Academic Support – Holloran Center Professional Identity Implementation Blog
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David Grenardo

Breaking Down Siloes and Building Up Students: The Transformational Possibilities of Professional Identity Formation

By: David A. Grenardo, Professor of Law and Associate Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, University of St. Thomas School of Law

Three national leaders in professional identity formation—Lindsey P. Gustafson, Aric K. Short, and Robin Thorner—came together to author an exceptional article focused on professional identity formation. Their article, Breaking Down Siloes and Building Up Students: The Transformational Possibilities of Professional Identity Formation, will be part of the University of St. Thomas Law Journal’s spring 2023 symposium issue that will explore pedagogies relating to professional identity formation.

Here is the abstract of the article:

Under the ABA’s sequenced approach to implementation of Standard 303(b)(3), schools should now have developed plans for providing opportunities for professional identity formation and should be implementing them. These plans must provide students with an “intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice.” In addition, these plans should provide for frequent opportunities for development, “during each year of law school and in a variety of courses and co-curricular and professional development activities.”

Because Standard 303(b)(3) is necessarily tied to the unique character, existing structures, and available resources of a law school, each school’s plan will be different. That has been our experience as we have worked as professional identity formation leaders in different roles with varying perspectives: Lindsey Gustafson at the William H. Bowen School of Law, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, is a current Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and a skills and doctrinal professor; Aric Short at the Texas A&M School of Law is a former Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, a doctrinal professor, and currently serves as the Director of the Professionalism and Leadership Program; and Robin Thorner at St. Mary’s University School of Law is an Assistant Dean for Career Strategy, a teaching adjunct, and the current Director of Professional Identity Formation.

In this essay, we hope to emphasize that professional identity formation efforts can occur all across the law school’s operations, from administrative offices to classrooms to voluntary student activities. We also provide specific examples of how schools can be more intentional and explicit as they weave together multiple professional identity formation opportunities for their students. This process takes time and attention, but it creates a powerful whole-building approach to identity formation that not only complies with 303(b)(3), but also best positions our students for a successful, fulfilling, and impactful career in law.

A link to the article can be found here.

Should you have any questions or comments about the article, please feel free to contact any or all of the authors at,, and


Neil Hamilton


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.

Janet Stearns

Important New Resource at the Crossroads of Professional Identity and Well-Being

By: Janet Stearns, Dean of Students, University of Miami School of Law

The updated ABA Standards on professional identity and well-being are going into effect with this new school year. Many of us are seeking accessible and affordable resources for our law students that will (1) address the fundamental challenges around well-being in the profession and (2) recommend practical strategies and resources. An essential element of this canon is Lawrence (Larry) Krieger’s updated booklet, Create Success Without Stress in the Law: New Science for Happiness, Health and Positive Professional Identity (2023).

Many of this Blog’s readers know of Larry Krieger and his longstanding work in the field of well-being, happiness, and balance in the legal profession. Larry co-directs the Externship Program and has been a clinical professor at Florida State University College of Law for more than thirty years. Together with Professor Kennon Sheldon, he authored the seminal article, What Makes Lawyers Happy: A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success. In 2007, he served as founding Chair of the AALS Section on Balance and Well-Being in Legal Education. He has been recognized by both the American Bar Association (2019) and the Association of American Law Schools (2016) with Outstanding Service awards for his efforts to bring greater health and well-being to law students and lawyers. Larry and I have been crossing paths and sharing passions over these past sixteen years, notwithstanding the healthy rivalry between our two institutions.

In 2005, Larry first self-published a booklet for law students, then called The Hidden Sources of Law School Stress. The next year, he published a companion booklet, Deeper Understanding of Your Career Choices. Over all these years, many law schools (including my own) purchase copies of the books for their law students.

The most recent edition of the booklet is about 40 pages and combines these themes of law school stress and evaluating satisfying career choices into one very readable and concise format. As evident in the title, Larry has also significantly sharpened the focus on “positive professional identity” in this latest edition, which makes it a very valuable addition to our toolbox. This recent book has greatly benefited from the collaboration, inspiration, and insights of Theresa Krieger. Theresa is a certified health coach, life coach, spiritual coach, and a fitness trainer recognized by the American College of Sports Medicine. She has worked holistically with law students and lawyers since 2016. The couple created and co-teach a course at the FSU College of Law on well-being, professional identity, and transformational leadership. Lessons from that class are infused throughout this latest edition.

The booklet has six major sections:

  1. Stress is a choice that you don’t have to make
  2. Put healthy limits on your legal thinking
  3. Fear of failure and the illusion of control
  4. Partying, depression, and distraction
  5. Finding the right job: surface value or satisfaction value
  6. Quick and powerful practices to start now (my favorite part, but which flows naturally from the previous sections)

Larry has an incredible understanding of law students and speaks directly to them with honesty and compassion. He covers data and literature on our profession, but also speaks to their worries, doubts, and common stress points. While I cannot promise that every single law student will read the book, those who do have always given it positive reviews and are filled with gratitude that this resource was offered to them.

