By: Aric Short, Professor of Law and Director of the Professionalism & Leadership Program, Texas A&M University School of Law
As law schools welcome students back to campus this fall, a revised accreditation standard goes into force. Under the new Standard 303(b)(3), each law school “shall provide substantial opportunities to students for the development of a professional identity.” As explained in Interpretation 303-5, “[p]rofessional identity focuses on what it means to be a lawyer and the special obligations lawyers have to their clients and society.” Exploration of this topic should include the “values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice.” Importantly, the ABA recognizes that professional identity formation is a process that takes time, experience, and reflection. As a result, students “should have frequent opportunities for such development each year of law school and in a variety of courses and co-curricular and professional development activities” (emphasis provided).
The ABA has taken a sequenced approach to implementation of this new professional identity formation requirement. In the fall of 2022, all law schools are expected to have initial plans in place to implement Standard 303. By the fall of 2023, schools are required to begin implementing their plans.
Figuring out exactly how to comply with this new ABA standard can be challenging. Embedded in that challenge are various procedural and structural questions. What process will your school use to evaluate existing professional identity formation efforts? Who will be in charge of ensuring compliance? Which law school stakeholders will be involved in that process? Will professional identity formation be introduced during Orientation? If so, how and by whom? Will 1L students take a course on professional identity formation or be required to attend a series of workshops? Or will similar themes be introduced in classes across the 1L curriculum? Similarly, how will each school continue to expose students to professional identity formation themes throughout the remainder of their law school experience—including in experiential courses and in interactions with offices supporting career services and academic support? Beyond these and other mechanical issues, there exist significant questions about content. What exactly does professional identity formation mean to your institution? What are the core themes you want to emphasize and reinforce with your students? And how will those themes be staggered and built upon so that students develop a deeper sense of their own professional identities as they move through law school?
To assist law schools as they work through these and other issues related to Standard 303(b)(3) implementation, the Holloran Center is announcing two new crowdsourced and collaborative resources. You and your school are invited to contribute to these resources and to learn new ideas and approaches to professional identity formation from colleagues across the country. While these resources are related, they have different purposes:
Resource #1: A repository of law school implementation plans for Standard 303(b)(3). This database, in Google Sheets, is intended to capture law schools’ evolving plans to implement Standard 303(b)(3). Each school is requested to share a narrative describing its Standard 303(b)(3) plan, as well as whether that plan is currently in draft or approved form. Schools are encouraged to provide a full description of their plans to help share creative and effective ways to implement this new Standard. This Google Sheet also asks for contact information for the person at each school responsible for Standard 303(b)(3) implementation, as well as anyone else on your staff or faculty who will be taking the lead in any specific professional identity formation efforts (for example, related to academic support, career services, clinics, externships, legal writing, doctrinal courses, etc.). Each school is also encouraged to provide links to any related web-based materials and to submit any other supporting documents through this Dropbox. While anyone with the link to this Google Sheet can review the submitted plans and contact information details, this document should be completed by the person at each school responsible for compliance with Standard 303(b)(3).
Resource #2: A clearinghouse of specific ideas, techniques, strategies, and tools related to professional identity formation. We know that many of you are already doing impactful work in this area, regardless of your title and the capacity in which you engage with students. This database, also in Google Sheets, provides a means to share those great efforts and learn new ideas from other law school faculty and staff across the country. Anyone who is engaged in professional identity formation efforts—big or small—is encouraged to share their ideas, as well as their contact information. This database is organized broadly in tabs across the bottom by the general area of student engagement, including academic support, career services, clinical / experiential classes, doctrinal classes, lawyering skills classes, student organizations, and professional formation courses. Within each tab, contributors are asked to indicate the primary professional identity focus of the exercise, program, or reflection and to include additional information, including the primary contact person for that contribution. We hope this format makes it easy for you to search for techniques and strategies that might be useful for you. In addition to providing a description of the professional identity work you are doing, you are encouraged to submit to this Dropbox any supporting documents that might be helpful for others, including syllabi, course plans, teaching notes, assessment tools, and grading rubrics.
A note on scope: As described above, these two new crowdsourced resources are focused primarily on Standard 303(b)(3), which relates to professional identity formation. The ABA has also implemented a new Standard 303(c), which requires law schools to “provide education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism (1) at the start of the program of legal education; and (2) at least once before graduation.” Most of us working in this general space understand that bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism are foundational topics within professional identity formation. As a result, you and your school should feel free to share in the databases above specific implementation plans and strategies related to Standard 303(c). However, our primary focus is Standard 303(b)(3). We also encourage you to visit Buffalo School of Law’s Website on ABA Standard 303(c) for more specific information about efforts across the country to implement Standard 303(c).
We wish you and your law schools the best of luck as you create institutional plans and design specific techniques for implementation. Hopefully the two databases announced above will help you come up with impactful and effective ways to engage in this important work. We encourage you to share your ideas, to borrow from others, and to connect with other faculty and staff exploring professional identity formation.