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Daisy Floyd, Patrick Longan, Timothy Floyd

West Academic Press Publishes Second Edition of The Formation of Professional Identity: The Path from Student to Lawyer

By: Pat Longan, William Augustus Bootle Chair in Ethics and Professionalism
Director, Mercer Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism
Mercer University School of Law

Daisy Hurst Floyd
University Professor of Law and Ethical Formation
Mercer University School of Law

Timothy W. Floyd
Tommy Malone Distinguished Chair in Trial Advocacy
Mercer University School of Law

West Academic Press recently published the second edition of our book, The Formation of Professional Identity: The Path from Student to Lawyer.

Our book is the product of over twenty years of experience teaching our required three-credit course on professional identity to Mercer’s first-year students. Our hope is that others can benefit from that experience, regardless of whether your efforts to help students develop their professional identities comes in a dedicated course, in a clinic, as part of another course such as professional responsibility, or in some other context.

We begin in Chapter 1 by defining professional identity as a lawyer’s deep sense of self as a lawyer. It is how a lawyer would complete an essay that begins, “I am the kind of lawyer who ….” We try to help the students understand that professional identity for lawyers is not just a matter of personal preference. As Interpretation 303-5 states, lawyers have special obligations to clients and to society, and “[t]he development of professional identity should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice.” Internalizing those values is non-negotiable if the students are to fulfill their special obligations.

Our book presents professional identity formation as an exercise in virtue ethics. Chapter 2 explains that virtue ethics supposes there is an ideal to which one might strive. For example, we can imagine and describe the ideal doctor or the ideal teacher. Such descriptions inevitably include a list of virtues that a person should have and cultivate in order to approach that ideal. We then list for the students six virtues that need to be part of their professional identities as lawyers. We distilled these from the 100 or so professionalism codes and creeds that have been adopted around the country by courts and bar associations, as well as more recent work from Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers. Those virtues are competence, fidelity to the client, fidelity to the law, public spiritedness, civility, and practical wisdom. These are the “values and guiding principles” foundational to the profession and therefore essential to the development of professional identity.

The book then deals with these six virtues one chapter at a time. In each chapter, we elaborate on what the virtue means for lawyers, describe the obstacles they will encounter in practice to the deployment of the virtue, and explore some strategies for overcoming those obstacles.

Each chapter includes discussion questions and problems that we have road-tested in our course. These can be used for class discussion, written reflections, or both. We typically use a problem for in-class discussion and then have the students write a reflection on the exercise afterwards. We are working on a teacher’s manual that will be available in PDF format to help anyone using the book know what to expect from these exercises. In the meantime, of course, we are available to you to share our experiences.

The last chapter in the book is about the connection between having the right kind of professional identity and well-being in the profession. Interpretation 303-5 states that professional identity includes the well-being practices that are foundational to success in the profession. Here we emphasize the connection between developing an internal commitment to the cultivation of the six virtues and the lessons of positive psychology about the conditions that support well-being in one’s life. We present the theoretical framework of Self-Determination Theory and the empirical findings of Larry Kreiger and Ken Sheldon to help the students understand that there is a happy convergence between the needs of others and their own well-being: the more they internalize and cultivate the special values of the profession, the more they will derive deep satisfaction from their work.

If anyone has any questions or comments about the book or how you might use it, please get in touch with any of us (longan_p@law.mercer.edu, floyd_dh@law.mercer.edu, or floyd_tw@law.mercer.edu).

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.

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

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 https://law.mercer.edu/academics/centers/clep/education.cfm.

* 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.

Daisy Floyd

Professional Identity: What is It?

By: Daisy Hurst Floyd, University Professor of Law and Ethical Formation and former Dean, Mercer University School of Law

I’ve been thinking about the lawyer’s professional identity and legal education’s role in developing that identity for almost two decades.  Through it all, I’ve struggled with two questions. First, what do we really mean when we use the term “professional identity?  Second, how should our work overlap with lawyers’ identities outside of their professional roles?  It seems that we lack a clear, shared definition of professional identity; much of the work on professional identity formation, including my own, has been more about the why and how than the what. In this piece, I offer some thoughts about the what. In two later postings, I will address the why and how.

The two questions above occupied much of my summer as I worked on a forthcoming book about professional identity.  My research led me to develop a model that addresses both what we mean when we talk about professional identity and also its overlap with personal identity. This posting describes that model; I welcome your reaction to it.

