Assessment – Holloran Center Professional Identity Implementation Blog
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Barbara Glesner FInes

Final Exams and Professional Identity Formation

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

As final exam season nears, we who teach doctrinal classes are turning our efforts toward constructing final exams that will fairly assess our students’ mastery of the learning outcomes we have set for our class. What conclusions might we draw about the final exam experience as an opportunity for students to experience being a lawyer or to reflect on what that identity means?

We might conclude that some traditional final exam approaches are not well suited as intentional formation experiences.  Multiple-choice, standardized questions are unlikely to provide an opportunity to develop one’s conception of the role of attorney.  While these exam question approaches can be helpful for assessing knowledge and, to some degree, analytical skill, they are an experience that is entirely academic.  Traditional essay questions, even when framed as “you are the attorney for…”  or asking students to “advise your client,” are equally unlikely to help students to form a professional identity.  When delivered in the artificial environment of a timed, in-class final exam, students are unlikely to see these essay exams as experiences in which they are acting in an authentic lawyering role.

Nevertheless, traditional exam approaches are not irrelevant to professional formation.  All communicate the need for professionals to prepare diligently, perform well under pressure, and communicate clearly: all part of the professional value of striving for excellence.  However, they also may communicate negative habits and mindsets.

If the final exam is the only opportunity for graded credit that students receive during a semester, students are taught that day-to-day work has little value compared to the ability to deliver on deadline.  Many of our students have intellectual abilities that allowed them to earn high grades during their undergraduate education by simply “cramming” for final exams rather than requiring steady, daily practice. Unfortunately, many attempt and even succeed in that same approach to their work in law school.  It is little wonder, then, that we see the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct needing to comment that, “Perhaps no professional shortcoming is more widely resented than procrastination.”[1]  One way, then, to create opportunities for students to internalize a strong commitment to sustained, quality work is to make sure that the final exam is not the only place in which they are given feedback or earn reward.

Probably the most powerful formation aspect of final exams is what comes after they are over: grades.  Grades can impact professional formation in many negative ways.  Law students, already overly reliant on external measures of self-worth, can be pushed even further in that direction.  Students can take grades as indicia of career opportunities and academic expectations.  For those at the bottom of the curve, grades can create a sense of hopelessness that undermines continual improvement.  Students at the top of the statistical grade curve are not unaffected either.  Their top-percentage grades can lead them to feel that they are doing something wrong if they do not enter the large firm tournament.

There is a tension here of course.  The more we use “grades” to motivate student performance, the more we emphasize an external locus of control.  We can find ways to provide frequent feedback and give students credit for regular practice without sending a message that student’s performance is tied to their competitive grade ranking with their peers. For example, regular practice quizzes or exams (i.e., evaluated but ungraded) can give students a way to assess their progress and earn the intrinsic satisfaction of producing a quality product.

As one of the most powerful experiences in law school, final exams could become transformative opportunities for students to reflect on their own attitudes toward professional work and value. For law schools to help make that happen, we must build in more opportunities to communicate with students about the meaning of exams and grades. We could engage students to reflect on the exam experience after it is over, develop the habit of reflection on performance for continual improvement, and right-size the impact of grades on their own self-evaluation. We do not generally structure our academic calendars to incorporate such an experience. That doesn’t mean that such an experience could not be built into our academic programs as part of an overall professional identity formation program.

Do any schools have such a program? Please share your experiences on the Holloran Center PIF listserv or with me at


[1] ABA Model Rule 1.3, Comment 3.

Christopher Corts

How to Make PIF Assessments More Accurate, Bias-Resistant, and Motivational for All Students

By: Christopher Corts, Professor of Law, Legal Practice, University of Richmond School of Law

To be a lawyer is to be a member of a learned profession that society entrusts with the privilege of self-regulation.[1] To fulfill their duties to society, lawyers must be effective lifelong learners. All knowledge workers, but especially lawyers, must be prepared for a career that includes lifelong learning.[2]

If being a lawyer necessarily means being a lifelong learner[3], then teaching law students the skills, values, and competencies they need to learn now to keep learning on their own for the future is an inescapable part of any law school’s educational mission. Within American law schools, one of the most important places where we collectively attend to the burdens and joys of teaching students how to identify and internalize their commitment to lifelong learning as part of their identity has been the recent movement toward education for Professional Identity Formation (PIF).

Neil Hamilton has articulated PIF’s educational mission as including “two foundational norms and values that law students and lawyers must understand, internalize, and demonstrate,” one of which is “a commitment to pro-active continuous professional development toward excellence at all the competencies needed to serve others well in the profession’s work[4] (emphasis added).

When we embrace this learning objective as part of our PIF instruction, it raises important questions about how we ought to assess students in this work. If your school has adopted a form of assessment that includes grading, I want to suggest three goals that your program ought to adopt as you design assessments for PIF-related skills and competencies.

In a fascinating, content-rich book entitled Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms,[5] Joe Feldman—a graduate from Stanford, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and NYU Law School[6]—argues any system of grading ought to be accurate, bias-resistance, and motivational for every student-learner.[7]

Feldman suggests that a system of grading that is more accurate would be one that uses “calculations that are mathematically sound, easy to understand, and [able to] correctly describe a student’s level of academic performance.”[8] As applied to law school, this suggests that we need to take care to ensure that our calculations and descriptions of a student’s level of performance is made by reference to a professional standard of competence or excellence for any particular learning outcome that we publish to students and aim to teach.

This focus—on grading students by reference to professional standards of competence or excellence—is what educational literature calls criteria-referenced forms of grading. The biggest obstacle to accuracy thus defined is the law school curve, which eschews criteria-referenced assessment by imposing norm-referenced assessment.[9] Unfortunately, most law schools impose a curve, which means they remain committed by policy to using inaccurate forms of grading!