When should we share this book with students? I suggest five main options:

  1. Orientation. The book could be shared and distributed with other materials during law school orientation to prepare students for the law school experience, frame common issues and concerns, and prepare them for the path ahead.
  2. Wellness Week/ Mental Health Day. Many law schools celebrate World Mental Health Day (October 10) with some wellness programming. Larry’s booklet is a wonderful centerpiece for the Wellness Week Initiative, a great handout for a wellness fair, or it can be integrated into other presentations.
  3. Professional Responsibility and Professional Identity Courses, as part of a focused class on lawyer happiness and well-being, or as a supplement to other textbooks.
  4. Student Affairs and Counseling Staff, who should have this available as a handout for the student in crisis. Our offices are filled with students with significant anxiety about the law school experience, whether to continue, how to balance competing demands on time and navigate law school’s inevitable stressors. Larry’s book is an amazing and concrete resource, and it has already served as a lifeline to a generation of students.
  5. Career Development Advisors, who can provide this booklet to students as they are evaluating summer or permanent job options, and trying to plan for their pathway into the profession.

At Miami Law, we typically invest each summer in a supply of Larry’s booklet that would cover our entire first-year class, and then purchase additional copies as needed for our student affairs and career development teams.

If you are interested in investing in Larry’s book for your law school, then please email him directly at He self-publishes the book at the incredibly affordable price of $1.75 to $3 per booklet (based upon quantity) plus shipping.

Janet Stearns is Dean of Students at the University of Miami School of Law and Chair of the ABA COLAP Law School Committee.


David Grenardo

Student Professional Identity Formation and the Foundational Skill of Building a Tent of Professional Relationships to Support the Student

By: David A. Grenardo, Professor of Law and Associate Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, University of St. Thomas School of Law

Neil Hamilton, who 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, has authored yet another influential and practical article on professional identity formation. Hamilton’s latest article, which is forthcoming in the Wake Forest Law Review, is a guide for law faculty and staff who want each student to build a tent of professional relationships – a professional network – who both support the student and trust the student to do the work of a lawyer. The importance of professional networks for work performance and career opportunities has been well-established in hundreds of empirical studies. In addition, a growing research literature is documenting that the creation of a professional network requires pro-active networking behaviors, which are defined as an individual’s efforts to develop and maintain professional relationships with others who can potentially provide assistance to them in their career or work.

For some students (and lawyers), “networking” with a clear purpose of strengthening support for the student’s professional goals feels inauthentic, impure, and perhaps even dirty. To avoid this negative connotation, Hamilton’s article uses “building a tent of professional relationships who support the student and trust the student to do the work of a lawyer.” This framing, in Hamilton’s experience, fits within the students’ natural understanding of the importance of social support for each person, including the student, and feels authentic and less instrumental to the students.

A link to Hamilton’s article can be found here.

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.

Michael Robak

THE “ONE FILE” COORDINATED COACHING INFORMATION SYSTEM: Developing a Robust Advising Management Application

By: Michael Robak, Director of the Schoenecker Law Library, Associate Dean, and Clinical Professor, University of St. Thomas School of Law

The concept behind developing a robust advising management application is to create “One File” of information developed by and about each student from the law school’s whole organization as the student moves through their law school career.

Collecting uniform information in one place, and allowing for appropriate organization-wide access will, we believe, create an advising mechanism that helps each law student move from novice to professional as described in the Holloran Center’s Competency Alignment Model.  (Figure 2 below)

This information system is comprised of three elements:

The first element of this platform, Coordinated Coaching, will be used to capture information for each student from the nine coaching touch points that occur in their journey through law school as identified by Professors and Co-Directors of the Holloran Center Neil Hamilton and Jerry Organ.  The Coordinated Coaching takes place at several points: (1) 1L Fall in a mandatory meeting with the Office of Career and Professional Development (CPD), which is described below in detail; (2) 1L Spring in a mandatory 1L class, Serving Clients Well, where professors, alumni, and local attorneys serve as coaches to the law students who work through Neil Hamilton’s award-winning Roadmap book regarding a student’s journey to finding meaningful employment; and (3) 2L and 3L years in the mandatory Mentor Externship program in which the professors teaching the classroom component of this program continue coaching and guiding the students.  Capturing information from all of these contributors at these different times will allow for those coaching the students to coordinate to better assist student development of learning outcome competencies. Currently this information is captured and stored in multiple systems and trapped in organizational silos.

The second element of this platform is the Academic Communication System (ACS).  We know, anecdotally, there are behavioral “red flags” which constitute potential clues (data points) for those at risk.  The University of St. Thomas School of Law (“School of Law”) currently has nothing in place to serve as a tracking/communication platform for all the department administrators to record and share these interactions—the ACS would serve that function.  The backbone of this element is key information for all students brought in from Banner.  There are eight School of Law departments that would provide information into the system through twenty-three “Reporters” from across those organizations. [1]  The first and most important interactions to capture are the ones with the Director of Academic Achievement and Bar Success as the Director is usually the first stop for students who have some academic success issues or concerns.

