Experiential Lawyering Skills – Holloran Center Professional Identity Implementation Blog
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Experiential Lawyering Skills

Angela Schultz

Can Participation in Pro Bono Service Increase Student Well-Being? I’ve Seen It Happen

By Angela F. Schultz, Assistant Dean for Public Service, Marquette Law School

I have been at Marquette Law School for eleven years. Over the years, I have witnessed students become more willing and able to identify and discuss mental health challenges they have faced in their own lives—challenges the students themselves have described as stress, anxiety, depression, and sometimes as trauma. I remember one recent student who lost both parents during their first year of law school. Another student took a leave of absence and was hospitalized for severe anxiety. If you work with law students, you also know some of the challenges facing students’ well-being.

I can think of three recent conversations where students identified their involvement in pro bono service as being among the factors that ultimately aided them on a path towards wellness. These three students’ experiences are not unique. Each year, we evaluate student experience in pro bono clinics. Comments from a recent survey included: “This work reminds me why I came to law school in the first place.” “I was afraid of working one-on-one with a client because I didn’t realize I already had skills that could be helpful.” “I feel connected to the people served in the clinic. These are my people.”

Before I go on, let me acknowledge that pro bono service can come with a dose of fatigue, vicarious trauma, and feeling overwhelmed by the poverty, despair, and inequity in our legal system and in our world. But right now, in this brief blog post, I’m focusing on how serving others can contribute to one’s well-being.

According to Self-Determination Theory (SDT), all human beings require regular experiences of autonomy, competence, and relatedness to thrive and maximize their positive motivation. See Sheldon, Kennon M. and Krieger, Lawrence S., Understanding the Negative Effects of Legal Education on Law Students: A Longitudinal Test and Extension of Self-Determination Theory (July 2006). Pro bono service opportunities regularly offer all three.

Autonomy: Pro bono service often involves a student making a choice to engage in something of interest to them; to do something they want to do or something they believe in; and the ability to take initiative and be self-directed. At many law schools (though not all), pro bono is a voluntary activity. Students choose whether to get involved in pro bono service and how much service to do. Students often choose what kind of service to perform and may enjoy increased autonomy as they develop skills.

Competence: Pro bono clinics tend to be places where volunteers all get a chance to feel good at what they do, or at least the opportunity to make progress towards becoming good at what they are learning to do. Pro bono clinics are an avenue where students can gain skills. Looking again at the pro bono evaluation I send to students each year, students indicated the following skills were practiced frequently during pro bono service work: listening; the ability to see the world from another’s perspective; client interviewing; time management; communicating legal information in an understandable way to a client; creative problem solving; and legal/procedural issue spotting.

Relatedness: Pro bono service often (if not always) offers students opportunity to relate meaningfully with others. In our pro bono clinics (called, not surprisingly, the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinics), law students are paired with volunteer attorneys to serve a client seeking civil legal aid. The lawyer/student pair gets to chat with each other and develop relationships. The client served by the lawyer/student pair typically brings a whole range of human experiences to the mix, from frustration and despair to hope and gratitude. The trio of lawyer, student, and client often laugh together, shake their heads in disturbance together, and sometimes experience victory together. For example, one team recently negotiated a $500 settlement during their time together with a creditor suing their client (a mother of three earning $16 per hour) when her cash loan of $250 ballooned quickly to $1,500. By the end of their two-hour shift, when victory had been achieved, the client asked me to take a photo of her with the law student and lawyer. Without a doubt, meaningful relatedness had occurred for everyone involved in that session.

Autonomy, competence, and relatedness are the experiences cited by research that lend to students’ feelings of positive motivation and well-being.

I’d like to suggest one more reason that pro bono involvement may lend to feelings of well-being: perspective.

Perspective: Pro bono service connects students to the community outside of law school. Law school takes up an extraordinary amount of time, energy, and money for months (and sometimes years) before the student even has their first day. Students sometimes live, drink, and breathe all things related to LSAT preparation. Then soon after they live, drink, and breathe all things related to the law school application process.  Then the actual law school experience begins which often presents students with the most academically challenging materials they have seen throughout their education. And law school almost always involves a student’s first experience with a mandatory grading curve. Students’ social lives tend to fill quickly with other law students. The overall experience can be insular and leave students questioning their very identity: Who am I now? Who will I be once I graduate from law school?

Pro bono service is a quick and vivid reminder of the vast world outside of all-things-law-school. People seeking pro bono legal services are getting by (sometimes barely) while facing excruciating circumstances. A law students’ LSAT score is not even remotely part of the list of challenges facing a client in the legal clinic preparing to represent themselves in their eviction hearing tomorrow. The C- grade a law student received in civil procedure somehow seems miniscule once they are hearing directly from a survivor of domestic violence seeking a civil protection order.