As a system of grading, a curve is a norm-referenced form of assessment—not a criteria-referenced assessment. By design, a curved grade communicates information about a student’s performance relative to the performance of other students measured in the same group (the norm). When a law student receives their curved grade, they are like a child who visits the pediatrician and gets feedback about the size of their head being, say, 99th percentile. Does this assessment mean they are healthy or intelligent? It’s impossible to say based on the number. The number is an expression of how the child compares to others within his or her group. It says nothing about how the child measures against standards of health or intelligence.

Being a norm-referenced assessment, a curved law school grade suffers from these same flaws. It is inaccurate in the sense that it cannot directly communicate anything about professional standards of competence and excellence. It is not designed to do that.

But as Feldman shows: the curve is so much worse than just being inaccurate. It is also prone to bias and can be de-motivational to students all along the contours of the curve.

Feldman outlines myriad ways that curving harms students by running afoul of all three of the fundamental values identified in the book. Even so, he suggests some helpful ways that we can work within the curved system to create assessments, including graded inputs, that are more accurate.

For example, Feldman suggests that teachers should:

  • Resist giving a “zero” as a grade when work has not been submitted. That gives students the option of not doing work! Good, poor, or in-between, a grade given ought to represent a teacher’s judgment about the degree of quality of work submitted, not a judgment about when it was submitted.
  • Grade minimally. The proper focus ought to be on giving feedback without grades attached. The more we grade, the more students obsess about the grade. We need them to obsess about the quality of their performance relative to professional standards of competence or excellence. That requires feedback.
  • Use a small grading scale from numbers 0-4. A small grading scale properly conveys the relative degrees of difference that separate levels of achievement along the ways to excellence. All students should expect to pass between those levels on the way to competence and, eventually, excellence. [As an avid tennis player and recent convert to pickleball, I appreciate the way that both sports use a rating system that is small-scale and incremental in the ways Feldman describes. For example: A beginning tennis player (2.5 or 3.0) is distinct from an intermediate (3.5 or 4.0) and more advanced players (4.5, 5.0 +). But the size of the rating scale adopted facilitates a growth mindset; it reinforces the belief that, with sustained attention, effort, and practice, it is possible to move up the rating scale over time.]
  • Give more weight to more recent performance. A student’s performance early in the semester—before there has been much instruction, practice, or feedback—is predictably poorer for everyone.
  • Grade based on individual achievement, not an entire group. This has implications for grading team-based assignments, obviously. But it also warrants against using a curve—because the curve reflects individual performance only by reference to the group’s norm, not by reference to professional standards or criteria for competence, excellence, whatever).[10]

So once we have tackled accuracy….how might we ensure our grading is more bias-resistant? When Feldman talks about bias-resistant grading, he means that “grades should be based on valid evidence of a student’s content knowledge, and not based on evidence that is likely to be corrupted by a teacher’s implicit bias or reflect a student’s environment.”[11]

Sounds reasonable. But how might we make grading more bias-resistant in these ways? Feldman gives a few suggestions; I suspect they might be surprising to some of my instructor-readers who likely have used one or more of the disfavored practices Feldman identifies as being prone to bias. Feldman argues we should:

  • Grade based only upon required content. Among other implications, this means that we ought to resist any temptation to award extra credit.
  • Make sure the final grade reflects the quality of work submitted, not the timing of when the work was submitted. In other words: resist the urge to give a score that reflects the lateness of the submission more than the quality of work that was submitted.
  • Do not grade levels of participation or engagement separately. As instructors of future professionals, we need our students to grasp the way that their participation, engagement, and level of effort directly impacts their ability to perform competently and produce professional-level work. If we are right about that, we do not need to grade these inputs separately. If a class is well-designed, it will not be possible for someone to perform well on an assignment if they have not participated or been engaged meaningfully in the class prior to that! To grade engagement or participation separately risks double-counting; it is not necessary.

This last concern may at first sound more like an accuracy problem than a bias-resistance challenge; it risks double-counting poor participation and engagement. But there is also a serious bias problem when professors say they will grade “levels of participation” or “engagement” without clearly defining what “participation” and “engagement” mean. Similarly, a bias problem exists if professors do not adequately disclose how students can achieve that learning objective in a way that meets the professor’s expectations. The bias problem is especially challenging in large doctrinal classes, where students may only be able to speak, participate, or engage with the professor when the professor places them on call or initiates a Socratic dialogue with them about topics of the professor’s choosing.

If “participation” or “engagement” means talking in class, quiet or culturally-deferential students may be especially vulnerable to a professor’s implicit bias in favor of extroverted, alpha-type students who talk a lot, or out of turn. Especially in law school classrooms where professors retain nearly complete control over the decision of who gets to speak when and about what, it makes opportunities to demonstrate “participation” or “engagement” more difficult, particularly if those categories have not been carefully defined, if standards for achievement have not been published, and if students’ opportunities for demonstrating those inputs have not been intentionally monitored for parity.

It is not that engagement and participation do not matter. They do! They matter so much that if students shrug off their duty to participate and be engaged in a course, they will not be able to perform well on the merits. If you are concerned that a student might be able to perform well on an assignment in your course without engaging or meaningfully participating in the course work prior to the assignment….then you have a course design problem. The problem is yours.

  • Only summative assessments ought to be graded. Formative assessments—such as homework or practice problems—require feedback…but not Formative assessments are especially vulnerable to being distorted by a student’s learning environment outside of the classroom (which Feldman identified as problematic when it comes to bias-resistance).