In our book, THE PATH FROM STUDENT TO LAWYER: THE FORMATION OF PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY, my colleagues Pat Longan, Tim Floyd, and I used the following definition of professional identity: it is a lawyer’s deep sense of self in role, which allows the lawyer to fulfill the public purposes of the profession and live a life of fulfillment and satisfaction.  This definition places our work within virtue ethics and claims that identity is a matter of character.  It also connects a particular kind of identity with the desired outcomes of ethical action and well-being.

While this definition focuses helpfully on the lawyer in professional role, it lacks full consideration of a person’s deep sense of self outside of that role. After all, a sense of self in role as a lawyer is just one part, albeit a large one, of any lawyer’s overall deep sense of self.  All of us inhabit multiple roles in our lives, and a lawyer’s professional identity exists in that broader context.  We know that when a lawyer’s identity in other roles is not consistent with their professional identity, the resulting dissonance is likely to result in unethical behavior and a lack of well-being.  It is therefore incumbent upon us to help our students situate their evolving professional identities within their overall identities.  To do that, we need to be informed by understandings of identity outside of the particular context of professional identity.

During the twentieth century, social scientists addressed a question that had occupied philosophers for centuries: What does it take to lead a good life in which one is a good person (acts ethically) and flourishes (experiences satisfaction and fulfillment)?  This is really the same question that we are asking about professional identity: what does it take for a lawyer to lead a good life, one in which the lawyer is effective and ethical and also flourishes?

A synthesis of the literature on virtue ethics, identity, and character reveals three components of a sense of self that will support a good life across multiple roles.  These three components can help us understand professional identity.  They are: (1) internalization of certain essential core virtues; (2) cultivation of individual strengths and understanding of individual traits; and (3) a purpose that informs actions and provides meaning.

Core virtues

Virtue ethics posits that a person must internalize certain virtues to be a person of good character.  Aristotle famously developed a list of such virtues, and that list has been debated and revised since by philosophers, theologians, and social scientists.  Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, leaders in the field of positive psychology, have identified six essential core virtues, finding “a surprising amount of similarity across cultures and…a historical and cross-cultural convergence” around these virtues. According to them, a person who internalizes these six virtues will be a person of good character and likely to live a life of ethical action and fulfillment.  All six are essential; if any is missing, a person will not be a person of good character.

The six core virtues (which they call “the Big Six”) are:

  • wisdom: the acquisition and use of knowledge;
  • courage: the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal;
  • humanity: interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others;
  • justice: healthy community life;
  • temperance: protection against excess; and
  • transcendence: forging connections to the larger universe and providing meaning.

Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, CHARACTER STRENGTHS AND VIRTUES: A HANDBOOK AND CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM (Oxford Univ. Press 2004).

Individual Strengths and Traits

As essential as the core virtues are, however, they are not the total of a person’s identity.  Each of us is different from every other person and possesses individual traits, which make up the second component of identity.  Some traits are strengths that will support implementation of the core virtues, while other traits may present challenges.  Some traits are inherent and even immutable, such as musical talent, shyness, or athletic ability.  Others are more malleable, such as messiness, a dislike of confrontation, or a tendency to procrastinate.

Peterson and Seligman have identified twenty-four character strengths, each supportive of a particular core virtue.  They include such traits as creativity and open-mindedness (supportive of wisdom): persistence and integrity (courage); love and social intelligence (humanity); humility and self-regulation (temperance); citizenship and leadership (justice); and gratitude and hope (transcendence).  Most people can readily identify between three and seven of these strengths as their own, which Peterson and Seligman label “signature strengths.” A signature strength is one that “a person owns, celebrates, and frequently exercises.”

While no one is likely to possess all twenty-four, they have found that a person who possesses at least one strength within each virtue will be a person of good character.  No one is likely to possess all, but their research indicates that most people possess at least two within each virtue.


The third component of a healthy sense of self is purpose. It builds upon the first two, but it is greater than the sum of the parts.  A purpose allows a person to live congruently with the sense of self that has evolved from internalization of the core virtues and the appropriate traits.  Without a purpose, one is unlikely to live an ethical life and find fulfillment, even if they possess the core virtues and essential strengths.

