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Barbara Glesner FInes, David Grenardo, Felicia Hamilton, Jerome Organ, Kendall Kerew, Louis Bilionis, Neil Hamilton

Welcoming the new year with gratitude: Holloran Center Resolutions for 2024

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

What better time to reflect on professional identity formation than the new year, when so many of us are making resolutions for growth and improvement.  Here are three of our resolutions for the Holloran Center’s continued formation:

  1. We resolve to be grateful.  We are grateful for the leadership of Tom Holloran, whose example of servant leadership inspires us. We are grateful for the work of scholars and teachers in other professions who have given us so many insights and inspiration. We are especially grateful to you, our colleagues engaged in this work of coaching, mentoring, and guiding our students in their transformation from student to lawyer.
  2. We resolve to listen.  This past year, we have learned so much from the questions and critiques posed by our colleagues.  What do we really mean by formation? How is it different from the knowledge and skills transfer we aim to teach and provide? How do we assess development?  How do or should concepts of professionalism and civility fit into professional identity? What about this idea of “identity”?  How does that singular-sounding noun reconcile with our diverse cultures and values as individuals and communities? How do we ensure that the work of formation is shared and equitably by our entire community? Our understanding of our work has evolved with each question and challenge.
  3. We resolve to share. Since 2013, over 400 scholars, teachers, and student services professionals from over 60 law schools have attended a Professional Identity Formation workshop or conference or symposium sponsored by the Holloran Center. We look forward to hosting at least three additional workshops in 2024: a conference for professional responsibility scholars and teachers in April, along with two summer workshops.  We will continue to support others leading in this effort. We are also working to develop our online community: revising our databases of materials and inventories, and growing our blog and listserv.  Let us know how we can help.

Happy New Year!

Neil, Jerry, David, Lou, Barb, Kendall, and Felicia

 

group of people
Neil Hamilton

The Professional Responsibility Course Can Engage Students in a Community of Practice on Cross-Cultural Competency, Equal Access and the Elimination of Bias, Discrimination, and Racism

By: Neil Hamilton, Holloran Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, University of St. Thomas School of Law

Accreditation Standard 303 requires that each law student shall complete a course of at least two credit hours that includes instruction on the values and responsibilities of the legal profession. Interpretation 303-6, adopted in 2022, now requires that the values and responsibilities of the profession to which students are introduced in Professional Responsibility must include the importance of cross-cultural competency and the obligation of lawyers to promote a system that provides equal access and eliminates bias, discrimination, and racism in law.

In the fall of 2023, I changed my three-credit Professional Responsibility course with 68 students to meet the new Interpretation 303-6 requirement in the context of a community or practice that fosters each student’s professional identity regarding the values and responsibilities above. There is a growing body of empirical scholarship pointing toward the importance of communities of practice (CoP) in terms of how professionals define their work and make the discretionary calls involved in the work. A community of practice is a persistent, sustaining social network of individuals who share and develop an overlapping knowledge base, set of foundational values, and experiences focused on a common practice. [One of my latest articles sets forth an extended analysis of this experiment. See Neil Hamilton, Professional Responsibility and Professional Identity Formation in a Community of Practice with Alumni, 20 UNIV. ST. THOMAS L.J. (forthcoming 2024).]

I formed communities of practice by putting the students in teams of four based on each student’s post-graduation area of employment interest and assigning an alumni coach practicing in the team’s area of interest. The team had to discuss with the coach four professional identity formation topics covering discretionary calls of lawyering in the practice areas. The fourth topic for the teams and coaches to discuss and reflect upon focused on cross-cultural competency, equal access, and the elimination of bias, discrimination, and racism in the team’s practice area.

The syllabus assignment for the fourth essay is below.

“This essay may be challenging for the team and the coach. For our profession and our law school, a core guiding principle is to develop cross-cultural competency, and a core value is to promote a legal system that provides equal access and eliminates bias, discrimination, and racism. Team members have been experiencing different types of communities of practice both inside and outside the law building. The team should discuss, deliberate, and reflect on what team members have observed that various communities of practice are doing with respect to this guiding principle and core value. What is each team member doing? What is a next step for this academic year to grow to a later stage of development? The team must interview their coach for this assignment.”