And what about Feldman’s final value: the value that grading ought to be motivational for all students? When Feldman says we need a system of grading that is more motivational for all students, he means that the way we grade should “motivate students to achieve academic success, support a growth mindset, and give students opportunities for redemption”—even (especially!) when they do not earn one of the best-available grades.[12] 

Thus described, how might we make grading more motivational for all students?

  • Use rubrics and standards scales that are shared with students.
  • Give opportunities for retakes and re-dos (until the student performs the assigned task at a minimum level of competency).
  • Give tests without any points (but lots of feedback).
  • Grade minimally, and use a 0-4 scale when we do grade, so that students can easily see the relationship between their current level of performance and desired level of performance as a gap that can realistically be closed with additional effort. In other words: instead of lecturing or nagging students about having a growth mindset, use a grading scale that makes growth from one category of performance to another appear achievable.
  • Emphasize self-regulation. The more we can do to help students take responsibility for their own process of growth and learning, the better. This requires more than lecturing or telling them. By devoting precious educational time to self-reflection and meta-cognitive exercises, we can help students make critical connections, learn valuable lessons, and experience themselves as the driving agents who are ultimately responsible for their own education.
  • Create a community of feedback to support students in their individual journeys of learning, growth, and improvement.
  • Resist grading soft skills as separate grading inputs (unless the soft skill has been made a topic/subject of the course of instruction, such as when an entire course is devoted to “listening” or “leadership” or “communication” or “soft skills for lawyers”). In other words, if you are a Torts or Contracts professor, resist the urge to grade soft skills as part of that course.

I suspect this last suggestion might be surprising or controversial to some. To be sure, a well-meaning Torts or Contracts professor might wish to reinforce the importance of PIF’s soft-skilled competency in a doctrinal class. That might be a wise decision, but Feldman’s argument suggests that educators who care most about teaching students the soft skills they need to thrive in education and life are most effective when they give plenty of feedback but no separate grade for a soft-skilled performance.[13]

As Feldman describes it, “[w]hen we reestablish the causal relationship between soft skills and academic performance and no longer include soft skills in the grade, we increase students’ intrinsic motivation to develop those soft skills as a direct means to greater academic performance.”[14]

For Feldman, this approach is best because, in the twenty-first century, the most important and valuable soft skill of all is the skill of self-regulation.[15] Self-regulation requires “the active monitoring and regulation of a number of different learning processes: e.g., the setting of, and orientation towards, learning goals; the strategies used to achieve goals; the management of resources; the effort exerted; reactions to external feedback; the products produced.”[16] As Feldman explains it, “[w]e best teach self-regulation not by assigning points for soft skills, but instead by lifting the veil by defining soft skills, reducing biases through rubrics, delegating to students the responsibility to record soft skills and academic performance, and facilitating processes for reflection and goal-setting.”[17]

Feldman’s interest in teaching students how to be self-regulated learners brings us back to where I began this article: focused on our duty to teach lawyers how to be lifelong learners. Feldman’s emphasis on teaching self-regulation pairs perfectly with Hamilton’s articulation of PIF’s core learning objectives.[18] The arguments and ideas in Grading for Equity are much richer, deeper, clearer, and more stimulating than what this short blog post allows. Please read it! And then pass it along to a colleague.

For any willing to see it, please see it: when it comes to raising up the next generation of self-regulating lawyer-learners, we have a moral duty to use (and model) systems of assessment that are accurate, bias-resistant, and motivational. Let’s do it!

Christopher Corts is Professor of Law and Legal Practice at the University of Richmond School of Law.

[1] See Anton Hermann-Chroust, The Rise of the Legal Profession in America Vol. 1, (1st edition), University of Oklahoma: 1965).

[2] See Peter Drucker, “Post-Capitalist Society” at page 52 (Butterworth-Heinemann 1993) (“In the post-capitalist society it is safe to assume that anyone with any knowledge will have to acquire new knowledge every four or five years, or else become obsolete.”) Drucker later suggests that society needs “a new axiom: ‘The more schooling a person has, the more often he or she will need more schooling.’” He warns that American “doctors, lawyers, engineers, business executives are increasingly expected to go back to school every few years lest they become obsolete…” Id. at 186.

[3] My colleague, Laura Webb, makes this case effectively, using the lens of helping students how to think like teachers. Webb, Laura A., Why Legal Writers Should Think Like Teachers (August 17, 2017). 67 J. Legal Educ. 315 (2017). Available at

[4] Neil Hamilton, “Introduction to the Definition of Professional Identity and the Formation of a Professional Identity,” Holloran Center Professional Identity Implementation Blog, available at

[5] Feldman, J. (2019). About the Author. In Grading for equity: What it is, why it matters, and how it can transform schools and classrooms, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a Sage Publishing Company.

[6] Id. at xiii (“About the Author”).

[7] Id. at p. 27 (“Equitable grading is Accurate, Bias-Resistant, and Motivational for all students.”).

[8] Id. at 228.

[9] For a helpful history of the curve in higher education, a survey of empirically-demonstrated ways the curve impairs and impedes learning, explanations of criteria-referenced forms of grading, and pragmatic suggestions for how to implement better assessments in the classroom, see Jeffrey Schinske, & Kimberly Tanner, Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently), 13:2 CBE–Life Science Education 159-166, available at

[10] Id. at 228.

[11] Id. at 228.

[12] Id. at 228.

[13] Id. at 205. In Chapter 13, Feldman outlines “Practices that build soft skills without including them in a grade.

[14] Id. at 224.

[15] Id. at 216.

[16] Id. at 216.

[17] Id. at 224.