Self-determination theory helps us understand the relationship between purpose and identity through its research on motivation.  A person is intrinsically motivated when their actions are either inherently enjoyable or help fulfill an important goal in their lives.  For example, a person may spend time with friends or exercise because those things are inherently enjoyable.  However, they will spend time cleaning trash from the side of the road, not because it is inherently enjoyable but because it fulfills a purpose of caring for the environment.  In contrast, a person is extrinsically motivated when acting to please someone else, earn a reward, or avoid something unpleasant, such as guilt, anger, or pain.  Everyone experiences both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, but a person who is primarily motivated by intrinsic motivations is more likely to act ethically and experience fulfillment than one who is motivated primarily by extrinsic motivation.  One who is primarily motivated by extrinsic values is likely to experience angst and distress.

Without a guiding purpose, people are more likely to give into pressure to act inconsistently with their identities because they don’t know themselves well enough to act primarily out of intrinsic motivations.  Likewise, a person who has not taken the time to develop the foundational virtues may have a desire to resist extrinsic motivations but will find it hard to do so because of failure to internalize the virtues that support such action.  For example, without courage, it will be difficult to resist extrinsic motivations even in the face of conflicting intrinsic ones.

Sophie, an entering law student

To illustrate this model of identity, we can imagine Sophie, an entering law student.  Sophie describes herself this way: “I am friendly, opinionated, and stubborn.  I do my best to be kind to others, but sometimes my stubbornness makes it hard to be patient when I disagree with someone or think they are doing something they shouldn’t.  I have a good sense of humor, but sometimes I show that through sarcasm, which can be hurtful when I don’t intend it to be.  I care about others, and I feel good when I do things that make life better for others.  I am quiet and a bit shy; I like to read and be by myself for at least part of every day, even though I also enjoy being with friends and family.  I value honesty and believe that it is important not to compromise my ethical values.  I want to be a friend that others can always rely upon.  I don’t like conflict and prefer that everyone get along.  I am learning to stand up for myself and others when necessary, even when confronting others is uncomfortable, but I want to continue to get better at it because sometimes I let things go that I shouldn’t.  I am curious and like to travel to learn about other cultures, but my shyness sometimes prevents me from taking full advantage of being in new situations.  I believe that we are all connected in some way and engage in spiritual practices that are important to me.  Because I want to improve my community, I was a student government officer and involved in a couple of nonprofit community organizations in college.  I am a good athlete and was really successful in high school and college sports.  I lack musical ability, but I appreciate good music, love to go to concerts, and have an interest in learning about singer-songwriters and their work.  I don’t like animals, and I’ve never wanted a pet.  I’ve always liked to be around children and thought about being an elementary school teacher.  I want to do good work in the world that is useful to others, but I’m not sure what that will be.”

Sophie’s answer tells us a lot about her.  As an introvert, Sophie knows that being in social situations will require that she take some time to be alone to restore her energy; an extrovert will know that too much alone time will be draining and that they need to schedule time for interactions with others.  Sophie recognizes that her personality traits of stubbornness and conflict avoidance may present challenges to being the person she wants to be.  Because Sophie is curious about the world and likes to travel, she will make different decisions about how to spend her time and money than someone who does not enjoy or value traveling.  Because Sophie values spiritual practices, she will schedule time to participate in such practices, just as she spends times in student government or volunteer positions.  She will not spend her time or money on pets.

We also see that Sophie inhabits different roles in her life—she is a friend, family member, leader, student, and volunteer.  Sophie’s sense of self will affect how she handles each of these roles, and it will allow her to live authentically across multiple roles even as her identity might manifest differently across those roles.

Sophie’s response demonstrates the requisites for a good life.  First, she reveals all six of the core virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, transcendence, humanity, and temperance.  Second, we see at least nine of the twenty-four essential strengths: curiosity, persistence, integrity, kindness, fairness, appreciation of excellence, humor, self-regulation, and spirituality.  Sophie is aware of individual traits that sometimes are not strengths.  She dislikes conflict, which might support kindness, but also could prevent honesty or integrity.  Her humor can transgress into hurtful sarcasm, and her stubbornness may impede her ability to listen or empathize.  Finally, Sophie has articulated a purpose for her life. She wants to do good work and be useful to others, even as she is unsure what form that purpose will take.

Sophie, like most of our students, enters law school with a healthy sense of self that will continue to develop over a lifetime. Our collective task is to help her both cultivate a new professional identity and to integrate that identity with the evolving sense of self that informs the other roles in her life.  We want her to internalize the professional virtues, to acquire strengths that support the virtues while being aware of traits that may impede them, and to develop a professional purpose.  Importantly, we want Sophie to develop a professional identity that is consistent with her identity across the other roles in her life, avoiding the dissonance that can otherwise occur.  To paraphrase Atticus Finch, we want Sophie to be “the same person in town and at home.”