The student who lost both parents during their first year of law school pointed to their experience in the pro bono clinics as a significant part of their path towards creating a “new normal” for themselves. And the student hospitalized for severe anxiety cited her work with “real people” in the pro bono clinics as part of her own journey towards wellness.

Please contact me at angela.schultz@marquette.edu with comments or questions.

Angela F. Schultz
Assistant Dean for Public Service
Marquette Law School
AALS Section on Pro Bono & Access to Justice, 2022 Chair

Thiadora Pina

California, but not Dreaming: The Story of a Successful Mandatory 1L Professional Identity Course

By Thiadora A. Pina, Clinical Professor & Director of the Externship Program,
Santa Clara University School of Law

At Santa Clara University School of Law (SC Law), our Critical Lawyering Skills Seminar is a mandatory, 1-credit first-year course. The course is designed to develop our 1L’s professional identity, which includes cultural intelligence, values, and law student and lawyer wellness. Since 2018, our course evaluations remain overwhelmingly positive. Moreover, this high level of success is consistently achieved across eighteen small sections and all ten professors who teach this course.

The 1L Critical Lawyering Skills Seminar (CLSS) develops our law students’ professionalism by focusing on the top lawyering competencies students need to succeed and enter practice. Fortunately, we do not have to guess or rely on individual ideas or experiences to understand how law students can best prepare to enter the legal market and thrive as new lawyers. The work has been done for us.

There are multiple studies that clearly tell us which skills, characteristics, and values are important for new and successful lawyers. CLSS uses this data, in conjunction with the principles of positive psychology and andragogy, to ground its pedagogy. CLSS relies on the following studies:

  • Foundations for Practice (IAALS) (2016)
  • Attorneys General/Non-Profit (ROADMAP) (2018)
  • Small and Large Firms (ROADMAP) (2018)
  • Predicting Lawyer Effectiveness (Shultz/Zedeck) (2011)
  • Building a Better Bar (IAALS) (2020)


CLSS helps students think strategically about their professional identity and the critical skills they need to practice law successfully by focusing on the top competencies these studies identified as necessary for first-year lawyers. Collectively, the following competencies bubbled to the top:

Because SC Law was an early adopter of this focused pedagogy, the challenge was how to teach and scale this course across the 1L class. Other than Neil Hamilton’s ROADMAP text, no other widely circulated curriculum focused on law student professional identity formation. Nonetheless, SC Law remained committed.

This commitment eventually led to developing and adopting a professional identity curriculum packaged (with ROADMAP) into an interactive Workbook, Essential Lawyering Skills: A Companion Guide to Neil W. Hamilton’s ROADMAP (ELS), published in September 2021 by ABA Publishing.

ELS is data driven and builds upon ROADMAP’s strong foundation by providing activities that personalize each student’s path to professional identity and meaningful employment. ELS enables students to take charge of their own professional development and strengthen the lawyering skills legal employers have identified as necessary for first-year lawyers to succeed.

Because CLSS is a mandatory first-year experiential course, SC Law designed its curriculum for consistency. When ELS is paired with ROADMAP, the ELS Student Workbook and ELS Professor Manual provide a turnkey solution for those instructors and schools focused on law student professional development.

Essential Lawyering Skills: Thiadora A. Pina, Laura E. Jacobus, Rupa Bhandari (ABA Publishing, 2021). Visit the ABA website or https://www.pinbuspd.com/ for more information.

The ELS Workbooks are also adaptable. For example, some schools may not have dedicated professional identity courses, or they may choose to teach large class sections or teach during orientation or school breaks. The ELS Workbooks have a modular design, which can be separated into different parts. Schools and professors may choose any individual module or pair several modules together.

The “traditional” course syllabus for the class only includes SC Law requirements and basic class policy, but the content of the class can be found in the ELS Workbook that each small section of CLSS uses. Attached below are the Table of Contents for the ELS Student Workbook (SW) and the ELS Professor Manual (PM), which provide a substantive preview of the class.

ELS Student Workbook (SW) and the ELS Professor Manual (PM)

You are also welcome to contact Thiadora Pina directly: tpina@scu.edu with questions regarding either the books or the CLSS course. Good luck and have fun implementing the new Standard!


Thiadora A. Pina
Clinical Professor
Director, Externship Program
Faculty Advisor: BLSA + First-Gen Law Student Association
Santa Clara University School of Law
Essential Lawyering Skills (ABA 2021)
email | tpina@scu.edu
Website | https://law.scu.edu/externship/
phone | 408.551.3268