The third element of the platform, the Self-Directed Index, allows us to identify the students most at risk for possible problems with first-time bar passage and employment outcomes.  While there is anecdotal evidence suggesting about 20% of students in any given year are at risk, we are seeking to fine tune that identification by developing an instrument to gauge an individual student’s self-directedness.  This self-directed index would pull information primarily from Canvas.  For example, one item of potential concern is class attendance.  With the use of the Canvas attendance tracker, we could gather student information for each semester looking for patterns of activity.  Another example includes tracking when students turn in their assignments?  Are assignments submitted by students early, on time, or late?  This is another variable we would be able to examine.

With these three platform elements in place, the One File system becomes the single source for capturing all the information about the student journey.

The Applications behind One File are Salesforce, Qualtrics, and Canvas.  Salesforce will be customized for this specific project.  Qualtrics will be used to capture the Coordinated Coaching and Academic Communication System information.  The Self-Directed index will primarily rely on Canvas data.

Phase One of the One File system is putting parts of the Coordinated Coaching and Academic Communication System in place by the end of the Spring 2023 semester.  For the Coordinated Coaching element, One File is “starting from scratch” with only the current 1L class; we are investing in the Class of 2025 as our beta group.  We are not seeking to make One File retrospective for Coordinated Coaching.

At launch it will be built to hold the information for that Class’s 1L and 2L years.  We would seek to add the 3L year sometime later in 2023 or early 2024.  We have identified nine coaching touch points through the student’s law school journey for which we wish to track key information, and this first phase will track the first five touch points occurring in the 1L and 2L years.  The last four touch points occur during the 3L year and are similar to the 2L year with the addition of a CPD exit interview and work for bar preparation through the JD Compass program.

Phase one development of the Academic Communication System will be built for our Director of Academic Success to capture the interactions with students.  We anticipate broadening this to include other “Reporters” who can provide additional information to the file.

COORDINATED COACHING – the Beginning Touch Points

The first Coordinated Coaching touch point occurs during the 1L Fall term.  Each 1L meets with a CPD team member, and this provides the initial (and base line) information about the student.

Coaching Touch Point 1:

Currently, CPD uses Symplicity for storing student resumes, as well as their meeting notes with students.  In addition to the resume, the data we will capture in Salesforce for this touch point are:

CPD Meeting in First Year

  1. Practice Areas of Interest
  2. Geography of Interest
  3. Quick Assessment of Self-Directedness

These questions will be captured using a Qualtrics survey.  The first two questions are answered by the students on their own or as part of the CPD meeting.  The third question would need to be answered by CPD.   We created a drop-down menu for the Practice Areas and Geography to create uniformity and consistency in the data gathered.

Coaching Touch Point 2: The second touch point, the Roadmap Coaching meeting, occurs early in the spring semester of the 1L year in conjunction with the Serving Clients Well class.

Prior to meeting with their Coach, the students create a student Roadmap and upload it to Canvas.  The coaches have not had a single place to store the information they keep on their Coaching meetings with the students.  In addition, two other documents have been created by the students, an essay written for the Moral Reasoning for Lawyers course and a Personal and Professional Development Plan written for the Mentor program.  These documents, along with the completed student Roadmap template, will be placed in Salesforce and made available for review.

Qualtrics will be used for capturing the following data:

  1. Practice Areas of Interest
  2. Type of employer
  3. Geography of Interest
  4. Students self-identified and peer-affirmed strengths/competencies
  5. Quick Assessment of whether student understands concept of having to communicate a persuasive story of value and has good stories to tell
  6. Quick Assessment of Self-Directedness
  7. Identified goals for summer
  8. Identified interests for registration for next year
  9. Identified possible Mentor Experiences in which student is interested in next year

Again, we will be using drop downs to create uniform data capture.

This is a high-level overview of the One File system.   Also, somewhat unique in the development of the application, we are not building the system all at one time.  As mentioned earlier, we are starting with the School of Law Class of 2025 as the beginning point.  We will be developing the system as that class moves through its law school career and then add the following incoming classes.  In this way we can also learn as we develop the platform and allow for continuous improvement.  We’ll have more to describe as we continue this journey.

If you have questions or comments, please reach out to me at

Michael Robak is the Director of the Schoenecker Law Library, Associate Dean, and Clinical Professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

[1] The Departments and Reporter count are as follows:  Lawyering Skills (5 reporters), Academic Achievement and Bar Success (1 reporter), Mentor Externship (2 reporters), Alumni Engagement and Student Life (1 reporter), Holloran Center (2 reporters), Clinics (3 reporters), Career and Professional Development (3 reporters), Registrar (1 reporter), and Deans (5 reporters).  St. Thomas Law does not currently have a Dean of Students.