If we apply the three part model of identity across roles to professional identity, we can identify three analogous component parts:

Core virtues of the Profession

Much like Peterson and Seligman’s “Big Six” core virtues, Pat Longan has identified six core virtues of the legal profession. They are:

  • competence: commitment to excellence, including legal knowledge, skill, diligence, and judgment;
  • fidelity to the client: fulfillment of the duty of utmost good faith and devotion to the client—a fiduciary disposition;
  • fidelity to the law: faithfulness to the law and its institutions;
  • public-spiritedness: commitment to public service, including ensuring access to justice and appropriate self-regulation of the profession;
  • civility: a commitment to be courteous, cooperative, and honest and not to engage in abusive tactics;
  • practical wisdom: the master virtue, allowing the deployment of the other virtues in particular situations in the right amounts, in the right way, and for the right reasons.

Each of these six virtues is essential to being a good lawyer, and internalizing each will support ethical action and well-being.  Just as with the Big Six core virtues, if any one of these is missing from a lawyer’s identity, that identity will be incomplete. Sophie’s developing professional identity must include exposure to the core virtues of the profession and opportunities to internalize and practice them.

Individual strengths and traits

To live out the six virtues, a lawyer must also develop particular lawyering strengths, and we can turn to numerous sources to discover what strengths are necessary to support a lawyer’s professional identity. cFor example, Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers’ comprehensive surveys of lawyers identifies over 70 attributes that a lawyer needs upon entry into the profession.  Shultz and Zedeck identified a list of 26 lawyering effectiveness factors, and Hamilton and Bilionis synthesize the literature to develop their three-sided model for professional formation.  Some of the identified strengths include those traditionally taught in law school, including legal research, legal analysis and judgment, and oral and written communication skills.  Others are only now being recognized as essential, such as grit and resilience; teamwork; a growth mindset; commitment to continued excellence; empathy; and listening.

Sophie’s professional identity is fostered as she develops these numerous essential strengths, but she must also be aware of individual traits that might challenge her professional identity.  For example, Sophie can be stubborn and unyielding when she thinks she’s right.  That can be a strength as a lawyer if channeled into resilience or fortitude, but it will interfere with good lawyering if it impedes listening or empathy.  Her tendency to avoid conflict could impede the virtues of fidelity to the client if she is unable to be a sufficient advocate, or impede the virtue of fidelity to the law if she is reluctant to tell her client that something the client wants to do is unethical.  Our support of Sophie’s developing professional identity should include helping her cultivate the strengths that support the six virtues, identify those traits that present challenges, and practice overcoming the challenges.


Finally, Sophie’s professional identity will include a purpose for her professional life.  In law school and beyond, she will discern how her role as lawyer can be used consistently with the core personal and professional virtues and her individual strengths and traits.  It may be that Sophie won’t thrive as a litigator even if she has strong advocacy or communication skills because she dislikes conflict and is an introvert.  Nor is she likely to be happy devoting her life to animal rights, despite its importance, as she expresses a dislike for animals.  Sophie may, however, find great satisfaction in working to strengthen education, eliminate child abuse, or reform juvenile law.  Her appreciation of music may allow her to thrive in legal work for artists.

Larry Krieger and Kennon Sheldon have demonstrated the importance of purpose to professional identity.  Their research shows that lawyers with the greatest well-being are primarily motivated by intrinsic values and that the extrinsic values of law school, such as grades, class rank, and law review membership do not correlate with well-being.  Yet, they have also shown that law school rapidly shifts students from intrinsic to extrinsic motivations.  We need to make students aware of the pitfalls that follow from that shift and give them the tools and space to listen for their purpose. Lawrence S. Krieger and Kennon M. Sheldon, What Makes Lawyers Happy?: A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success, 83 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 554 (2015).

Frederick Buechner’s well known definition of vocation as the place where one’s “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” is affirmed by empirical research. Sophie could be doing great good in the world, but if what she is doing is not aligned with the core personal and professional virtues and her individual strengths and traits, she is unlikely to thrive and is likely to give in to unethical behavior.  If, however, Sophie’s professional work aligns with her identity—both as a lawyer and across the other roles in her life—she is more likely to lead a life in which she acts ethically, fulfills the public purposes of the profession, and is fulfilled.  That benefits us all.


We all want our students to live lives of ethical action and well-being.  By focusing on the “what” of professional identity, we move closer to that goal.

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