[18] Neil Hamilton, “Introduction to the Definition of Professional Identity and the Formation of a Professional Identity,” Holloran Center Professional Identity Implementation Blog, available at

David Grenardo

Kill 1L: A Realistic Look at Legal Education Reform

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

Prentiss Cox, a Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School, previously published Law in Practice, a casebook to teach lawyering skills to first and second-year law students. His latest article, Kill 1L, proposes a bold, yet practical approach to reforming the 1L curriculum and experience to help develop law students into lawyers.

Here is the abstract of Professor Cox’s article:

Law school education has been extensively studied for decades, but changes have been modest. This Article makes the case that fundamental law school reform will not occur until we abolish the central pillar on which it rests—the current conception of the first year of law school, the “1L” experience. Many studies of law school curricula and pedagogy are sharply critical of the education offered, but they pull a punch when it comes to 1L. This Article compares recent data on 1L curricula at almost every U. S. law school with ABA-required law school statements of learning outcomes. The comparison reveals two contrasts: the gap between what is promised students for their legal education and what 1L delivers; and the gap between what is promised students and the actual use of law by attorneys, judges and even law professors in the modern world. The Article proposes a new 1L curriculum that would engage students in the law used by courts and policymakers while decreasing the demands placed on law students by the repetitive, inefficient legacy 1L curriculum.

A link to the article can be found here.

Should you have any questions or comments about the article, please feel free to contact Professor Cox at


David Grenardo

Integrating Artificial Intelligence Tools into the Formation of Professional Identity

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

The Holloran Center and the University of St. Thomas Law Journal brought together for the first time 1L and Professional Responsibility casebook authors to discuss ways to implement professional identity formation into the 1L curriculum and Professional Responsibility at the University of St. Thomas Law Journal’s spring 2023 symposium. One of the major reasons for this seminal gathering was to share ideas about professional identity formation amongst law schools from all across the country. Another reason was to generate excellent scholarship that could guide law schools as schools must now comply with the new ABA Standard 303 that requires law schools to provide substantial opportunities for law students to develop their professional identities.

Colleen Medill, the Robert & Joanne Berkshire Family Professor of Law and Director of Undergraduate Academic Programs at the Nebraska College of Law, delivered an amazing presentation at the symposium titled “Writing a Demand Letter: Litigator or Mediator” on a panel that focused on putting students in the role of lawyers, which is one of the ways law students move from law student to lawyer. She also authored an excellent, timely, and innovative article for the symposium issue, Integrating Artificial Intelligence Tools into the Formation of Professional Identity.

Here is the abstract of Professor Medill’s article:

My claim in this Article is that a lawyer’s personal use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the practice of law is now an essential component of a lawyer’s professional identity that must be intentionally developed as a law student before entering the practice of law. After demonstrating the strong connection between the use of AI tools in legal practice, the requirement of lawyer competence, and the formation of professional identity, the Article proposes four “best practices” principles for integrating AI tools with traditional lawyering skills exercises to assist students in the formation of professional identity. The Article concludes with an example that can be used in the first-year Property course.

A link to the article can be found here.

Should you have any questions or comments about the article, please feel free to contact Professor Medill at

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


David Grenardo

Professional Responsibility and Professional Identity Formation in a Community of Practice with Alumni

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

Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings…and Neil Hamilton finishes another article. Neil Hamilton, 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 completed a new professional identity formation article. Hamilton wrote his latest article for the University of St. Thomas Law Journal’s spring 2023 symposium on professional identity formation. Hamilton’s article explores a new approach to the required Professional Responsibility course that provides reasonable coverage of the law of lawyering, legal analysis, and compliance, but also helps each student understand and participate in a community of practice focused on all the discretionary calls of lawyering in the area of the student’s ultimate practice interest. The student sees that legal ethics knowledge and capacities are not just doctrinal knowledge and legal analysis but are also social and situated in a community of practice. The student also sees that many alumni of the law school are successful in the practice of law while living into the values of the law school and the profession, not just compliance with the minimum floor of the law of lawyering. The student will also understand that in any practice area, the experienced lawyers know who can be trusted and who are the jerks. It will be the student’s and new lawyer’s choice which path to take.

Part II(A) of the article first outlines that the ABA Model Rules of Professional Responsibility (adopted by all 50 states with some variation) codify some values of the profession (like competence, diligence, confidentiality, and loyalty) into the law of lawyering with which licensed lawyers must comply. Part II(A) also explains that many of the Rules give discretion to practicing lawyers with respect to choices about conduct above the floor of the Rules. Part II(B) then analyzes the core values in the mission and learning outcomes of some law schools, and in the Preamble to the Model Rules, that help guide each lawyer’s discretionary decision-making. Part III analyzes how communities of practice influence lawyers in making the discretionary calls of lawyering in a way consistent with the profession’s core values. Part IV explores empirical evidence on whether practicing lawyers think their legal education was an effective community of practice fostering their understanding of these core values in making the discretionary calls of lawyering. Part V discusses Hamilton’s own Professional Responsibility course that creates communities of practice with students and alumni to help students understand the importance of the law school’s and the profession’s core values in making the discretionary calls of lawyering.

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.

David Grenardo

Leveraging Professional Identity Formation in the Doctrinal Law School Class

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

Lou Bilionis, Dean Emeritus and Droege Professor of Law at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, also serves as a Holloran Center Fellow. He has written extensively on professional identity formation, including an open access book published by Cambridge University Press titled Law Student Professional Development and Formation: Bridging Law School, Student, and Employer Goals. His most recent article on professional identity, which is forthcoming in the University of St. Thomas Law Journal, demonstrates how law professors can effectively incorporate professional identity formation into doctrinal classes. He presented this article at the University of St. Thomas Law Journal’s spring 2023 symposium that explored pedagogies to support professional identity formation.

