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A Student’s Reflection on Professional Identity Formation

By: Alena Stankaitis, University of St. Thomas School of Law

St. Thomas Law has done an especially incredible job at recognizing that professional identity formation is not a one-size-fits-all program. In particular, the school has integrated an intersectional approach to professional identity formation into our curriculum. As a neurodivergent, queer kid with dreams of becoming an attorney, I didn’t see any lawyers that looked like me in TV shows, movies, or books. Additionally, I’m a first-generation law student from a state other than Minnesota. Altogether, I felt like putting any effort towards substantively developing my professional identity was going to be futile, especially amid the rigors of law school coursework. St. Thomas Law and the Holloran Center helped break down these barriers.

First, we have time to recenter and reflect. Utilizing its robust connections to the Minnesota legal community, St. Thomas invests significant resources into our curriculum outside of our doctrinal courses. Programs such as first-year Roadmap Coaching and upper-level Mentor Externship classes afford us the opportunity to reconnect with our individual motivations for pursuing law school. Moreover, these initiatives connect us with like-minded professionals, allowing us to see our identities reflected within the legal field.

Second, St. Thomas Law invests in our experiential learning and community engagement. Through incredible externship placements, creating dedicated time in the middle of the day for student organization activities, and supporting intramural teams, the school helps us cultivate meaningful relationships with our peers. These connections not only enhance our emotional well-being throughout law school, but they also foster proactive engagement—the cornerstone of professional identity formation.

Alena Stankaitis is a JD candidate at the University of St. Thomas. They serve as Associate Editor of the Law Journal and are a Research Assistant for the Holloran Center.


A Student’s Reflection on Professional Identity Formation

By: Jordan Bracewell, Mercer Law School

When I entered law school, my goal was to learn as much as I could so that I would make a great attorney. What I had in mind was learning the sort of knowledge gained from a textbook or by perfecting an oral argument, but being an attorney requires more. Law school has given me the tools to cultivate the intentional professional identity necessary to become a great attorney.

Mercer Law encouraged me to reflect on and form my professional identity starting 1L year with a required three-hour course, The Legal Profession. While cultivating a professional identity can include a constellation of virtues, Mercer emphasizes six necessary professional virtues: competence, fidelity to the client, fidelity to the law, public spiritedness, civility, and practical wisdom. The Legal Profession helps first-year law students learn the six virtues through various reading assignments, including The Formation of Professional Identity and Bryan Stephenson’s Just Mercy, listening to presentations on the virtues, participating in group discussions and exercises, and meeting practicing attorneys and judges.

Class exercises were particularly beneficial because they gave me an opportunity to be placed in hypothetical scenarios and see the importance of each virtue while recognizing the virtues can conflict with one another (such as fidelity to the client verses fidelity to the law). The hypotheticals were a chance to reflect on difficult situations within the profession and the values that I would use to help me respond. The discussions take place in small groups, and my classmates always had valuable insight that helped me develop the capacity to imagine alternatives. After we read and had discussion, the course also required weekly reflections. These reflections were an opportunity to slow down and be intentional in what I had learned during the week and throughout the course.

Additionally, the opportunity to hear from and interview attorneys and judges on their experiences broadened my understanding of the challenges and rewards of the legal profession. I appreciated how honest each person was in sharing with our class their insecurities and struggles, whether related to mental health, finances, family, job-searching, or being a woman or minority in the profession. I also appreciated how uplifting and encouraging each of our guests were. With no family or close friends who are attorneys, it was a valued chance for me to learn more about the different legal fields, get advice, and create connections. Several people who spoke to my 1L class have since been involved in my professional growth.

Now as a 3L approaching graduation, I am grateful that Mercer Law requires this class for all its students, and I enjoy telling others about what I have learned from Mercer. I have carried these professional virtues through other classes, interactions with students, leadership in student and community organizations, a judicial externship, and summer clerkships. Like many called to the legal profession, it has always been important to me to serve my community and to uplift others. This course was unique training in that it offered a new framework of values, problems, and guidance for upholding virtues while competently navigating the legal field. I hope the professional identity courses offered at law schools are creating a generation of future lawyers who are confident in themselves, know they can ask for help, and display the values we learned.

