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, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or comments about this post.
 WILLIAM M. SULLIVAN, ET AL., EDUCATING LAWYERS (2007).