Janet Stearns

The Case of the Mortified Toe: Some Reflections on Tom Sawyer, Rescheduling Exams, and Professional Identity

By: Janet Stearns, Dean of Students, University of Miami School of Law

Many life lessons are addressed by Mark Twain in The Adventures of Mark Twain.[1]

Chapter 6 begins with Tom waking up “miserable” on a Monday morning. “Monday mornings always found him so—because it began another week’s slow suffering in school….Presently it occurred to him that he wished he was sick; then he could stay home from school.”  Tom ”canvassed his system” in a search for possible ailments that might keep him home. He finally comes upon his toe and a loose tooth.  Tom starts groaning so much that his brother goes running for his Aunt Polly to report that Tom is “dying.”  When Aunt Polly enters Tom’s room, Tom reports “my sore toe’s mortified.”  After a good laugh, followed by Aunt Polly pulling the loose tooth, Tom is sent off to school for the day.

Fast forward to my teenage years, when I was attending summer camp in New Rochelle, New York.  The camp was focused on arts (which I enjoyed), but we went swimming several times a week (which I hated.)  The only way to get out of swimming was with a parent’s note.  Once I requested such a note from my dad.  My recollection (but the evidence is long gone) is that my dad handwrote out a note to the camp director which went something like this:

Please excuse Janet from swimming today. She has a mortified toe.

The note worked, and I didn’t have to go to swimming, and in retrospect, everyone likely had a good laugh at my expense.  The key point, though, is this: at that moment, swimming was not an essential part of that camp experience or my professional life.  In my childhood, I could relate to Tom Sawyer’s desire to avoid uncomfortable, difficult things.

I reveal this family secret for purposes of explaining some of the mindset, and insight, that I bring to my role as dean of students.  I want to discuss and highlight some of the challenges that we are all facing in response to a wide range of requests around examinations and other interim assessments.  We as law school administrators must bring a professional identity lens to evaluating these requests and consider the lessons that we are teaching with our responses.

Examination Policy

Our Law School Handbook, and our faculty, have delegated to me as dean of students the duty to exercise discretion in evaluating situations that arise during the examination period and deciding when, and how much, exams will be postponed.  Our Handbook references as possible reasons for rescheduling “personal illness requiring the care of a physician, pregnancy or childbirth, death or serious illness in the student’s immediate family or household, or because of religious prohibitions certified by an appropriate religious professional.”[2]  Between December 5 and 19, 2022 out of a student body of 1,300 students, we rescheduled about 170 exams that were delayed for a range of medical or family issues.  Note that these are distinct from testing accommodations granted to students under the ADA for recognized disabilities, and relate instead to injuries, accidents, illnesses, and other short-term situations not covered by the ADA.

Here is some sampling and paraphrasing of situations that I have received during this recent testing period, and some of my approaches.

Please excuse me from testing as I have COVID, mono, flu, pink-eye (and typically note from medical professional)

For a range of medical and particularly contagious diseases, we do not expect students to be on campus for in-class exams.  The protocols on these issues have become only clearer in the aftermath of the pandemic.  If exams are take-home exams, and the student is sufficiently healthy, we will permit remote testing.  We will typically postpone in-class exams until the student is cleared by a medical professional.

Please excuse me from testing as I am in emergency room (for kidney stones, appendicitis, surgery, broken bones).

Students who find themselves in the hospital or emergency room do not need to test until released and healthy enough to do so.  This would cover both in-class and remote exams.  In some cases, depending on the severity of the hospitalization, a student may not be able to test at all during the testing period and then need to make up a course in a subsequent semester.

Please excuse me from testing as my parent/spouse/partner/grandparent or pet has died or is imminently about to die.

I typically work with students in these situations to try to evaluate the best path forward for testing and completing the semester.  This will depend on the ability of the student to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand, proximity of family to support, and customs around celebrating the life of the deceased love one.  Some will want a few days immediately for bereavement and others will wish to complete testing and then be free to travel.

We are receiving an increasing number of requests relating to pet illnesses. As we know, we have many students with significant emotion around beloved furry family members.  We have tried to show some compassion to students around the death of a pet while recognizing that this is an expansion of the definition of “immediate family or household.” This is also an issue where legal employers may vary as to how much “bereavement” time would be granted for pets as opposed to family members.

Please excuse me from testing as I am going through medication changes that are impacting my sleep or ability to focus on the exam; or I am unable to access my prescribed medications due to market unavailability.

We are aware that we have a significant number of our law students who are prescribed medications for a range of emotional and learning issues including depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorders, and, thus, they take (for example) antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.[3]  In general, these medications require some period of weeks if not longer to adjust to changes in dosage.  In the Fall of 2022, there were significant disruptions in the supply chain for Adderall, a commonly used stimulant to treat ADHD.[4]  It was therefore not surprising that students were coming forward and asking for exam accommodations.