Overall, the teams and coaches had excellent discussions on this topic. Some of the teams and coaches commented that it is a challenging topic, but an important one. A number of essays urged openness about these topics. There were a number of suggestions on how to approach the topic with others including using one-on-one conversations rather than larger group conversations. Another frequent observation was a version of “go where they are” in terms of these conversations, and to listen and understand your conversational partner(s), not to judge them.
The points that the essays raised on the topics of developing cross-cultural competency and promoting a legal system that provides equal access and eliminates bias, discrimination, and racism in the law have some significant overlap on all three of those topics. Here are the most common overlapping themes.

  1. Take specific steps (small steps) to expose yourself to people of different cultures than your own and reflect on what you experience. The major point is to get out of your personal and professional bubble. For example, “get off the bus, and go into stores that serve people of other cultures.”
  2. Exercise authentic curiosity about these other cultures.
  3. Be present and listen actively to speakers from other cultures.

Note that from an enlightened self-interest standpoint, it is becoming more common in an interview, particularly for positions involving people from other cultures, to have a question about what the interviewee is doing specifically to increase cross-cultural competency. It is good to have a story of what you are doing.
The students’ essays based on their discussions with their coaches provided the following suggestions for law students/lawyers on the three main topics:

Developing Cross-Cultural Competency

  1. Seek out individuals who are different from you in your community and engage them in a conversation. For example, in our community, seek out an LL.M. student.
  2. Seek volunteer/public service experience in a community that is different from your own. For example, for transactional lawyers, provide legal assistance to minority businesspeople.
  3. Take a Clinic or an Interviewing and Counseling course.
  4. Learn another language. At least learn a few important introductory phrases like “Hello, how are you? My name is _____. What is your name?”
  5. When creating an event, consider a step to make it more inclusive.
  6. Be patient and especially present with active listening when interacting with a person of a different cultural background.

Promoting Equal Access

  1. Observe and be mindful of deficiencies in equal access in your practice area, and go the extra mile in your communication and attention when you see situations where cultural differences make it challenging for people of different cultures.
  2. If you see deficiencies in equal access in your practice area, say something. Talk to people about possible solutions.
  3. Do pro bono each year that is directed to address the deficiencies in equal access that you are experiencing.

Promoting a Legal System that Eliminates Bias, Discrimination, and Racism

  1. The major suggestion was to be mindful when you see systemic problems and to try to take even a small step to address the problem you see. For example, a prosecutor pro-actively tries to look at data to make sure that the dispositions she is offering are not being affected by race/ethnicity/gender.
  2. Join (or form) a group that is trying to do law reform in your area of practice.
  3. When you see biased or discriminatory conduct, speak up in a professional manner.

Reflecting on the essays, I think that the most important benefit is that each student articulated one concrete step to take to grow to the next level on this challenging topic. Another major benefit is that the practicing alumni lawyers provide credibility that this challenging topic is important for the practice of law, and is not just a topic that professors are imposing on students. In addition, this community of practice approach has the additional benefit of causing practitioners to discuss and reflect on the topics assigned to the teams.

If you have any questions or comments about this post, then please contact me at NWHAMILTON@stthomas.edu.

Neil Hamilton is the Holloran Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota.

Barbara Glesner FInes, David Grenardo, Jerome Organ, Louis Bilionis, Neil Hamilton

Standard 303 and the Development of Student Professional Identity: A Framework for the Intentional Exploration of the Profession’s Core Values

 

By Felicia Hamilton, Holloran Center Coordinator

Holloran Center Directors Neil Hamilton, Jerry Organ, and David Grenardo, along with Holloran Center Fellows Barbara Glesner Fines and Louis Bilionis recently co-authored an article that supplies a framework for understanding the core values of the legal profession. The authors’ intention is to guide legal educators into a thoughtful exploration of the nature of these values, and to encourage law school faculty and staff to make intentional choices around how their programs highlight them. Using the metaphor of a tree, the authors address the core values of the “trunk” (a sense of responsibility to those whom the professional serves and the commitment to professional development) and the “branch” values as codified into the Model Rules.

Read more in the abstract for “Standard 303 and the Development of Student Professional Identity: A Framework for the Intentional Exploration of the Profession’s Core Values” below:

Legal educators, following the change in ABA accreditation Standard 303(b)(3)[1], must face directly the question “what are the core values of the legal profession?” This article offers a framework both to help faculty and staff clarify their thinking on what are the profession’s core values and to spotlight the choices law schools need to consider in purposeful fashion.

