that I do not learn in the traditional doctrinal law classrooms. Even if I have all the doctrinal knowledge and ability to ‘think like a lawyer,’ my clients will be looking to talk to a human – not a robot – who can see, appreciate, and value their humanity.

I believe this sentiment captures the essence of what the work of professional identity formation and Citizen Discourse are all about: helping our students both think like a lawyer and act like a human.

Over the next few posts, I will share the theories and thought leaders that inform the Citizen Discourse approach to culture change. I hope this invites an exchange of ideas and a conversation. To that end, Citizen Discourse offers monthly restorative conversations on the first Tuesday of every month for higher education professionals working in this space. Over the course of a one-hour session, we get mindful, discuss trends and challenges, and build rapport. Come join us if you are curious to experience a Citizen Discourse style conversation.

Please email me at if you have questions or comments, or if you’d like to join an upcoming conversation.

Karen Gross is the Founder & CEO of Citizen Discourse.

Nadelle Grossman

A Survey of the Surveys: Asking Law Schools How They Are Determining What They Are Doing with Regard to 303(b)

By: Nadelle Grossman, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law,
Marquette University Law School

As law schools evaluate whether they provide law students with “substantial opportunities for the development of their professional identities” under new ABA Rule 303(b)(3), many are evaluating what they are already doing with respect to professional identity formation (PIF).  After all, especially since the Carnegie Report,[1] there has been an emphasis on providing students education in professional identity.  The new ABA rule reflects the need for law schools to be more systematic and thoughtful about how they provide education on professional identity.  It also conveys a need to help students develop values important to being a lawyer, and not merely learn professional practices.  So it seems like a logical early step in implementing Rule 303(b)(3) to identify what a law school is already doing in regard to PIF.

To see what other law schools are doing in assessing their existing PIF efforts, I contacted the Associate and Assistant Law School Deans Listserv hosted by the ABA to request copies of assessments other law schools have conducted.  I received half a dozen survey instruments from generous colleagues at other law schools (to whom I have already expressed my immense gratitude!).  On the premise that this information might also be useful to other law schools, let me set out my observations from the survey instruments that I received.

  • A number of law schools have surveyed faculty as to their PIF efforts in their courses. Most of these surveys appear to have been sent to both full-time and part-time faculty.
  • Most surveys ask faculty to identify in which course(s) they cover these topics.
  • Most surveys are administered as fill-in-the-blank forms. Some surveys use Qualtrics and have single-click questions, with follow-up questions that appear based on the response to the prior question.
  • Most surveys contain no more than five questions.
  • Most surveys set out at the start of the survey the ABA’s interpretation of what PIF means to help respondents know what type of information is being sought.
  • A couple of surveys then further refine the ABA’s interpretation as to what PIF means. For example, one describes well-being practices as including resilience and setting client boundaries.  And it specifies values foundational to success to include work ethic, time management, and empathy.
  • As a slightly contrasting approach, several surveys contain a nonexclusive list of PIF activities to give respondents a menu of options and ideas for the types of activities that count for purposes of the survey. Respondents can then describe what they do along these lines. For example, several examples of PIF activities include whether the professor (or a class visitor) talks about his/her professional journey, and whether the professor talks about common stressors in practice.  Several others ask whether the course helps students effectively collaborate with others or asks students to engage in wellness activities.  Still, most surveys ask open-ended questions to avoid respondents limiting their answers to only the examples given.
  • A number of law schools have developed learning outcomes tied to PIF. For example, several law schools have as a learning outcome respect for others. Another law school’s learning outcomes include developing the habits of reflection and self-awareness necessary to resolve potential conflicts between personal and professional values.  To the extent a law school has relevant learning outcomes, those outcomes are set out at the start of the survey to help respondents understand what that school means by PIF activities.  Still, most surveys ask respondents to consider PIF activities even outside of those learning outcomes.

In short, as they work to implement new Rule 303(b)(3), many law schools are evaluating what they are already doing to help students develop their professional identities.  In that process, they are reflecting on, and in some cases further defining, what values they seek to instill in their students.  Armed with that information, I suspect those schools’ next steps will include evaluating what else, if anything, should be done to ensure students have substantial opportunities to develop their professional identities in line with their values.

I should note that I only received PIF surveys sent to faculty.  I suspect that is the case based on the nature of the group to whom I posed the question.  Clearly, non-faculty also substantially contribute to the development of the professional identities of students.  However, in my view, the surveys I reviewed could easily be adapted and administered to non-faculty as well.