The issues of adding medications, changing medications, or withdrawing from medications are real.  That said, these are issues that are not easily addressed with a short-term exam accommodation, any more than they could be addressed in a workplace with paid days off.  We were counseling students to evaluate their own ability to move forward with testing or to consider dropping classes or postponing the submission of papers where possible.  We are still struggling to evaluate reasonable accommodations for this category of situation.

Please excuse law student from testing as he/she/they are suffering from generalized anxiety and need additional time to prepare.

A significant group of today’s law students are experiencing anxiety.  According to the 2021 Survey of Law Student Well-Being, 39.8% of law students had a diagnosis of anxiety during their lifetime, 22.5% of whom were diagnosed after starting law school.[5]  This anxiety is real, and it is manifesting in an array of emotional and physical impacts on our students.

And yet, I do not know how we address this pervasive issue of anxiety in the context of a policy to reschedule exams for personal illness.  I have thought long and hard on this and I don’t have a fair way to evaluate how much anxiety triggers an exam postponement, or how many days would be sufficient for the medical situation to resolve.  In my experience, I will distinguish this type of request from that of a student who is suffering from an acute anxiety attack in advance of, or during, an examination.  We typically treat those as medical emergencies and work with the student to evaluate if they will be well enough to return to testing or if they need to be treated for the medical emergency.  But for cases of generalized anxiety, we need to articulate an approach, based on our lens of professional identity preparation, about expectations in our legal community.  And once articulated, we must communicate this clearly to our students throughout their law school experience.

When does a situation merit our throwing a student a compassionate lifeline, and when do we need to clarify that we cannot grant these requests and provide reasons for the life lessons that we are trying to teach?  I welcome thoughts and reactions from our community as we continue to navigate these issues.  You can reach me at

Janet Stearns is Dean of Students at the University of Miami School of Law and Chair of the ABA COLAP Law School Committee.

[1] MARK TWAIN, THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER 43-45 (Signet Classic Edition, 2002).

[2] Miami Law Student Handbook 2022-2023,, at page 12.

[3] Jaffe, Organ, and Bender, It’s Okay Not to Be Okay: The 2021 Survey of Law Student Well-Being, 60 University of Louisville Law Review (2022) at 461.

[4] FDA Announces Shortage of Adderall, (October 12, 2022).

[5] Jaffe, Organ, and Bender, It’s Okay Not to Be Okay: The 2021 Survey of Law Student Well-Being, 60 University of Louisville Law Review (2022), supra note 3 at 464.

Aric Short

The Power of Pivoting (Part II of II)

By: Aric Short, Professor of Law & Director of the Professionalism and Leadership Program, Texas A&M University School of Law

In Part I, we talked about three important competencies that help us accomplish difficult tasks: grit, resilience, and strategic pivoting. Putting those competencies into action can make an enormous difference, in particular, for students struggling to rebound from disappointing Fall grades. But the long-term benefit in professional identity formation can be even more powerful given the challenges and setbacks that lawyers frequently face. As essential sub-parts of being self-directed, these competencies better position students for later professional success.

Effectively pivoting can be especially hard for law students for various reasons as discussed in Part I. So in this post, we’re going to cover a number of specific, practical steps to begin strategically pivoting to achieve greater academic success. And for students who may feel bewildered or even despondent about their Fall grades, I want to add a personal plug: I know this process works. Having worked with hundreds of 1Ls, I’ve personally seen students make dramatic gains in the Spring following this general approach.

Step 1: Practice self-compassion. Let’s not sugar-coat it: In the face of disappointment, whether it’s about grades, a relationship, or something at work, we can feel bad about ourselves. Our feeling isn’t just that the goal wasn’t achieved; it’s that we failed. It’s about us. For law students already struggling with imposter syndrome, lower-than-expected grades can serve as fuel for their inner-critic: “See, I told you that everyone else is smarter. You shouldn’t be here.”

In difficult times like this, it can helpful to quiet the internal dialogue by adopting the perspective of giving advice to a friend you care about. What if your friend were in this situation, and she were looking to you for counsel? What would you say? You probably would remind her, first, that her acceptance to law school was built on a long track record of success, some of which didn’t come easy. You’d also remind her that the admissions office didn’t, in fact, make a mistake in letting her in. And you’d give her unconditional support and encouragement to believe in herself and take the steps necessary to regroup and figure out an effective way forward.

Although law students often exude confidence externally, many are plagued with relentless self-doubt and self-critique. So if you’re feeling some of these kinds of emotions, it’s normal. You’re not alone. In fact, many attorneys also feel these same emotions—and yet, a large number of those attorneys are very successful. So self-doubt in law school is not inconsistent with success as a lawyer. Recognizing that reality can make it easier to accept yourself and, maybe, give yourself a little grace. Doing so can help your psychological well-being and give you the physical and mental strength necessary to effectively gather the necessary information and strategize about how to effectively pivot. So, work on healthy sleep, eating, and workout habits. Remain connected to friends and family who support and encourage you. Take care of yourself.