The framework offered here should also help allay two concerns that faculty, staff, and students may have about core values of the profession.  One concern is that all statements of values are subjective in the sense that they are expressions of individual subjective preferences, beliefs, and attitudes.[2]  A second concern is that statements of values tend to privilege the traditional, and hence fail to reflect the diversity of the profession and the experience and views of marginalized members of the profession – particularly with respect to the elimination of bias, discrimination, and racism.[3]

On the first concern, the article analyzes first the core values of all the service professions to point out two core values foundational to all of them. The article then analyzes the legal profession’s core values articulated in the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, adopted with some variation by all fifty states. The fifty-state adoption of the Model Rules indicates a strong consensus on the core values of the profession.  On the second concern, the values framework offered here makes clear that elimination of bias, discrimination, and racism is among the profession’s core values, and that the profession should, on an ongoing basis, seek feedback widely regarding its core values, particularly from marginalized groups, and reflect on the feedback.

Part II outlines the ABA accreditation Standard 303 changes that require each law school to help students develop a professional identity through the intentional exploration of the values of the profession. This means the faculty and staff need to discern the values of the profession they want the students to explore.  Part III analyzes what is a professional identity?  Part IV provides a framework to help legal educators clarify their thinking about the profession’s core values.  The framework features some widely shared fundamental values for all the service professions, and locates also values particular to the legal profession. Part V explores how the core values of the profession in part IV connect to “successful legal practice.”  Part VI discusses cautionary arguments that traditional values like those in the Model Rules can privilege some groups and fail to account for the experiences and viewpoints of marginalized groups.

[1] Standards & Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, Standard 303(b)(3) (Am. Bar Ass’n 2023), [hereinafter Accreditation Standards], https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/standards/2023-2024/23-24-standards-ch3.pdf.

[2] See, e.g., Joseph Singer, Normative Methods for Lawyers, 56 U.C.L.A. L. Rev. 899, 902-911 (2009).

[3] See discussion in Part VI of this article.

You can download the article from SSRN here.

Neil Hamilton is the Holloran Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota.

Jerome Organ is the Bakken Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas School of Law

David Grenardo is a Professor of Law and Associate Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

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

Louis Bilionis is the Dean Emeritus and Droege Professor of Law at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

Neil Hamilton

INTRODUCING THE STREAMLINED (AND EVEN MORE LAW-STUDENT FRIENDLY) THIRD EDITION OF NEIL HAMILTON’S AWARD-WINNING BOOK, ROADMAP: THE LAW STUDENT’S GUIDE TO MEANINGFUL EMPLOYMENT (2023)

By: Neil Hamilton, Holloran Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, University of St. Thomas School of Law

The learning outcome for the ROADMAP is that each student takes ownership (self-direction) over the student’s professional development toward the student’s goals of bar passage and meaningful post-graduation employment.  Students at later stages of self-direction demonstrate higher academic performance and planning and implementation skills that increase bar passage and post-graduation employment outcomes. The ROADMAP is empowering each student to perform at the student’s highest capacity. The ROADMAP is also meeting ABA Standard 303(b) and (c) requirements regarding the development of each student’s professional identity.

This third edition of the ROADMAP is a complete revision of the second edition.  Since the first edition was published in 2015, and the second edition in 2018, the Holloran Center and I have continued to learn how more effectively to go where the students are developmentally to help them achieve their goals (and the Law School’s goals) of bar passage and meaningful post-graduation employment.

The entire book is now 50 pages at a price of $19.95 (ABA’s website indicates ordered books will ship on August 15 at the earliest).  In this edition, the students read 21 pages and then do the template plan which is 5 pages.  The reading and the template plan focus on using the student’s time inside and outside of the building to gain experiences that will achieve three goals:

  1. Thoughtfully discern the student’s passion, motivating interests, and strengths that best fit with a geographic community of practice, a practice area and type of client, and type of employer;
  2. Develop the student’s strengths to the next level; and
  3. Demonstrate evidence of the student’s strengths that employers value.

The book then has a chapter on building a tent of professional relationships that helps each student achieve these three goals plus a professional relationship tent-building template plan.  This chapter also includes cross-cultural skills addressing ABA Standard 303(c).

A number of law schools already use the ROADMAP, and the hope is that other law schools will discover its incredible value in helping law students with their professional identity formation.  To discover what the ROADMAP can do for your law students, you can find the book here.

Neil Hamilton is the Holloran Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota.

Neil Hamilton

The Profession Has Core Values the Students Can Explore in Guided Reflection

By: Neil Hamilton, Holloran Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, University of St. Thomas School of Law

Accreditation Standard 303(b) asks legal educators, including faculty and staff, to engage students in “an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice.”  Some legal educators may be asking whether the profession has core values and guiding principles and whether the new standard requires imposing these values and principles on our students.  This essay focuses first on what are the core values and guiding principles of the legal profession?  The essay then turns to a second question of how most effectively to engage students in an intentional exploration of the core values and guiding principles.