To me, professional identity means being intrinsically motivated to provide the best service to my future clients and to the legal profession. It is not possible to be an exceptional attorney without adhering to the virtues taught by Mercer, which should shape every professional interaction. I am thankful for professors like Patrick Longan, Daisy Floyd, and Timothy Floyd for the work they do to cultivate and instill these virtues in future attorneys through a safe environment to learn and grow. I am also grateful for the attorneys and judges who help law students and encourage new attorneys in their formation of professional identity. I look forward to continuing to develop my professional identity and to entering a field that has recognized the importance of teaching the virtues of competence, fidelity to the client, fidelity to the law, public spiritedness, civility, and practical wisdom from the very beginning of a legal career.

Jordan Bracewell Headshot

Jordan Bracewell is a 3L at Mercer University School of Law. During her time in law school, Jordan has served as Articles Editor for Mercer Law Review, Student Bar Association’s Honor Court Chief Justice, Vice President of Mercer Law Joshua’s Wish (a local nonprofit), judicial extern to Chief Judge Marc T. Treadwell of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, and as Mercer Law’s student representative for the State Bar of Georgia Committee on Professionalism.


A Student Perspective on Professional Identity Formation: Micayla Bitz

by Micayla Bitz, 3L at the University of St. Thomas School of Law

Law school is hard. I know this is far from a novel revelation, but it was not necessarily the mountains of reading or the cold calls that made it so difficult, at least for me. The past three years took me on a journey of self-discovery and professional discernment that was far more challenging (and, arguably, more worthwhile) than learning the Rule Against Perpetuities or the Commerce Clause.

Last spring, the University of St. Thomas Law Journal and the Holloran Center hosted a two-day symposium focused on professional identity formation. Over those two days, I was amazed learning how much intention had been poured into each part of my education at St. Thomas. It felt like I was getting a peek behind the curtain. Each reflection paper, lecture, and experiential learning opportunity weaved throughout the curriculum were meticulously planned to shape me into the person I am today. And it worked! Because of this emphasis at St. Thomas, I never saw the law as a purely intellectual endeavor. From day one, our professors have pushed us to consider the human lives behind the casebook and the real-world implications of various legal outcomes. I have also been emboldened to take a stand for things that matter. And just as importantly, I have learned to recognize when things don’t matter and need to be let go.

It feels like an impossible task to summarize my immense gratitude toward St. Thomas Law and the Holloran Center for making law school such a transformative experience in my life. St. Thomas and the Holloran Center fostered a community where it was okay to be vulnerable, make mistakes, and learn from them. My experience at St. Thomas has fundamentally and forever shaped my character and sense of purpose.

Micayla Bitz, 3L at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

Micayla Bitz, 3L at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.



A Student Perspective on Professional Identity Formation: TJ Bowman

by TJ Bowman, 3L at University of St. Thomas School of Law

To me, professional identity formation describes the journey from being an aspiring lawyer to a practicing one who is committed to serving clients, the profession, and the rule of law. Stated differently, professional identity formation helps me answer the question: “What kind of lawyer do I want to be?” This journey is not something that simply begins your first day of law school and ends when you graduate or make partner. Instead, it requires continuous reflection and a commitment to lifelong learning.

At St. Thomas, my professional identity began forming immediately during 1L through foundation courses such as Moral Reasoning for Lawyers, Serving Clients Well, and Business Basics, which encouraged me to reflect on my personal values and how those values comport with our system of justice and our conception of the lawyer’s role. During my 2L and 3L years, St. Thomas called me to take ownership of my professional identity formation through the mentor externship program by connecting me with lawyers in the Twin Cities community. This program expanded my professional network and provided me with valuable hands-on learning experiences. During my law school career, I have also taken a number of courses that promote my professional identity formation. For instance, Ethical Leadership in Organizations encouraged me to integrate my faith and ethics into my identity, which equipped me with the tools to be a morally responsible, servant leader with respect to the clients, organizations, and communities I serve. Finally, Well-Being and Professional Formation deepened my understanding of the several dimensions of well-being and its impact on my professional identity and quality of life in practice. 

TJ Bowman, 3L at the University of St. Thomas School of Law