American law schools are paying increased attention to the professional identity formation of their students. The trend should grow now that the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has revised its accreditation standards to prescribe that “a law school shall provide substantial opportunities to students for … (3) the development of a professional identity.”

As law school faculty and staff proceed, professors who teach traditional doctrinal classes may doubt they can do much if anything differently in their courses to support professional identity formation. Questions about course coverage and their own competency to focus on professional identity formation understandably arise and may give professors pause. Bilionis’ article illustrates how purposeful focus on professional identity formation in a doctrinal course can be done to enrich the educational experience for students. Rather than detracting from the doctrinal work, professional identity formation features can be a multiplier. They can be leveraged to promote the doctrinal learning and the sharpening of cognitive skills traditionally expected in the course, while also contributing positively to the student’s development as a professional in other ways. Importantly, doing so is not difficult and requires no special expertise of the professor.

Bilionis’ article reports on his personal experience since 2016 teaching a basic constitutional law course with professional identity formation as a central feature. The reader will find a model that has delivered positive results for students and the professor alike, and which any professor can employ in any typical doctrinal course. In addition to reviewing strategic considerations, the article digs into the details of what to do and how to do it. It identifies and walks through various components that can be introduced to accent professional identity formation concepts while advancing traditional learning objectives. The components are easily adaptable to suit the needs and preferences of the professor, and faculty interested in experimenting can select one or more for a test run in their classes.

A link to Bilionis’ 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.

David Grenardo

If You’re Looking for Professional Identity Formation Resources, Then You’ve Come to the Right Place

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

The Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) strives to share as many resources with others as possible. In an effort to make resources even more accessible, the Holloran Center has revamped its website to deliver those resources in a user-friendly manner.

The home page of the Holloran Center website begins with links (on the right side of the page) to (1) short, useful definitions of professional identity and professional identity formation, (2) three articles that explain the ABA’s changes to its standards 303(b) and (c), and (3) two groundbreaking articles on law students’ well-being.

As you scroll down the home page, four major links can be found under the heading “How to Get Started”: (1) Get to Know the Holloran Center, (2) Review Changes to Standard 303, (3) Explore our Tools and Resources, and (4) See Our Research and Training. Each of these four major categories is discussed below.

The first major link, Get to Know the Holloran Center, takes the user to a page that features the leadership team of the Holloran Center, including its Co-Directors Neil Hamilton and Jerry Organ, along with me, and the Holloran Center Fellows, Barbara Glesner Fines, Kendall Kerew, and Lou Bilionis. It also includes links to pages about Tom Holloran, who is the inspiration and namesake of the Center, along with a Donors and Partners page.

The second major link, Review Changes to Standard 303, leads to a page that includes (1) a list of existing entry ramps for schools to incorporate professional identity formation and (2) a link to an open access book – Law Student Professional Development and Formation: Bridging Law School, Student, and Employer Goals – that provides a straightforward and detailed look at the changes to 303(b) and (c) and suggestions regarding how to comply with those standards, and (3) the introductory materials mentioned above (short definitions of PI and PIF and three short articles about the changes to the ABA standards).

The third major link – Explore our Tools and Resources – brings up three more links on that topic: Learning Outcomes Database; Holloran Competency Milestones; and Professional Development Database.

The Learning Outcomes Database contains a searchable list of all law school learning outcomes that were available on law school websites as of January 2022. The Holloran Center identified those law schools with “basic” learning outcomes – those that recite the language of Standard 302 and nothing more. The Holloran Center also identified those law schools with more robust learning outcomes than required by the language of Standard 302.

The Holloran Competency Milestones are rubrics that describe the various stages of development associated with learning outcomes. In other words, they provide a tool to assess whether (and to what extent) law students are reaching learning outcomes in a variety of areas, including the following:

The Professional Development Database list includes 62 first-year, required, law school professional development initiatives based on information from law school websites as of November 2019. This list, as well as the Learning Outcomes Database, are currently being updated by research assistants for the Holloran Center. The updates should be available by September 1, 2023.

The fourth major link, See Our Research and Training, consists of three links itself. The first is the Roadmap for Employment, which is the award-winning book that provides a template for law students to use throughout all three years of law school to be fully prepared to find meaningful employment upon graduation. ABA Books will publish the substantially revised third edition of Roadmap on August 1st of this year; the latest edition is streamlined and even more law-student friendly at 51 pages total.

The second link under Research and Training, Coach Training, offers coaching tips and a guide to perform one-on-one coaching with law students, which is the most effective method to foster each student’s professional growth. The third link contains extensive Research on Professional Formation in multiple areas, such as professional formation overview, the importance of professional formation, promoting student self-direction, fostering a fiduciary mindset, assessing student professional development, legal education observations, and law student well-being and satisfaction.

As you scroll down the home page, there is a link to the Holloran Center Professional Identity Implementation Blog, which features useful and creative articles by contributors from law schools across the entire country.

Scrolling down further on the home page one will find several of the four major links described above.

We are thankful for the excellent work of Carrie Hilger at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and the University of St. Thomas IT Department in revising the Holloran Center website. We are particularly grateful to Skylar Peyton, a rising 3L at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, whose attention to detail, work ethic, and dedication helped to vastly improve the website.

The Holloran Center hopes that its website continues to serve as a valuable hub for free and accessible professional identity resources that can benefit law schools across the nation.

Should you have any questions or needs, please feel free to contact us.

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.

David Grenardo

Creating an Upper-Level Course to Comply with the Revised ABA Standards

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

The revised ABA standards mandate that law schools provide substantial opportunities for their law students to develop their professional identities. Prior to the revised standards, some schools had already created mandatory 1L classes that entail some type of professional identity formation. The Holloran Center’s website lists schools with their corresponding classes that include professional formation or professional development, and the Holloran Center continues to add syllabi for each of those classes. The classes range from 0 credits to 8 credits.