Step 2: Choose your focus wisely. Within the academic setting, imagine one large circle containing the things you care about. Only you can know what’s in that circle, but it might include making higher grades, feeling like you’ve worked as hard as you can, being invited to join a journal, becoming an effective oral advocate, being selected as a teaching or research assistant, etc. And then imagine a second circle containing all the things you have control over in your life. Your most efficient, effective use of time and energy is at the intersection of these two big circles: the things you can control that also matter to you.

It gives us a sense of security to imagine that we control a lot in our lives; but in reality, we really don’t. What we truly control, I think, boils down to two areas: our effort (behavior) and our attitude. That’s it. We like to think we control outcomes: whether we make an A in a class or whether we get hired for a certain job. But we don’t. We can certainly influence and affect these kinds of outcomes as a result of our effort and attitude, but we absolutely do not control them.

Is this just a theoretical distinction without practical meaning? I don’t think so. Going back to Step 1, we often take “failure” personally, as a reflection of some shortcoming of ours. But if we can step back a little and recognize that we never had control over those outcomes to start with, we can refocus on what we do, in fact, control while also treating ourselves more humanely. By doing so, for example, our focus can shift from getting an A to working more strategically to execute as effectively as possible on the exam. Reframing in this way gives us a sharper, more honest way to evaluate ourselves.

Step 3: Ask useful questions to identify what is real. Useful questions might be grouped into three categories: (1) Why Questions; (2) You Questions; and (3) Community Questions. “Why Questions” focus on the big-picture: Why are you in law school? Why are you willing to work hard and persevere through three (or more) difficult years of schooling? What do you hope to accomplish with a law degree? The answers to these kinds of questions are foundationally motivating. They help illuminate your purpose and can motivate you in difficult, trying times. People who demonstrate grit and resilience often have a clearly-identified purpose that serves as an ongoing source of strength, motivation, and even inspiration.

“You Questions” are some of the most important questions to ask in this process: What did you do the first time to prepare? How did you spend your time studying on a daily basis? Was your focus on class preparation or getting ready for exams? What happened on your exams? This category of questions gathers both the steps you took as you prepared to execute and the specific results, at a granular level, of your assessments. Meaningfully evaluating your performance in each class may be the trickiest part of this analysis.

To truly gather the necessary information to pivot effectively, you need detailed information from your Fall courses. For midterms and final exams: How did you do on each section of the assessment, as compared to the class high, low, and average? Were you consistent in your performance across all of your doctrinal classes? How did you do in your 1L writing class as compared to your doctrinal classes? How did you do in your writing class as compared to the essay components of your doctrinal classes? What feedback do your professors have on your assessments? The answers to these kinds of questions give you important information on what should be your focus of attention this semester. And without fact-based answers to these questions, you’re just guessing about what to do differently.

Finally, “Community Questions” help you consider resources beyond yourself that could be useful. What school resources are available? How can you access them? When would be the most beneficial time to do so? Are there resources your classmates can provide? Within this category of questions, you may identify possibilities such as visiting professor office hours to clarify areas of confusion every week. Or meeting with academic support staff for strategies on answering multiple choice questions. Or forming a study group to begin preparing for your midterms.

It’s important to emphasize that within this step, the goal is to gather specific information about what is real. Although that point may seem obvious, my experience is that many, many students at this point in the semester have reached conclusions about what is real based on their unreasonably negative emotions. In emotionally difficult situations, particularly when there is significant uncertainty and a perceived lack of control, we tend to conflate the emotions we’re feeling with reality. If we’re feeling “not good enough” or “a failure,” it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that these feelings reflect the truth—that we are, in fact, not good enough or a failure. The negative spiral that often follows can be powerful.

Walking a healthy and useful line here can be challenging. On the one hand, it’s essential to be aware of and process your emotions. What you’re feeling in any given situation carries meaning. Attorneys and law students are not well-served by blocking and ignoring their emotions. But we need to see emotions in perspective. Perhaps one useful way to frame this balance is that while our emotions are valid, they do not necessarily reflect reality. In fact, we might go so far as to say that emotions (especially negative ones experienced in times of stress and uncertainty) are not reality unless proven otherwise.

Step 4: Putting it all together. If you’ve worked through the prior steps, you have in front of you the raw information needed to make thoughtful, effective decisions about adjusting your study plan this semester. Your actual plan is personal to you and your needs, rather than some generic template. But here are a few general observations, based on years of working with 1Ls, that might help you consider how to strategically pivot this semester.