Please feel free to contact me at if you have any questions or comments about this post.

Nadelle Grossman is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law at Marquette University Law School.


Kendall Kerew

A Chat with ChatGPT: The Uniquely Human Aspects of Lawyering

By: Kendall L. Kerew, Associate Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Externships, Georgia State University College of Law; Holloran Center Fellow 

Last month, I had the privilege of participating in the 2023 Wake Forest Law Review Symposium: Leading Change in the Legal Profession.[1] I was part of a panel with Luke Bierman (Elon School of Law) and Maria Savasta-Kennedy (University of North Carolina School of Law) entitled, “Experiential Education and Lawyer Development.” Specifically, the panel “explore[d] the history of experiential education in law schools; the current status of experiential education in American legal education; and the role of experiential education, including clinics, externships, simulations, and more in shaping the professional identity of law students and lawyers.”[2]

Given the focus of the panel, my prepared remarks enumerated four reasons why experiential education should be central to how we teach law students now and in the future: 1) the requirement that law schools incorporate professional identity formation throughout the curriculum because learning while in the role of lawyer, where a student experiences the integration of knowledge, skills, and values, is particularly well-suited to examining one’s emerging professional identity;[3]  2) the requirement that law schools provide education on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism because, for students in law clinics or field placements, one of the instances must occur before, concurrently with, or part of students’ enrollment in clinical or field placement courses;[4] 3) the development of the NextGen Bar Exam and efforts to ensure alternative pathways to licensure because the path forward is focused much less on rote memorization and more on the application of knowledge and skills;[5] and 4) the greater role artificial intelligence is likely to play in law practice because experiential education teaches lawyering skills that are uniquely human.

In this blog post, I want to focus on the last reason I posited for why experiential education is particularly relevant to the future of legal education: the greater role artificial intelligence is likely to play in law school and law practice. I am sure you have heard the news stories about ChatGPT writing passing answers to the bar exam and law school exams,[6] how ChatGPT can improve student legal writing,[7] how a judge used ChatGPT to write a ruling,[8]  and that ChatGPT may end up making lawyers obsolete.[9] Given all the attention ChatGPT has been getting, I thought it would be interesting to ask ChatGPT the following question and share it as part of my remarks:

What aspects of lawyering cannot be replaced by AI?

This was ChatGPT’s response:

There are several aspects of lawyering that cannot be replaced by AI, including:

Empathy and Emotional Intelligence: Lawyers need to understand their clients’ emotions and needs to provide effective legal advice. AI lacks the ability to comprehend and express emotions, making it difficult for it to replace the empathy and emotional intelligence needed in the legal profession.

Creativity and Critical Thinking: Lawyers often need to come up with creative solutions to complex legal problems. AI, while capable of analyzing vast amounts of data and generating insights, lacks the creativity and critical thinking skills needed to approach legal issues in novel and effective ways.

Advocacy and Persuasion: A significant part of a lawyer’s role involves advocating for their clients’ interests in court or in negotiations. This requires excellent communication skills, the ability to read and respond to non-verbal cues, and the art of persuasion. While AI can analyze and predict the outcome of legal disputes, it cannot advocate for a client in a courtroom.

Ethics and Professionalism: Lawyers are bound by strict ethical and professional standards, which require them to act in the best interests of their clients while upholding the rule of law. AI lacks the moral compass and judgment necessary to make ethical decisions, making it unsuitable for replacing the role of a lawyer.

Client Relationship Management: A lawyer’s success often depends on their ability to build and maintain strong relationships with their clients. AI lacks the ability to build rapport or provide personalized attention to clients, making it difficult to replace the human touch needed in client relationship management.

If you are reading this blog, you probably already knew this and felt secure in the future of our profession. Nonetheless, ChatGPT’s answer encompasses the very things we teach in experiential education and explore through professional identity formation. So for this blog post, I decided to ask ChatGPT a follow-up question:

Why is professional identity formation important to legal education?

This was ChatGPT’s response:

Professional identity formation is essential to legal education because it shapes how law students understand themselves as future lawyers and how they approach their legal careers. A strong professional identity helps students to develop a sense of purpose and a commitment to the values and ethics of the legal profession.

Here are some key reasons why professional identity formation is important to legal education:

Ethical and Professional Conduct: A strong professional identity helps students develop a sense of responsibility towards ethical and professional conduct, which is essential for the effective functioning of the legal system.

Career Satisfaction: By developing a strong professional identity, law students can better understand their strengths and interests, and align them with the legal career path that is most fulfilling to them.