Before joining the University of St. Thomas School of Law, I created and taught an upper-level course that intentionally and explicitly introduced the concepts of professional identity and professional identity formation. The overwhelming response from the students who took the class was extremely positive.

After attending one of the Holloran Center’s workshops in 2016, I came back to my law school at the time (St. Mary’s University School of Law) on fire with a determination to create a course that introduced professional identity to students and allowed students to develop their professional identities. I drafted a course proposal and submitted it to the faculty committee, but the class failed to obtain a majority of the committee’s approval. The full faculty did not approve the proposed course.

Four years later, I had gained a more thorough understanding of professional identity formation and decided to design another professional identity formation course. In creating the class, I spoke with law students to hear what they thought would be useful and interesting. For instance, as St. Mary’s is a Catholic and Marianist law school, I wanted to incorporate some basic Catholic principles and concepts, such as the Catholic Social Teachings, and the origins of the Marianist Order, to help students discover how those concepts and information might be incorporated into their own approach to the law. The students thought that idea was good, but they strongly suggested that a survey of the major spiritual traditions would provide broader perspectives on how to approach life as an individual and a professional. As a result, I added an entire section to discuss the basic history and tenets of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and secular spirituality. I also added a writing assignment in which students wrote about how two different faith traditions would approach a current legal issue. Adding this section resulted in three major effects:

1) students gained an appreciation of other spiritual traditions and examined how they could incorporate some of those traditions’ teachings into their own lives;

2) students learned about the vast similarities between the different faith traditions; and

3) learning about other types of spiritual traditions enhanced the students’ cross-cultural competency.

That writing assignment should also help students understand the different viewpoints that clients and team members may bring when they work with others. One student specifically mentioned that he had no idea how similar Islam and Catholicism are until he took this class, and he was disavowed of a number of negative stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam that were promulgated through movies he had seen.

The course description in the course proposal I submitted, which was approved by both the curriculum committee and later the faculty, stated the following:

Course Description:

This course enables law students to identify characteristics important to being good lawyers and characteristics employers of all kinds are looking for in graduating law students. Law students will also explore ethical and moral dilemmas through inter-faith discussions that will allow them to continue to develop their own moral compasses and professional identities. In particular, faculty and practitioners of different faith traditions and value systems (e.g., Catholic, Jewish, Buddhism, Muslim, atheism, etc.) will work through ethical and moral situations faced by lawyers and share how their particular faith or value-system affects their decision-making. Students will also examine how their own faith traditions, as well as the Catholic and Marianist traditions, apply to their own practice of law and to current legal issues today, such as women’s rights, LGBTQ+ issues, environmental justice, the death penalty, immigrant justice, racial injustice, and social justice. Finally, the class will encourage students to see the practice of law as a calling and their vocation, which will help in their search for meaningful employment that allows them to make a living, serve others, and find joy.

The grades were based entirely on papers regarding, among other things, reflections on what type of lawyers they wanted to be, how they would fulfill all of their vocations (e.g., as lawyer, spouse, sibling, daughter/son, friend) as professionals, and how they changed in law school for better and/or for worse. Several additional writing assignments, including drafting a eulogy for themselves (an exercise I borrowed from Neil Hamilton’s Ethical Leadership in Organizations class) and interviewing a lawyer about one of their dream jobs, are described in the edited syllabus for this class (see below).

I also invited a number of graduates to speak to the class. The guest speakers included a judge and lawyers who practiced in a variety of areas, such as Big Law and solo practitioners. After a couple of guest speakers talked about finishing near or at the top of the class, the class requested a speaker who did not finish near the top of the class yet enjoyed a successful legal career. I obliged, and the students truly appreciated that speaker and all of the speakers they heard.

The last day of class we went on a retreat off campus at Tecaboca, a retreat facility just outside of the city of San Antonio. During the four-hour retreat, we talked about the class, and I also gave them time to reflect on their own, with others, and ultimately write a letter to their future self in five years. We enjoyed lunch together as well. Some of the students said it was their most meaningful and memorable experience of law school. It was a moving and powerful experience for me, too, as I felt connected to these students and their professional identity development.

A common theme in the students’ reaction to the class was that the class should be mandatory for all students (although the experience/dynamic would be different if the class was required rather than elective). The law students expressed their appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity to engage in self-reflection and to explore what areas of law they would most enjoy and what would bring them joy during and after their legal careers.

Below is an edited syllabus of the class that does not include university and class policy language regarding attendance, laptops, accommodations, etc. The edited syllabus below is also attached here.

Should you have any questions or comments about the course, please email me at

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.



By the end of the course you will:

  1. Understand that the legal profession is a vocation, identify your gifts and talents, and analyze the places where you likely fit into the legal profession based on your own talents and passion.
  2. Understand the characteristics and traits that make up an excellent law student and lawyer, and analyze how you can improve in those areas.
  3. Identify the ethical and moral dilemmas that you may face as a lawyer, and continue to develop your own moral compasses by analyzing how you would respond to those dilemmas.
  4. Identify the key aspects of the Marianist origin and traditions, as well as your own faith tradition, and analyze how you can incorporate aspects of the Marianist origin and traditions and your own faith tradition into your life and career.
  5. Understand the Catholic and Marianist traditions, particularly the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and Catholic Social Teachings, and apply those traditions and other faith traditions to your practice of law and to a current legal issue today such as women’s rights, LGBTQIA+ issues, environmental justice, the death penalty, immigrant justice, racial injustice, and social justice.