  • Consider the purpose of your study activities. Fall 1L students need to spend significant time learning how to read appellate cases and understand their various components. For many students, this involves reading the assignment multiple times and creating a written brief for each case. Most of that significant time investment is focused on understanding the material well enough to follow class discussions. Students also frequently cite another, related reason for spending so much time preparing for class: They don’t want to be embarrassed if they’re called on for a case. You’ll need to figure out, with reflection, whether the cost-benefit tradeoff was worth it for you. In particular, did you over-prepare for class discussions, particularly in light of how much (or little) those discussions directly impacted your final grade?
  • Shift study time to make it more effective. With a little experience under your belt, maybe it makes sense to reallocate your study time for each class. For example, if you allocate two readings for each case, maybe move one of those to after class so you can see the case in light of your professor’s comments and class discussions. Without adding time to your overall studying, this pivot may increase the value of the time you’re investing.
  • Look for near-value activities. These are study activities that do bring some value; however, their worth could be greatly enhanced with just a little more time investment. Practice questions are the prime example. Maybe you worked some sample questions in the Fall, but you didn’t seek input from your professors on your answers. That may have been due to time constraints or a reluctance to attend office hours. But if you have the opportunity to seek feedback on practice questions from the person who will be grading your final exam, why wouldn’t a reasonable person prioritize that activity? Ten minutes in office hours talking about your practice answer can be invaluable.
  • Target your weaknesses. This should be obvious, but look for specific ways to address the relative weaknesses you identified when you analyzed your Fall exam performances. What types of questions give you trouble? If there were areas of material you never fully understood, what could you do differently this semester to avoid that problem?
  • Look for subtractions. Pivoting, by definition, involves subtractions, as well as additions. As a rule, law students work very hard, and I’m not suggesting that most students should invest a net increase in study time this Spring. Whatever you’re adding in terms of study time and activities should be more than offset by what you’re taking away. Be rigorous in your evaluation of what you spent your time on this Fall. Was each activity strategically designed to bring you closer to your goal? If not, don’t be shy about abandoning that task (and then carefully evaluating the impact of that decision). What might fall into that category? Possibly extra passes through your reading even after you understood it; unproductive study group sessions that were disorganized and without a clear goal; reading outside sources to make absolutely sure you understood everything you could about the covered material; or tracking down and working every multiple choice question available.

Although pivoting can be challenging for all of us, a stepwise process of gathering relevant information and then strategically plotting a path forward can help. And as we become more adept at pivoting, our overall self-directedness improves as well.

Please feel free to reach out to me at if you have any questions or comments.

Aric Short, Professor of Law and Director of the Professionalism & Leadership Program, Texas A&M University School of Law



Barbara Glesner FInes

Three Shifts in Thinking for Professional Identity Formation

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

To help students through the professional identity formation process, and to fulfill the ABA accreditation standard, we as faculty members will need to shift our thinking about what it means to educate law students.  Three aspects of this process will require us to develop new competencies as educators.

Professional identity formation requires us to shift our stance from teacher to mentor/coach

The primary pedagogies for guiding students through the socialization process require faculty to engage students in reflection on their observations and experiences, and provide coaching and feedback on those reflections and the students’ plans for further development.  Conversation, as opposed to lecture or simulation, becomes the primary vehicle for this coaching and mentoring.  A far more personal and individualized approach to students is required to effectively guide students through formation.  This approach entails sharing control of learning with students rather than viewing our primary role as directing that learning.  We will not fully capture or guide the formation process unless we recognize that much of this process will be outside of our control; in fact, to be effective, it must be outside of our control.  To develop into self-directed lifelong learners (one central part of an attorney’s professional identity) students must be empowered to make choices about (1) finding opportunities for observation and experiences, (2) methods of reflection, and (3) seeking feedback on those experiences.

Professional identity formation requires us to shift our perception of where learning takes place

Law faculty spend a great deal of time focusing on the learning that occurs in the classroom and the clinic during the academic year.  However, students form their perceptions of what it means to be a lawyer from all aspects of their experiences during law school.  They learn about the role of professional peer relationships in their study groups, activities, and student organizations.  They learn about the relationships of attorneys to other professionals by observing the interactions between faculty and staff or between attorneys in the community and other professionals.  In so many other ways, professional formation takes place in the parts of the law school experience that have been characterized as the “hidden curriculum.”[1]  For faculty to effectively and intentionally guide students in their professional formation, we must recognize the opportunities for formative experiences that we otherwise think of as “outside” and “other.”  We can encourage students to seek these out and reflect on how these experiences have shaped their conception of themselves as attorneys.

Professional identity formation requires faculty to work together in building a meaningful program

The students’ experience-reflection-coaching cycle must occur over time and across activities.  As the ABA Interpretation 303-5 comments, “developing a professional identity requires reflection and growth over time . . .  in a variety of courses and co-curricular and professional development activities.”  Moreover, the process will necessarily be highly individualized, as each law student must not only develop themselves as professionals, but they must also integrate that identity into the many other identities that they carry.  Law faculty do not often approach their teaching (or research for that matter) as collaborations but as independent roles.[2]  Professional identity formation requires that we recognize that our work with individual students will be layered upon and integrated with the work of our colleagues.  That means we must work toward regular conversations and collaborations among the faculty about that work.  Rather than thinking about ourselves as individual faculty members guiding our group of students (one to many), we must work as a collective to build programs that guide each individual student on their separate journey (many to one).