Client Relationships: A strong professional identity can help students develop the skills and mindset needed to build strong relationships with clients based on trust, integrity, and empathy.

Effective Advocacy: Professional identity formation can help law students develop the skills and values needed to be effective advocates for their clients, while still maintaining their own sense of professional ethics.

Overall, professional identity formation is an essential component of legal education, as it helps students develop the knowledge, skills, and values needed to become competent and ethical lawyers.

This response, coupled with ChatGPT’s response to my initial question, reinforced what we already know: professional identity formation is uniquely human and a necessary component of preparing law students to become the lawyers of the future – lawyers who cannot be replaced by artificial intelligence.

Please feel free to reach out to me at if you have any questions or comments.


[2] Id.

[3] See ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools 2022–2023, Standard 303(b)(3),; Timothy W. Floyd & Kendall L. Kerew, Marking the Path from Law Student to Lawyer: Using Field Placement Courses to Facilitate the Deliberate Exploration of Professional Identity and Purpose, 68 Mercer L. Rev. 767, 790 (2017).

[4] See ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools 2022–2023, Standard 303(c),

[5] See About the NextGen Bar Exam, (”Set to debut in July 2026, the NextGen Bar Exam will test on a broad range of foundational lawyering skills, utilizing a focused set of clearly identified fundamental legal concepts and principles needed in today’s practice of law.”).

[6] See Debra Cassesns Weiss, Latest version of ChatGPT aces bar exam with score nearing 90th Percentile, ABA Journal (March 16, 2023),

[7] See Stephanie Francis Ward, Can ChatGPT help law students to write better? ABA Journal (March 6, 2023),

[8] See Columbian judge uses ChatGPT in ruling on child’s medical rights case, CBS News (Feb. 2, 2023),

[9] See Jenna Greene, Will ChatGPT make lawyers obsolete (Hint: be afraid), Reuters (Dec. 9, 2022),


Janet Stearns

When Does Professional Identity Formation Begin? Lessons in Candor in the Application to Law School

By: Janet Stearns, Dean of Students, University of Miami School of Law

Some law school educators may believe that professional identity formation of law students begins in law school. I argue that it begins earlier…. when an applicant first completes his or her law school application.

The Law School Application Process:

Applicants to law school must recognize the significance of candor in responding thoroughly and honestly to all questions on the application.

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) website addresses this in discussing Ethical Conduct In Applying to Law School.   On this website, LSAC explains:

Your submission of an application for admission to law school is your first step in the process of becoming a lawyer. Now is the time, as you take this first, important step, to dedicate yourself to a personal standard for your conduct that consists of the highest levels of honesty and ethical behavior.

Many law schools, including ours, will ask background questions trying to clarify past academic misconduct, criminal history, and any other issues that might impact on character and fitness. The responses to these questions might not keep an applicant out of law school, but some responses might impact on screening for character and fitness and ultimate bar admission. Dishonesty or lack of candor however is a significant issue with significant consequences.  Misrepresentation on the application to law school is also a sanctionable offense under our Honor Code.

Amending the Application:

In many jurisdictions, the character and fitness screening process will require students to submit the initial application to law school. In Florida, the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) speaks to our 1L students in the first month of school about the bar application process. The purpose of this presentation is to encourage early applications and character and fitness screening to the BBE. We quite commonly see a significant number of requests for amendments to law school applications following this presentation, as the BBE explains to students the expectations of candor and the full import of any failure to disclose.

Last year, we published and clarified our policies on Bar Amendments. We wanted to encourage all amendments within 30 days of the BBE presentation. This also helps our admissions office address any significant misrepresentations early in the student’s career.

Students have thirty (30) days from the date of the presentation to amend their law school application. Full candor is expected during this period so that all applications are fully, accurately, and completely updated, and all disclosures are current. All amendments are reviewed both by the Dean of Students and the Dean of Admissions.

The full policy is available on our website.

Inevitably, there are students who surface during their 2L and 3L years with additional amendments, but we have decided to address those with additional documentation and sanctions given the lack of both candor and timeliness in making the disclosures.  We are finding many opportunities to teach important lessons of professionalism and candor.

Consequences for Lack of Candor and Failure to Timely Amend:

A student who misrepresents on his or her application to law school may face serious consequences on the path to becoming a lawyer.

For example, In Re Anonymous Applicant for Admission to the S. Carolina Bar, 437 S. C. 1 (2022), Applicant, who uses he/him pronouns, seems to have applied to law school to start in Fall of 2019.  He responded “no” untruthfully to the following two questions:

Had you ever been charged, arrested, formally accused, or convicted of a crime other than a minor parking or traffic violation?