The required text for this class is The Formation of Professional Identity: The Path From Student to Lawyer by Patrick Emery Longan, Daisy Hurst Floyd, and Timothy W. Floyd. Moreover, there will be classroom handouts and materials (many are listed below in the Assignments section) made available on Canvas that will supplement the source material.



Unit I: Vocation and Professional Identity Formation

Class: Vocation
Readings: Susan J. Stabile, The Practice of Law as Response to God’s Call, 32 Seattle U. L. Rev. 389 (2009);
Pages 365-371, 391-395, and 400-403 from Jerry Organ, From Those to Whom Much Has Been Given, Much Is Expected: Vocation, Catholic Social Teaching, and the Culture of a Catholic Law School, 1 J. Cath. Soc. Thought 361 (2004)

Class: Exploring Vocation and Exemplary Law Student and Lawyer Characteristics
Reading: Neil Hamilton, Connecting Prospective Law Students’ Goals To The Competencies That Clients And Legal Employers Need To Achieve More Competent Graduates And Stronger Applicant Pools And Employment Outcomes, 9 St. Mary’s J. Legal Mal. & Ethics 260 (2019)

Class: Exploring Vocation and Exemplary Law Student and Lawyer Characteristics Continued

Readings: Lawrence S. Krieger & Kennon M. Sheldon, What Makes Lawyers Happy? A DataDriven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success, 83 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 554 (2015);
14 Questions from Neil W. Hamilton’s Roadmap: The Law Student’s Guide to Meaningful Employment, 2d ed., American Bar Association, 2018

Class: Professional Identity Formation, Introduction and Overview, Motivation
Reading: Excerpts from The Formation of Professional Identity: The Path from Student to Lawyer by Patrick Emery Longan, Daisy Hurst Floyd, and Timothy W. Floyd, 2020

Class: Professional Identity Formation, Competence, Fidelity to the Client
Reading: Excerpts from The Formation of Professional Identity: The Path from Student to Lawyer by Patrick Emery Longan, Daisy Hurst Floyd, and Timothy W. Floyd, 2020

Class: Professional Identity Formation, Fidelity to the Law, Public Spiritedness
Reading: Excerpts from The Formation of Professional Identity: The Path from Student to Lawyer by Patrick Emery Longan, Daisy Hurst Floyd, and Timothy W. Floyd, 2020

Class: Professional Identity Formation, Civility, Practical Wisdom, Future of Legal Profession
Reading: Excerpts from The Formation of Professional Identity: The Path from Student to Lawyer by Patrick Emery Longan, Daisy Hurst Floyd, and Timothy W. Floyd, 2020

Class: Interview with a Practicing Lawyer
Assignment: outside of class students will interview a lawyer or individual who has one of the law student’s dream jobs

Unit II: Learning From the Wisdom Traditions

Class: Jewish Spirituality
Reading: Spirituality: A Guide for the Perplexed by Philip Sheldrake

Class: Christian Spirituality

Reading: Spirituality: A Guide for the Perplexed by Philip Sheldrake

Class: Muslim Spirituality
Reading: Spirituality: A Guide for the Perplexed by Philip Sheldrake

Class: Hindu Spirituality

Reading: Spirituality: A Guide for the Perplexed by Philip Sheldrake

Class: Buddhist Spirituality
Reading: Spirituality: A Guide for the Perplexed by Philip Sheldrake

Class: Secular Spirituality
Reading: Spirituality: A Guide for the Perplexed by Philip Sheldrake

Unit III: Catholic & Marianist Traditions

Class: Introduction to the Catholic Intellectual Tradition
Readings: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition: Core Principles for the College or University, Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, 2017;

The Catholic Intellectual Tradition: A Conversation at Boston College, 2010;

Pages 403-412 from John M. Breen, Justice and Legal Education: A Critique, 36 Loy. U. Chi. L.J. 383 (2005)

Class: Catholic Social Teaching
Reading: Pages 113-165 from SJ Thomas Massaro, Living Justice: Catholic Social Teaching in Action, 2000

Class: Introduction to the Marianist Tradition
Reading: Excerpts from John Habjan, S.M., Society of Mary: Marianists, Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice, Vol. 11, No. 2, December 2007, 198-217, University of Notre Dame

Class: Marianists and Higher Education
Reading: Characteristics of Marianist Universities, Association of Marianist Universities, Chaminade University, St. Mary’s University, University of Dayton, 2019;

Reading: David A. Grenardo, Marianist Law Schools: Demonstrating the Courage to be Catholic, 60 J. Cath. Legal Stud. (2022 Forthcoming)

Class: Retreat
Reading: Excerpts from William L. Droel, The Spirituality of Work: Lawyers, 1989


Final grades will be based on the completion of journal entries (70%), a short paper regarding a current legal topic analyzed through faith tradition (15%), and a eulogy (15%). Grades can also be increased or decreased as set forth above.

Journal Entries (70%):

Students are required to submit journal entries throughout the semester as requested by the professor. I will give you ample time to submit each entry. These journal entries will be treated confidentially.

Purpose. Journal entries are neither research assignments nor reports on the reading or what speakers said. They are designed to help each student reflect upon and integrate assigned readings and class discussions on a topic with her or his own faith and ethics. The impact of the presentation, readings, and discussions on the student’s pre-class view of the topic is important.

Content. Throughout the semester, the student will be responsible for journal entries that answer specific questions relating to the assigned readings, speaker presentations, and class discussions. Be sure to mention at least some of the readings in your journal entries.