What are the legal profession’s core values and guiding principles?

In my experience, many legal educators have not done an in-depth exploration leading to a clear definition of the core values and guiding principles of our profession.  They are in fact living into a set of professional values and guiding principles, but it may be challenging to write them down.  The values and principles may seem inchoate initially when written down.  This exploration was not part of our law school experience.

Reflecting on my own law school experience many years ago, I remember that the major core value modeled in every course was that I should strive to become a craftsperson of the law, demonstrating the highest level of all the technical skills of being a lawyer, as my professors both modeled and asked me to demonstrate.  I don’t remember any discussion or guided reflection on this or other core values.

I think many legal educators today, especially in experiential education, engage students on core professional values and principles, but my experience is that few law schools as a community of practice together have reflected on, discussed, and agreed upon the core values and guiding principles of that school’s community of practice.  Standard 303(b) is inviting the faculty and staff of each law school to engage collegially in intentional exploration of that community of practice’s understanding and definition of the core values and guiding principles of the profession.

As a starting place for this collegial intentional exploration of the core values and guiding principles of the profession, the Holloran Center has synthesized a succinct definition from the Preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the four major reports on professionalism from the ABA and the Conference of Chief Justices, and Holloran Center research.[1]  There are two foundational core values that law students and lawyers must understand, internalize, and demonstrate:

  1. a deep responsibility and commitment to serving clients, the profession, and the rule of law;
  2. a commitment to pro-active continuous professional development toward excellence at all the competencies needed to serve others well in the profession’s work.

These are the same foundational core values for all of the peer-review professions, such as medicine, nursing, and engineering.[2]

For a longer definition of the profession’s core values and guiding principles, Holloran Center borrowed directly from the Preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, adopted by all 50 states.

Law students and lawyers should understand, internalize, and demonstrate:

  1. a deep responsibility and service orientation to others, especially the client, whom the student serves in widening circles as the student matures including a commitment to:
    • zealously protecting and pursuing a client’s interests within the bounds of the law while demonstrating respect for the legal system and a courteous and civil attitude toward all persons involved in the legal system;
    • improving the law, providing pro bono service to the disadvantaged, developing cultural competence, and promoting a justice system that provides equal access and eliminates bias, discrimination, and racism in the law;[i]
    • developing and being guided by personal conscience—including the exercise of “sensitive professional and moral judgment” and the conduct of an “ethical person”—when deciding all the “difficult issues of professional discretion” that arise in the practice of law; and
    • developing independent professional judgment, including moral and ethical considerations, to help the client think through decisions that affect others;
  1. pro-active continuous professional development toward excellence at all the competencies needed to serve others in the profession’s work well; and
  2. compliance with the minimum standards of competency and ethical conduct in the Rules of Professional Conduct.

How do we most effectively engage students in an intentional exploration of these core values and guiding principles?

New Interpretation 303-5 emphasizes two of the most important curricular principles to engage students in an intentional exploration of these core values and guiding principles.

  1. Each student should have frequent opportunities for reflection on these core values and principles in courses and co-curricular and professional development activities; and
  2. Each student’s growth toward later stages of development regarding these core values and guiding principles will occur over time.

My earlier blog post on the Standard 303 revisions emphasized that the new standards require law schools to move toward a coordinated progression of guided reflection modules in the curriculum to foster each student’s growth in exploring these core values and principles.

Law Student Professional Development and Formation: Bridging Law School, Student, and Employer Goals (2022) outlines eight additional curricular principles that will foster each student’s exploration of these core values and principles.

The core values and principles discussed in this document come directly from the legal profession’s own rules of conduct, studies conducted of lawyers, and extensive research regarding the values and principles exhibited in the legal profession.  It is important to understand that professional identity formation does not involve legal educators “instilling” or “inculcating” these core values and principles into students.  Rather, professional identity formation entails explicitly and intentionally identifying and sharing these values and principles with law students.  Each student then engages in an exploration of and guided reflection upon the core values and guiding principles of the profession that lead to successful legal practice. It is a life-long exploration for each lawyer.

If you have any questions or comments about this post, then please contact me at NWHAMILTON@stthomas.edu.

Neil Hamilton is the Holloran Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota.