Please email me at if you have any questions or comments about this post.

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

[1] David M. Moss, The Hidden Curriculum of Legal Education: Toward a Holistic Model for Reform, 2013 J. Disp. Resol. 19, 22 (attributing the concept to sociologist Philip Jackson).

[2] Christine Cerniglia Brown, Professional Identity Formation: Working Backwards to Move the Profession Forward, 61 Loy. L. Rev. 313, 318 (2015) (stating that “thoughtful curricular design highlights core values essential to professional identity formation; however, such a design requires a substantial amount of planning and collaboration among colleagues who may have different viewpoints”).


Jerome Organ

Student “Nastygrams” and the “Whole Building” Approach to Professional Identity Formation

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

A few weeks ago, there was a conversation on the NALSAP (National Association of Law Student Affairs Professionals) listserv regarding “nastygrams” – emails from students to administrators that reflect a very unprofessional tone.

I mention this to highlight one of the key foundational concepts surrounding professional identity formation of law students – the reality that it is a “whole building” effort.  This set of messages highlights the important role that law school administrators and staff play in identifying and addressing opportunities for professional identity formation.

One of the contributors offered a very helpful framework for engaging with the student both about the substance of the email and about the tone of the email:

“Dear ________,

I want to thank you for raising the issues regarding _______ to my attention. It is helpful to have your perspective.  In order to address the issues you raised, I propose the following steps. . . . Please let me know if you have any questions, concerns, or other suggestions on how to proceed.

I feel like I would be remiss if I did not also share that the tone and tenor of your communication felt unnecessarily harsh/hostile/accusatory, given that we are part of an educational/work community committed to a shared purpose and a shared expectation of collegiality.  The issue you raised is important; however, the way in which you raised it does not serve to support your cause.  If anything, it could possibly undermine it.  I share this in my role of supporting you in your professional development, and I hope you can receive it in that spirit.  I am happy to discuss this feedback further if you want to schedule time to talk.” (Edited slightly)

I was reminded of a “nastygram” I received when I was serving as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs many years ago.  We had a policy that required even distribution across semesters for an upper level required course but had not put a “cap” on enrollment for the fall semester during registration in the spring.  That meant that during the summer I had to “move” some set of students (approximately 15) from the fall to the following spring to “balance” enrollment.

I sent out an email on a Friday informing the students who had registered that we would be randomly selecting some students to shift to the spring to conform with the policy but would provide exceptions for those who had a particular reason for needing to take the fall course.  I asked students to send me an email explaining their situation and indicated that I would consider their circumstances in identifying students for the shift to the spring.

One student replied on Saturday with an email that started “I am so angry . . .” followed by other inflammatory language about what an outrage it was to have to submit a request to remain in the fall course.  The email proceeded to provide one reason it was necessary for that student to be in the fall course.  The student followed up with two additional emails – one later on Saturday and one on Sunday explaining additional reasons for needing/wanting to remain in the fall course.

I wrote to the student late on Sunday indicating that I did not understand why the student was so angry when all I had asked the student to do was to send me an email explaining their circumstances.  I also advised the student that as an advocate, one doesn’t generally benefit from attacking the decision-maker.  In addition, I noted that in the appeals process, one normally gets only one opportunity to raise issues.  I then asked the student to redraft the email, with an appropriate tone and with all reasons incorporated into that one email, noting that I would consider the student’s request following receipt of a new, measured, complete email request.  I also offered to meet with the student to better understand the circumstances that had made the student so angry.  That “learning moment” was meaningful for the student – who apologized and submitted an email with an appropriate tone and with all factors included (and the student was allowed to remain in the fall course).

One of the things we are (or should be) teaching our students – or trying to help our students learn – is how to conduct themselves as professionals so that they can be the most effective advocates for their clients.  That rarely involves ad hominem attacks or a snarky tone.  When our students manifest a lack of awareness of the importance of carrying themselves as a professional and communicating as a professional, they offer us “learning moments” – moments in which we can intervene to help them learn important lessons about who they want to be as a lawyer and how they should conduct themselves as lawyers and as officers of the court.

These conversations with obstreperous students are not always easy – as the students are not always receptive to the idea that this should be a “learning moment” for them.  But I think we have a responsibility to our students, to the profession, and to those we serve to guide our students to avoid cantankerous behaviors as they develop their voice as an advocate for themselves and for others.

While some of these misguided communications may be directed to faculty – providing faculty members the opportunity to facilitate a “learning moment” for the student – many of them are going to be directed to administrators and to staff – members of the law school community who also share a responsibility to help students through “learning moments” as they transition from the identity of student to the identity of lawyer.  It takes the whole building.  We are all in this together.

Please feel free to contact me at should you have any comments or questions.

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

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

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.