One of the journal entries will be based on an interview you set up and conduct with an attorney or individual who currently has one of your dream jobs. Your journal entry will answer the following questions: How they reached their current position? What advice do they have for you to do the same? What is your plan to reach that position? The interview, which you must arrange and schedule, will take the place of a class period.

Grading. Journal entries must be between 600 and 750 words, typed and double spaced. Indicate word count on each journal entry. Even if you are absent for a class covering a particular journal topic, you still must submit a journal entry for that topic.

Short Paper Using Faith Traditions (15%):

This paper will include analysis of a current legal topic through the lens of multiple (2 or more) faith traditions. You must examine a current legal topic and analyze how it would be resolved through the lens of two or more faith traditions. Areas where current legal topics can be found are listed below, but this list is certainly not exhaustive.

  1. Social Justice
  2. Women and Justice
  3. Economic Justice
  4. Racial Justice
  5. Environmental Justice
  6. Orientation and Justice
  7. “Consistent Life Ethic” Issues: Abortion, War, Death Penalty, Euthanasia

The paper must be between 750 and 1,000 words, typed and double spaced. This paper is due April 28th.

Eulogy Assignment (15%):

Purpose. Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, advises each of us “to begin with the end in mind.” One method of doing so is to think through what you hope your eulogy might be. I hope you do not see this exercise as morbid. For a spiritual person, thinking about dying is simply thinking about what we must transcend with God’s help. If the eulogy exercise is too difficult for you, see the alternative below under Content.

Content. First, reflect on the eulogies you have heard in your lifetime. Which ones had the most profound impact on you? Why? Then ask yourself, “What I most want people to remember about me is _____. “ Or “At the end of my life, what I would like to know about myself is ________.” Next, does your eulogy reflect your values and principles? Is it clear to what you have given your heart in life?

If the eulogy exercise is too difficult for you, you can do this exercise by thinking about your life as a book, and you are writing chapters as you live your life. What is the theme of your book?  What is the theme of the particular chapter you are living now? Write down the likely topics of the chapters you see ahead of you.

Also, speak with at least two people to discuss this assignment. One of them should be over 60 and retired. Ask them about their life in terms of how they would have answered the question above at your stage in life, and how they answer the question now at their stage of life. Have they changed their minds about what the “end” of their life should be? How do they describe “to what have I given my heart?” What is their legacy? What advice do they have about your legacy? You must include some reflection on what you find out from these interviews in your written eulogy.

Grading. The eulogy must be between 750 and 1,000 words, typed and double spaced. It will be treated confidentially. You will receive full credit for completing the assignment as stated above. Unsatisfactory work must be revised and resubmitted until it is acceptable to the professor. Indicate word count on the eulogy.

The Eulogy is also due April 28th.

Jordan Furlong

Competence Starter Kit

By: Jordan Furlong, Canadian Legal Sector Analyst, Forecaster, Speaker, and Consultant

In a previous post, I discussed how the Law Society of British Columbia (the regulator of lawyers and legal services in the province of B.C.) asked me to suggest reforms to its lawyer licensing system. In my 82-page report submitted in May 2022, I recommended that B.C. create a competence framework for entry-level fitness to practice law and design a competence-based licensing system based on that framework. In September 2022, the Law Society accepted that recommendation.

In my report, I was reluctant to give the Law Society my opinion on the proper constituent elements of entry-level competence in their province. That decision has to be made by experts with much more experience and proficiency than me, in consultation with a very wide group of stakeholders.

But I was invited to consider that there would be value in suggesting a sort of “starter kit” of competencies in a suggested framework, in order to guide the earliest stages of the consultation process and give the directors a sense of what such a framework might look like. After extensive research and reflection, I came up with the following:

  1. Knowledge of the Law
    • Administrative law and procedure
    • Business and corporate law and procedure
    • Civil litigation, procedure, and remedies
    • Contract law and drafting
    • Constitutional law
    • Criminal law, procedure, and sentencing
    • Evidence
    • Family law and procedure
    • Legislative, regulatory, and judicial systems
    • Property and tenancy law and procedure
    • Torts
    • Wills, estates, and trust law and procedure
  1. Understanding of a Lawyers Professional Responsibilities
    • Client confidentiality
    • Client trust accounts
    • Conflicts of interest
    • Fiduciary duties
    • Select other aspects of the Code of Professional Conduct
  1. The Skills of a Lawyer
    • Gather relevant facts through interviews and research
    • Carry out legal research
    • Conduct due diligence
    • Draft essential legal documents
    • Solve problems using legal knowledge and analysis
    • Help negotiate solutions and resolve disputes
    • Advocate for a client’s position
    • Provide legal advice to clients
    • Use law practice technology
    • Fulfill the basic business and professional requirements of a private law practice
  1. The Skills of a Professional
    • Establish, maintain, and conclude a client relationship
    • Establish and maintain respectful and collaborative relationships with colleagues and others
    • Communicate accurately and concisely, verbally and in writing, to different audiences
    • Understand and use information management systems effectively
    • Understand and use financial management systems effectively
    • Manage projects and responsibilities to ensure they are completed efficiently, on time, and to an appropriate professional standard
    • Organize one’s time and activities to ensure the prompt and successful fulfilment of one’s obligations.

This starter kit can serve as a useful tool for regulators in Canada and, hopefully, the United States, as well as law schools across the continents, in determining what competencies every first-year lawyer should possess.

For an example of what a competence framework for lawyer development and licensing might look like, check out the Building a Better Bar project at the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, and of course, the Roadmap for Employment at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Also, Professors Neil Hamilton and Jerry Organ have done extensive and fantastic work on professional competence development and professional identity formation.

If you have any questions or comments about this post, then please email me at

Jordan Furlong is a Canadian Legal Sector Analyst, Forecaster, Speaker, and Consultant.