[1] See William Sullivan et al, EDUCATING LAWYERS: PREPARATION FOR THE PROFESSION OF LAW 128-40 (2007); Neil Hamilton, Professionalism Clearly Defined, 18 THE PROF. LAWYER 4-20 (No. 4, 2008); Neil Hamilton, Assessing Professionalism: Measuring Progress in the Formation of an Ethical Professional Identity, 5 U. ST. THOMAS L.J. 470,482-83 (2008); Neil Hamilton, Fostering Professional Formation (Professionalism): Lessons From Carnegie Foundation’s Five Studies on Educating Professionals, 45 CREIGHTON L.R. 763-97 (2012).

[2] See Neil Hamilton, The Core Values of the Service Professions and an Effective Curriculum to Help Students Internalize Them, in EDUCATING ETHICS ACROSS THE PROFESSIONS: A COMPENDIUM OF RESEARCH, THEORY, PRACTICE, AND AN AGENDA FOR THE FUTURE (R. Jacobs ed., 2022).

[3] Note that new interpretation 303-6 provides that the core values and responsibilities of the profession should include the importance of cross-cultural competence and the obligation of lawyers to promote a justice system that provides equal access and eliminates bias, discrimination, and racism in the law.

Neil Hamilton

The Standard 303 Revisions Require a Developmental Sequence of Modules in the Curriculum

By: Neil Hamilton, Holloran Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, University of St. Thomas School of Law

The Standard 303 revisions require each law school, over time, to move toward a developmental sequence of modules fostering student reflection and growth regarding professional identity.

  1. New Standard 303(b)(3) requires that “a law school shall provide substantial opportunities to students for the development of a professional identity.” (emphasis added regarding the developmental nature of professional identity and the number of opportunities).
  2. New Interpretation 303-5 defines professional identity. “Professional identity focuses on what it means to be a lawyer and the special obligations lawyers have to their clients and society. The development of a professional identity should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice.” (emphasis added regarding the developmental nature of professional identity).
  3. New Interpretation 303-5 continues, “Because developing a professional identity requires reflection and growth over time, students should have frequent opportunities for such development during each year of law school and in a variety of courses and co-curricular and professional development” (emphasis added regarding the developmental nature of professional identity and the number of opportunities).

The Standard 303 revisions clearly require each law school to create a developmental sequence of opportunities for reflection and growth over time so that each student explores and internalizes the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice. This developmental sequence of opportunities to foster each student’s professional identity requires coordination and progression among the modules.

The empirical research on professional identity formation strongly supports guided reflection in one-on-one coaching (especially in the context of authentic professional experiences) as the most effective curriculum to foster this type of student growth. The one-on-one coaching engagements also provide some basis for expert observation necessary for program assessment of our professional identity learning outcomes. There is no empirical evidence that doctrinal coverage and analysis of professional identity topics without guided reflection will make any difference with respect to student development.

  1. New Standard 303(c) requires that a law school shall provide education on cross-cultural competency, equal access, and the elimination of bias, discrimination, and racism at the start of the program of legal education and at least once again before graduation.
  2. New Interpretation 303-6 states that these same values should be included in the Professional Responsibility course.
  3. Since the definition of “professional identity” in Interpretation 303-5 focuses on what it means to be a lawyer and the special obligations lawyers have to their clients and society, and the Interpretation also provides that professional identity development should involve an intentional exploration of the values of the profession, it seems reasonable that the values of cross-cultural competency, equal access, and the elimination of bias, discrimination, and racism should be included in the developmental sequence of opportunities for reflection and growth over time so that each student explores and internalizes them. Again, this developmental sequence of opportunities to foster each student’s professional identity requires coordination and progression among the modules.

It may be that the common committee structure for law school faculties will not be effective to foster this type of change in the curriculum. Curriculum Committees, in my experience, are responsive to proposals for individual courses, and are not generally pro-active in generating coordinated modules across the curriculum. A Curriculum Reform Task Force might contribute initially to this type of coordination, but again, my experience is that the reports of this type of task force end up in a type of “graveyard” with other past curriculum reform task force reports. The type of coordinated change envisioned here is going to take ten to twenty years – one small step at a time. I think the most effective answer is a pro-active Coordinated Standard 303 Modules Committee with membership from all the staff and faculty functions that affect student professional identity formation.

If you have any questions or comments about this post, then please contact me at NWHAMILTON@stthomas.edu.

Neil Hamilton is the Holloran Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota.