Have you ever been subjected to disciplinary action by any of the educational institutions [he previously attended]?

Following admission in 2019, he disclosed that he had been charged as a minor in possession of alcohol.  In December of 2020, he then amended his disclosure and more fully explained the charge.  In August of 2020, he disclosed a separate altercation with police from a separate incident. In December of that same year, he further amended his application to reveal a traffic ticket. Finally, shortly before being called to a hearing, he made separate disclosure as to a fraternity “prank” that resulted in a fraternity reprimand, which was seemingly never appropriately amended to his law school application.

The South Carolina Supreme Court, in reviewing this entire record together with some troubling LinkedIn social media issues, decided to delay his bar admission one full year. As the court wrote:

In light of the concerning increase in nondisclosures this Court has seen in recent years….today we take the unusual step of publishing our decision in this case while allowing Applicant to remain anonymous. Our goal in doing so is to warn potential law students, law schools, and bar applicants of the serious consequences of nondisclosure and to encourage law school applicants to completely and fully disclose all required information at the time their applications are first submitted.

As this case demonstrates, the consequences of errors and misrepresentations in the law school application, and the failure to timely correct, can significantly impact the future lawyer. I am deeply grateful to Dean Larry Cunningham of the Charleston School of Law for bringing this important case to my attention.

If you have further thoughts and questions, please let’s continue the conversation. You can reach me at And take this post as an opportunity to connect with your colleagues in admissions so that they can join the conversation on professional identity formation.

Janet Stearns is Dean of Students at the University of Miami School of Law and Chair of the ABA COLAP Law School Committee.

Daisy Floyd, Patrick Longan, Timothy Floyd

Mercer University’s Professional Identity Course*

Patrick Longan
W.A. Bootle Chair in Ethics and Professionalism

Daisy Hurst Floyd
University Professor of Law and Ethical Formation

Timothy W. Floyd
Tommy Malone Distinguished Chair in Trial Advocacy
Director of Experiential Education

At Mercer, we teach a required three-credit course on professional identity as part of the first-year curriculum. The course has been in place since 2004.

Our first-year course has many moving parts. We try to answer three questions about professional identity – what kind of professional identity a lawyer should have, why would anyone strive to have such an identity, and how one deploys professional identity in everyday practice and in more complex situations. We use a virtue ethics approach, and we teach the students that the professional identity of a lawyer should include six virtues: competence, fidelity to the client, fidelity to the law, public spiritedness, civility, and practical wisdom. We link the six virtues to the public purposes of lawyers. The course addresses motivation by exposing the students to the intrinsic rewards of the right kind of professional identity development. The course is structured to reinforce the good habits and dispositions that the students will need in everyday practice, and we work through problems and exercises to get the students started on implementing their professional identities in complex and uncertain situations. These are ambitious goals, and each part of the course is designed to accomplish one or more of them.

We begin with a series of presentations that give the students the basic structure, vocabulary, and foundational knowledge that they will need in the other parts of the course. These presentations track chapters in our book, The Formation of Professional Identity: The Path from Student to Lawyer [note: a second edition is in the works]. They introduce the students to virtue ethics and cover the six virtues in depth. We explain why it is so important for clients, the courts, and the public that lawyers acquire and deploy them – why the virtues matter to others. The presentations also introduce the students to why it will matter to them personally if they develop a professional identity that internalizes the six virtues. We expose them to research that links the six virtues to a lawyer’s sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in the profession. Finally, the presentations touch on some of the obstacles they will encounter as they try to deploy the virtues in practice, and we begin introducing the students to strategies for overcoming those obstacles and implementing an internalized commitment to their professional identities.

After the first few introductory presentations, we begin a series of weekly section meetings. At Mercer, each entering class is divided into sections of approximately twenty-five students. By the time we encounter them for their course on professional identity in the second semester of the first year, the sections usually have formed into cohesive and mutually supportive groups. The small size, and sense of trust, are important to the success of the section meetings in the professional identity course.

Each section meets once per week for twelve weeks for discussions led by one or more of us. The first three of the section meetings are essentially “warm-up” exercises in which the students read about lawyers who may or may not have deployed the right virtues in particular situations. The students “sit outside” the problems and use their new-found vocabulary about fidelity to the client, etc., to critique or praise the lawyers’ conduct. We also begin in these first two weeks to explore motivations – for example, what could have caused a lawyer to fall short of what is expected.

The next four discussions are more challenging, as the students move into “role,” as members of the state bar board of governors, as members of the state bar rules committee, and as members of the board to determine character and fitness. Here, the students are challenged to act with the virtue of public spiritedness. They debate and vote on proposals relating to access to justice, discrimination and harassment in the profession, and character as a qualification for practice. Students begin to appreciate the significance of the virtues and the difficulty of deploying them when they are first put in role, pretending to be lawyers, when they can no longer sit back “outside the problem” as students.

The next four of the section meetings involve our “practical wisdom exercises.” These problems build in complexity and call upon the students to chart a course in circumstances where more than one virtue is relevant, where the virtues might conflict, and where there is uncertainty. They cannot do that without using the “master virtue” of practical wisdom, and these problems require them to practice doing so. For example, in one problem a defense lawyer must decide whether to inform opposing counsel in a personal injury case that the plaintiff has a serious injury about which the plaintiff is unaware.+ All of these problems require the students not only to know the virtues but also to recognize conflicts among them and obstacles to their implementation while they devise and argue for the wisest action. Although there are certainly some wrong answers, there is never one “right” answer. Many students find this kind of exercise initially uncomfortable. This is where the close-knit nature of the sections is important, because undertaking these exercises with trusted classmates is easier than it would be with strangers.

The final section meeting is a more traditional classroom discussion of a reading that all of the students have completed. For the last few years, we have had the students read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and asked them to discuss the book in light of what they have learned about professional identity, with particular focus on their roles in addressing systemic injustice. As a “capstone” to this part of the course, we have found that Just Mercy works very well.

The section meetings in many ways are the heart of our course. The students must apply what they have learned about the six virtues to concrete situations. They must encounter and seek to overcome obstacles to being the kind of lawyer they hope to be. They learn that not everyone approaches issues the same way. It is hard work, and the students do not always leave happy. But we often observe them continuing to discuss the problems with their classmates as they are leaving class, and that is when we know we are making progress.

Our students also complete a series of thirteen weekly writing assignments. Many require the students to reflect on the problem from the week before, on their working group discussions, and on the section meetings. Others provide prompts to which the students must respond. For example, we ask the students early in the semester to reflect on their own personal values and to describe how those values mesh with the six virtues of the professional lawyer. It is crucial to require the students to slow down and reflect upon what they are learning. They have many demands on their time, and in a pass/fail class like ours the temptation to rush through the assignments will be too great if we do not force them to reflect. Once the students commit to the exercise, however, the results can be astounding. The student’s growing understanding of professional identity becomes obvious as the semester progresses.

Reading, discussing, and writing about professional identity is crucial, but we have also found that exposing the students to exemplars is powerful reinforcement of the lessons in the books and the classrooms. We do this in two ways. First, we bring in a series of lawyers and judges to be interviewed in front of the class about their lives and careers, with enough time for students to ask questions and introduce themselves personally. This is our “Inside the Legal Profession” series. The guests represent a cross-section of the profession and are also diverse in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, and age. Many of the interviews have been recorded and uploaded to YouTube.

The second way in which we expose students to exemplars is that we assign each working group to meet in person off campus with a local lawyer or judge near the end of the semester. The mission is to discuss life in the law, including the joys and challenges of different parts of the profession. The interviews are scheduled for one hour each but often last much longer. Students frequently report that this is their favorite part of the course. The lawyers and judges often comment on the high quality of the discussions.

The importance of exemplars cannot be overstated. Our students respect their professors, but the students don’t want to be professors. They want to be lawyers, and they are hungry for direct contact with people who are living the lives they are trying to envision for themselves. Especially after they have been through difficult discussions of the obstacles to the cultivation and deployment of the right kind of professional identity, students often find these meetings refreshing and inspirational. A happy and fulfilling life in the law seems more attainable because they have met with someone who has done it, and students also report that they have felt personally welcomed into their new profession by the willingness of lawyers to spend time with them and offer to help them in their development.

As we noted above, every part of our course serves one or more of our purposes. The lectures provide knowledge about what a lawyer’s professional identity should be and motivation to cultivate such an identity. The section meetings reinforce the virtues and equip the students to overcome obstacles and implement their professional identities. They also provide practice for exercising the master virtue of practical wisdom. The reflective writings help the students to internalize the virtues, while the exemplars deepen their understanding of professional identity and provide further motivation. We are grateful for the opportunity to teach a required first-year course focused on virtue ethics and professional identity, and we are happy to share our experience with the PIF community. We also welcome all suggestions for improving the course.

More information about the course is available at

* This post is adapted from an article the authors published several years ago: A Virtue Ethics Approach to Teaching Professional Identity: Lessons for the First Year and Beyond, 89 UMKC Law Review 645 (2021).

+ The problem is based upon the famous case of Spaulding v. Zimmerman, 236 Minn. 346, 116 N.W.2d 704 (1962).

Patrick Longan
is the William Augustus Bootle Chair in Ethics and Professionalism in the Practice of Law at Mercer University School of Law
and is Director of the Mercer Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism

Timothy Floyd is the Tommy Malone Distinguished Chair in Trial Advocacy and Director of Experiential Education

Daisy Floyd is the University Professor of Law and Ethical Formation and former Dean at Mercer University School of Law.

Greg Miarecki

How Can You Increase Connection and Engagement with Students in a Professional Identity Formation Class You Teach? Be Vulnerable

By: Greg Miarecki, Executive Assistant Dean for Career Planning and Professional Development, Director of the University of Illinois College of Law Leadership Project, University of Illinois College of Law

As I discussed in a prior article, the University of Illinois College of Law has taught a required 1L professional identity formation class in since early 2015 – known as Fundamentals of Legal Practice.  I teach the class each spring semester, and we cover a wide variety of topics, including the business of law, professional communications, personal branding, relationship building, client service, the importance of pro bono service, and leadership.  Each year, usually sometime in February, I get some backlash from students.  Some of them tend to be overwhelmed with the demands of the profession I discuss, and express some frustration and exasperation.  Once in a while, students will complain that I “don’t get it,” because I went to law school a while ago, went to a T-14 school, and was a litigation partner in a large law firm for many years.

A year or so ago, I was discussing the topic of personal branding, and related a story about how I brought a sleeping bag to my first trial site, believing that I might need it given the long hours.  I shared that, while I never actually used the sleeping bag during the trial, the act of bringing it had established me as someone who was willing to work hard.  One of my students actually chastised me for taking such an extreme measure.  To be honest, I’d never actually thought about why I brought that sleeping bag to the trial site – a trucking facility in Akron, Ohio – in the cold winter of 1999.  And in the moment, it came to me why I had – I really didn’t know any better.  I had never been part of a trial team before, and I didn’t have anyone in my family who was a lawyer to ask, “What’s a trial like?”  So I told my students exactly that – I was new to the legal profession.  No one had ever told me what a big trial was like.  All I knew is that I’d have to work a lot, and I had a sleeping bag, so I brought it with me.  My students’ response was surprising – many of them commented that they had no idea I was a “first generation law student” who didn’t really know my way around at the time.  Several of them thanked me for making this “admission.”  The act of showing some vulnerability seemingly allowed me to connect with students in a different way.

So this year, I decided to double down on the concept of vulnerability.  At the outset of the class, I told my students about some of my foibles in the legal profession, including my highly inefficient 1L job search (sending out 250 form letters), a C in a constitutional law class my second year, a rough summer internship experience the same year, and terrible interviewing skills/habits during both OCI seasons.  And I referred back to those “war stories” repeatedly during the course.  In the end, I found it helpful to share some of my vulnerabilities with the students, and found most of them to be more engaged than previous classes.  If you’re looking to engage your students in professional identity formation discussions, try telling them about some of your worst failures and how you recovered from them using the concepts you’re teaching.  You might be pleasantly surprised!

Please feel free to contact me at if you have any questions or comments.

Greg Miarecki is the Executive Assistant Dean for Career Planning and Professional Development and the Director of the University of Illinois College of Law Leadership Project at the University of Illinois College of Law

Michael Robak

THE “ONE FILE” COORDINATED COACHING INFORMATION SYSTEM: Developing a Robust Advising Management Application

By: Michael Robak, Director of the Schoenecker Law Library, Associate Dean, and Clinical Professor, University of St. Thomas School of Law

The concept behind developing a robust advising management application is to create “One File” of information developed by and about each student from the law school’s whole organization as the student moves through their law school career.

Collecting uniform information in one place, and allowing for appropriate organization-wide access will, we believe, create an advising mechanism that helps each law student move from novice to professional as described in the Holloran Center’s Competency Alignment Model.  (Figure 2 below)

This information system is comprised of three elements:

The first element of this platform, Coordinated Coaching, will be used to capture information for each student from the nine coaching touch points that occur in their journey through law school as identified by Professors and Co-Directors of the Holloran Center Neil Hamilton and Jerry Organ.  The Coordinated Coaching takes place at several points: (1) 1L Fall in a mandatory meeting with the Office of Career and Professional Development (CPD), which is described below in detail; (2) 1L Spring in a mandatory 1L class, Serving Clients Well, where professors, alumni, and local attorneys serve as coaches to the law students who work through Neil Hamilton’s award-winning Roadmap book regarding a student’s journey to finding meaningful employment; and (3) 2L and 3L years in the mandatory Mentor Externship program in which the professors teaching the classroom component of this program continue coaching and guiding the students.  Capturing information from all of these contributors at these different times will allow for those coaching the students to coordinate to better assist student development of learning outcome competencies. Currently this information is captured and stored in multiple systems and trapped in organizational silos.

The second element of this platform is the Academic Communication System (ACS).  We know, anecdotally, there are behavioral “red flags” which constitute potential clues (data points) for those at risk.  The University of St. Thomas School of Law (“School of Law”) currently has nothing in place to serve as a tracking/communication platform for all the department administrators to record and share these interactions—the ACS would serve that function.  The backbone of this element is key information for all students brought in from Banner.  There are eight School of Law departments that would provide information into the system through twenty-three “Reporters” from across those organizations. [1]  The first and most important interactions to capture are the ones with the Director of Academic Achievement and Bar Success as the Director is usually the first stop for students who have some academic success issues or concerns.

The third element of the platform, the Self-Directed Index, allows us to identify the students most at risk for possible problems with first-time bar passage and employment outcomes.  While there is anecdotal evidence suggesting about 20% of students in any given year are at risk, we are seeking to fine tune that identification by developing an instrument to gauge an individual student’s self-directedness.  This self-directed index would pull information primarily from Canvas.  For example, one item of potential concern is class attendance.  With the use of the Canvas attendance tracker, we could gather student information for each semester looking for patterns of activity.  Another example includes tracking when students turn in their assignments?  Are assignments submitted by students early, on time, or late?  This is another variable we would be able to examine.

With these three platform elements in place, the One File system becomes the single source for capturing all the information about the student journey.

The Applications behind One File are Salesforce, Qualtrics, and Canvas.  Salesforce will be customized for this specific project.  Qualtrics will be used to capture the Coordinated Coaching and Academic Communication System information.  The Self-Directed index will primarily rely on Canvas data.

Phase One of the One File system is putting parts of the Coordinated Coaching and Academic Communication System in place by the end of the Spring 2023 semester.  For the Coordinated Coaching element, One File is “starting from scratch” with only the current 1L class; we are investing in the Class of 2025 as our beta group.  We are not seeking to make One File retrospective for Coordinated Coaching.

At launch it will be built to hold the information for that Class’s 1L and 2L years.  We would seek to add the 3L year sometime later in 2023 or early 2024.  We have identified nine coaching touch points through the student’s law school journey for which we wish to track key information, and this first phase will track the first five touch points occurring in the 1L and 2L years.  The last four touch points occur during the 3L year and are similar to the 2L year with the addition of a CPD exit interview and work for bar preparation through the JD Compass program.

Phase one development of the Academic Communication System will be built for our Director of Academic Success to capture the interactions with students.  We anticipate broadening this to include other “Reporters” who can provide additional information to the file.

COORDINATED COACHING – the Beginning Touch Points

The first Coordinated Coaching touch point occurs during the 1L Fall term.  Each 1L meets with a CPD team member, and this provides the initial (and base line) information about the student.

Coaching Touch Point 1:

Currently, CPD uses Symplicity for storing student resumes, as well as their meeting notes with students.  In addition to the resume, the data we will capture in Salesforce for this touch point are:

CPD Meeting in First Year

  1. Practice Areas of Interest
  2. Geography of Interest
  3. Quick Assessment of Self-Directedness

These questions will be captured using a Qualtrics survey.  The first two questions are answered by the students on their own or as part of the CPD meeting.  The third question would need to be answered by CPD.   We created a drop-down menu for the Practice Areas and Geography to create uniformity and consistency in the data gathered.

Coaching Touch Point 2: The second touch point, the Roadmap Coaching meeting, occurs early in the spring semester of the 1L year in conjunction with the Serving Clients Well class.

Prior to meeting with their Coach, the students create a student Roadmap and upload it to Canvas.  The coaches have not had a single place to store the information they keep on their Coaching meetings with the students.  In addition, two other documents have been created by the students, an essay written for the Moral Reasoning for Lawyers course and a Personal and Professional Development Plan written for the Mentor program.  These documents, along with the completed student Roadmap template, will be placed in Salesforce and made available for review.

Qualtrics will be used for capturing the following data:

  1. Practice Areas of Interest
  2. Type of employer
  3. Geography of Interest
  4. Students self-identified and peer-affirmed strengths/competencies
  5. Quick Assessment of whether student understands concept of having to communicate a persuasive story of value and has good stories to tell
  6. Quick Assessment of Self-Directedness
  7. Identified goals for summer
  8. Identified interests for registration for next year
  9. Identified possible Mentor Experiences in which student is interested in next year

Again, we will be using drop downs to create uniform data capture.

This is a high-level overview of the One File system.   Also, somewhat unique in the development of the application, we are not building the system all at one time.  As mentioned earlier, we are starting with the School of Law Class of 2025 as the beginning point.  We will be developing the system as that class moves through its law school career and then add the following incoming classes.  In this way we can also learn as we develop the platform and allow for continuous improvement.  We’ll have more to describe as we continue this journey.

If you have questions or comments, please reach out to me at

Michael Robak is the Director of the Schoenecker Law Library, Associate Dean, and Clinical Professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

[1] The Departments and Reporter count are as follows:  Lawyering Skills (5 reporters), Academic Achievement and Bar Success (1 reporter), Mentor Externship (2 reporters), Alumni Engagement and Student Life (1 reporter), Holloran Center (2 reporters), Clinics (3 reporters), Career and Professional Development (3 reporters), Registrar (1 reporter), and Deans (5 reporters).  St. Thomas Law does not currently have a Dean of Students.

Barbara Glesner FInes

A Question to Define Professional Identity Formation

By: Barbara Glesner Fines, Dean and Rubey M. Hulen Professor of Law, UMKC School of Law

During many Holloran Center Workshops since 2017, Jerry Organ (Co-Director of the Holloran Center) has asked participants to begin their exploration of professional identity formation with a simple question:  “When did you first think of yourself as a lawyer?”  Participants reflect on the question individually and then share their reflections.  The question helps to highlight the development process that is identity formation and the key transitional moments in that process.

In a recent faculty workshop at my law school, we used that same exercise but with a slight variation. Participants were asked to think of an identity or a role that they have assumed as adults that is central to their concept of who they are.  For many of us, parenthood is one such role, but we were encouraged to consider professional roles, including the one role we all had in common: “professor” or “teacher.”  We were then asked to think back to one of the first times that we thought of ourselves as being or fitting into that role.

The identities shared varied widely: lawyer, teacher, mentor, public servant, military officer, and parent, among others.  While the identities varied, the descriptions of the transformative moments that caused each of us to more fully assume that identity shared many characteristics.

Nearly all the incidents involved the awareness of significant responsibility for another.   Whether it was the moment that a new parent brought their babies home from the hospital to the moment that a new attorney found strangers in a courthouse lobby asking for help, there was a realization that others were depending on us.

For many, the incidents had a sense of permanence as well—that the shift in our sense of self was not a momentary impression but a moment of transformation.  This sense of movement might have been from outsider to insider, from observer to actor, or from one who follows to one who leads.

These moments often carried significant emotional weight as well.  They were challenging, frightening, exhilarating, or confusing, but never mundane.

The process of reflecting on this question and sharing the reflections helped us to better understand the process of professional identity formation and to think more deeply about how we might guide our students along this path.

First, the exercise emphasized that, for most of us, transformative moments in professional identity formation came from an experience of acting in the role.  That is not to say that formation never occurs in a classroom or in reading or listening, but transformative moments more often involve the emotional content that results from being given real responsibility to another.  This realization led to a discussion of how we could provide or capture more of these high-impact experiences for our students.

Second, the exercise demonstrated the power of reflection as a pedagogy for identity formation.  We saw that the process of reflection and discussion about identity and meaning were just as rigorous and had just as much impact as Socratic dialogue about the meaning of a legal doctrine.  Not only did the exercise require reflection, but for many of us the transformative moments we were describing also included reflection as an integral component.  “I remember thinking…” was a common phrase in the shared reflections.  We discussed how we could more regularly incorporate reflection into our work with our students.

For faculty who are looking for helpful exercises to explore the meaning and practice of professional identity formation, this simple question accompanied by reflection can serve as an invaluable tool.

Please email me at if you have any questions or comments.

Barbara Glesner Fines is the Dean and Rubey M. Hulen Professor of Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.