Louis Bilionis, Neil Hamilton

Latest Article from Bilionis and Hamilton on ABA Revisions of 303(b) and (c) Published by NALP’s Professional Development Quarterly

NALP just published the third and final installment of Louis Bilionis and Neil Hamilton’s three-part series on the Standard 303 revisions. Part 1 and Part 2 appeared in the May and June 2022 editions of NALP’s PDQ, respectively.

The last article in the series, which is titled “Revised ABA Standards 303 (b) and (c) and the Formation of a Lawyer’s Professional Identity, Part 3: Cross-Cultural Competency, Equal Access, and the Elimination of Bias, Discrimination, and Racism,” can be read here.

Neil Hamilton

Introduction to the Definition of Professional Identity and the Formation of a Professional Identity

By: Neil Hamilton, Holloran Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, University of St. Thomas School of Law

This short Holloran Center definition of student professional identity and the formation of a professional identity is the result of a process of inquiry, dialogue within the Center and with others nationally, and reflection since the founding of the Center in 2006. Starting in 2006, the Center focused on synthesizing the core values of the profession from the Preamble to the Model Rules, the three ABA reports and the Conference of Chief Justice Reports on Professionalism, legal scholars’ definitions of professionalism, and our study of how exemplary lawyers defined the core values of the profession.

Providentially, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching published Educating Clergy, the first of its empirically-based studies of higher education for the professions in 2006, followed by Educating Lawyers in 2007, Educating Engineers in 2009, and Educating Nurses and Educating Physicians, in 2010. The Carnegie studies introduced “professional identity” and “professional formation” as central to each new entrant’s development in higher education for all of the professions including legal education.

By 2012, we thought that “professional identity” and “professional formation” were more useful than “professionalism” because: (1) they incorporated the same core values; (2) they were terms applicable across higher education for the professions which both increased their fundamental importance and meant that we could learn from higher education in the other professions; and (3) they avoided the narrow understanding of many practicing lawyers that “professionalism” was principally focused on respect for others.

Since 2012, the Center has been in a continuous process of further inquiry, dialogue, and reflection to create a short definition of professional identity and professional identity formation that emphasizes both the two most foundational core values of the legal profession (off of which all the other needed capacities and skills needed to practice law build), and also the journey for students to internalize and demonstrate the two foundational core values. Notably, the two foundational values are emphasized in every major faith tradition and nearly all of the major secular philosophies.

We have a consensus among the two co-directors, the associate director, and the three Holloran Center Fellows, and we offer this Holloran Center short definition of both professional identity and professional identity formation to inform your dialogue and reflection on the Standard 303 revisions.

What Is a Law Student’s Professional Identity and What Is Professional Identity Formation? — A Short Introduction
Holloran Center – September 2022

Generally speaking, professional identity is “a representation of self, achieved in stages over time, during which the characteristics, values, and norms of the … profession are internalized, resulting in an individual thinking, acting, and feeling like a … [member of the profession].”

For law students and lawyers more specifically, we can synthesize a succinct definition of professional identity from the Preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the four major reports on professionalism from the ABA and the Conference of Chief Justices, and Holloran Center research. For law students and lawyers, professional identity is grounded in two foundational norms and values that law students and lawyers must understand, internalize, and demonstrate:

  1. a deep responsibility and commitment to serving clients, the profession, and the rule of law;
  2. a commitment to pro-active continuous professional development toward excellence at all the competencies needed to serve others well in the profession’s work.

“Professional identity formation” is a developmental process beginning in law school and extending over a career that “should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice.”

Professional identity formation principally involves a process of socialization. The professional-to-be begins as an outsider to the professional community and its ways, values, and norms. Through experiences over time, inside and outside the classroom and the law school, the individual gradually becomes more and more an insider, “moving from a stance of observer on the outside or periphery of the practice through graduated stages toward becoming a skilled participant at the center of the action.”

The process continues throughout one’s career and features “a series of identity transformations that occur primarily during periods of transition” often marked by anxiety, stress, and risk for the developing professional. This process of socialization is a product of the developing lawyer’s social interactions and activities in environments authentic to the legal profession’s culture and enriched by coaching, mentoring, modeling, reflection, and other supportive strategies.

We hope this definition of professional identity and this description of professional identity formation can serve as a useful entry point for a law school’s faculty and staff interested in discussing and reflecting upon professional identity and professional identity formation in the context of the mission of the law school. 

Please click below to view the definition with its endnotes.

Defining Professional Identity and Professional Identity Formation

Neil Hamilton is the Holloran Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota.