Professional Responsibility Course – Holloran Center Professional Identity Implementation Blog
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Professional Responsibility Course

Daisy Floyd, Patrick Longan, Timothy Floyd

West Academic Press Publishes Second Edition of The Formation of Professional Identity: The Path from Student to Lawyer

By: Pat Longan, William Augustus Bootle Chair in Ethics and Professionalism
Director, Mercer Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism
Mercer University School of Law

Daisy Hurst Floyd
University Professor of Law and Ethical Formation
Mercer University School of Law

Timothy W. Floyd
Tommy Malone Distinguished Chair in Trial Advocacy
Mercer University School of Law

West Academic Press recently published the second edition of our book, The Formation of Professional Identity: The Path from Student to Lawyer.

Our book is the product of over twenty years of experience teaching our required three-credit course on professional identity to Mercer’s first-year students. Our hope is that others can benefit from that experience, regardless of whether your efforts to help students develop their professional identities comes in a dedicated course, in a clinic, as part of another course such as professional responsibility, or in some other context.

We begin in Chapter 1 by defining professional identity as a lawyer’s deep sense of self as a lawyer. It is how a lawyer would complete an essay that begins, “I am the kind of lawyer who ….” We try to help the students understand that professional identity for lawyers is not just a matter of personal preference. As Interpretation 303-5 states, lawyers have special obligations to clients and to society, and “[t]he development of professional identity should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice.” Internalizing those values is non-negotiable if the students are to fulfill their special obligations.

Our book presents professional identity formation as an exercise in virtue ethics. Chapter 2 explains that virtue ethics supposes there is an ideal to which one might strive. For example, we can imagine and describe the ideal doctor or the ideal teacher. Such descriptions inevitably include a list of virtues that a person should have and cultivate in order to approach that ideal. We then list for the students six virtues that need to be part of their professional identities as lawyers. We distilled these from the 100 or so professionalism codes and creeds that have been adopted around the country by courts and bar associations, as well as more recent work from Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers. Those virtues are competence, fidelity to the client, fidelity to the law, public spiritedness, civility, and practical wisdom. These are the “values and guiding principles” foundational to the profession and therefore essential to the development of professional identity.

The book then deals with these six virtues one chapter at a time. In each chapter, we elaborate on what the virtue means for lawyers, describe the obstacles they will encounter in practice to the deployment of the virtue, and explore some strategies for overcoming those obstacles.

Each chapter includes discussion questions and problems that we have road-tested in our course. These can be used for class discussion, written reflections, or both. We typically use a problem for in-class discussion and then have the students write a reflection on the exercise afterwards. We are working on a teacher’s manual that will be available in PDF format to help anyone using the book know what to expect from these exercises. In the meantime, of course, we are available to you to share our experiences.

The last chapter in the book is about the connection between having the right kind of professional identity and well-being in the profession. Interpretation 303-5 states that professional identity includes the well-being practices that are foundational to success in the profession. Here we emphasize the connection between developing an internal commitment to the cultivation of the six virtues and the lessons of positive psychology about the conditions that support well-being in one’s life. We present the theoretical framework of Self-Determination Theory and the empirical findings of Larry Kreiger and Ken Sheldon to help the students understand that there is a happy convergence between the needs of others and their own well-being: the more they internalize and cultivate the special values of the profession, the more they will derive deep satisfaction from their work.

If anyone has any questions or comments about the book or how you might use it, please get in touch with any of us (,, or

Timothy Floyd is the Tommy Malone Distinguished Chair in Trial Advocacy and Director of Experiential Education

Daisy Floyd is the University Professor of Law and Ethical Formation and former Dean at Mercer University School of Law.

Patrick Longan
is the William Augustus Bootle Chair in Ethics and Professionalism in the Practice of Law at Mercer University School of Law
and is Director of the Mercer Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism

group of people
Neil Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

The syllabus assignment for the fourth essay is below.

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

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

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

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

Developing Cross-Cultural Competency

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

Promoting Equal Access

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

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

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

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

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

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.

David Grenardo

An Unexpected Synergy: How Integrating Professional Identity Formation Exercises in a Civil Procedure Course Not Only Help Students Form a Professional Identity but Also Enhance Their Understanding of Civil Procedure

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

Professor Benjamin V. Madison III, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Professional Formation at Regent University School of Law, authored a pretrial practice casebook, Civil Procedure for All States: A Context and Practice Casebook, which was one of the first casebooks that explicitly and intentionally incorporated professional identity formation as recommended by the Carnegie Institute study Educating Lawyers (2007).  Madison presented at the University of St. Thomas Law Journal’s spring 2023 symposium, which brought together 1L and Professional Responsibility casebook authors to discuss how they infuse professional identity formation into the required curriculum.  Madison’s latest article, An Unexpected Synergy: How Integrating Professional Identity Formation Exercises in a Civil Procedure Course Not Only Help Students Form a Professional Identity but Also Enhance Their Understanding of Civil Procedure, will be part of that symposium’s issue.

Here is the abstract of the article:

This article demonstrates that integrating professional identity formation exercises in a required course accomplishes multiple goals.  The Carnegie report stated, “[l]egal analysis alone is only a partial foundation for developing professional competence and identity.”  The report was clear that only the formation of values and the ability to exercise moral judgment would allow students to practice as true professionals.  Both first-year and advanced civil procedure courses feature professional identity formation exercises.  They present dilemmas litigators face, particularly ones that the Model Rules of Professional Conduct do not answer.

The article describes how the effectiveness of the exercises improved depending on how the professor assigned them.  When students read the exercises and discussed them in class, along with cases and other reading, students showed less engagement in the complexity of moral and ethical questions.  Conversely, when students wrote reflection papers on the exercises due before the class discussion, they displayed greater discernment than when students did not write reflections.  After writing about the exercise, more students recognized that reflective lawyers balance multiple interests and the lawyer’s values in resolving an ethical/moral challenge.  The examples explored in the article, as representative of the type of exercises, include various issues that arise in handling a civil suit.  The sample exercises include a choice-of-forum decision, a client’s request to serve a defendant in a specific manner, and two discovery scenarios.  The first discovery scenario depicts a lawyer deciding whether to set a trial and other deadlines later than necessary and how that affects the client, not to mention the lawyer’s financial gain if on a billable hour engagement.  The second discovery example demonstrates efforts to use excessive production of documents to increase the chance that the discovering party misses key documents.

The benefits of the exercises were two-fold.  As a routine, graded part of the course, students gained an appreciation for moral and ethical judgments not answered by the Model Rules.  The courses’ learning objectives state that by engaging in the exercises, students would develop a professional identity that includes values and a moral compass that will answer questions not addressed by the Model Rules.  Therefore, students cultivate values, a moral compass, and the ability to resolve dilemmas they will likely face in practice.  An additional benefit was the improved grasp of the rules and doctrines connected to the scenarios.  Although intended to promote professional identity development, the exercises also reinforced knowledge of the rules and doctrines that formed the context for the exercises.  Hence, students learned these rules and doctrines better than if the exercise were left out.

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 Madison at

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.

Dawn Figueiras

One Year Later: An Update on One Law School’s Faculty-Approved Implementation Plan

By: Dawn Figueiras, Assistant Professor of Law, Associate General Counsel, Chair of the Curriculum Committee, Appalachian School of Law

A year ago, the Curriculum Committee of Appalachian School of Law (ASL) was diligently creating an Implementation Plan for complying with the ABA’s revised Standards 303(b) and (c).  After adoption by ASL’s Faculty on August 16, 2022, the Plan was published in the first post of the Holloran Center Professional Identity Implementation Blog.  One year later, we report on our progress.

Our Implementation Plan, to be deployed in academic year 2023-2024, included retention of several existing aspects of ASL’s curriculum, including administration of the Professionalism Oath to incoming students during orientation and participation in an Externship placement during the summer following 1L year with journaling to document experiences and self-reflections.  Additions to ASL’s program included a new “Professionalism, Leadership, and Transition to Practice” (PLT) program designed, respectively, for 1L, 2L, and 3L students. Programs already scheduled for the upcoming Fall semester include a two-day visit by Virginia State Bar President Chidi James and a joint visit by executives of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association and Virginia Association of Defense Attorneys who will conduct talks with 1Ls about professionalism and with 2Ls about leadership.

The Implementation Plan included re-working ASL’s 1L “Introduction to Community Service” course into “Building a Professional Identity,” which would focus on professional identity development, well-being, and incorporating community service/pro bono service into a law career.  This new course will be included as a required 1L course beginning Fall semester, 2023.

One aspect of ASL’s Plan proved more difficult to implement.  A visit to a federal court during/near orientation hasn’t been accomplished yet.  But even though ASL couldn’t bring the students to a court, we brought a court to the students! In April 2023, ASL hosted a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for oral arguments, comprised of then-Chief Judge Roger Gregory, Judge Albert Diaz (now Chief Judge), and Judge Stephanie Thacker.[1]  ASL students watched attorneys argue two civil cases and one criminal case before the panel, and had several opportunities for interaction with the judges and their clerks.  Spring semester, 2024, will see ASL hosting the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims for oral arguments, dinner with students and faculty, and a networking social event with the judges and their clerks.

ASL’s Implementation Plan called for faculty to incorporate aspects of revised Standard 303(b) and (c) into their courses whenever possible.  ASL conducted a curriculum survey[2] of all full-time and adjunct faculty at the conclusion of Spring semester, 2023, for all courses taught during the 2022-2023 academic year.  This survey included specific questions about the inclusion of activities, discussions, and exercises that provided opportunities related to revised Standard 303(b) (“to engage in thoughtful self-reflection on the development of a professional identity that utilizes the student’s unique aptitudes and capacities” or “PIF”) and 303(c) (“demonstrating the ability to effectively build professional relationships across racial and cultural differences and to engage in culturally competent interactions” or “cross-cultural competency”).

Of the fourteen required 1L courses, 50% reported already incorporating PIF elements (including Intentional Torts and Criminal Law), and 43% reported already incorporating cross-cultural competency elements (such as Introduction to Externships and Legal Process II).  66% of the six required 2L courses incorporated PIF (e.g., Constitutional Law II and Criminal Procedure) and 33% incorporated cross-cultural competency elements (including Constitutional Law I and Professional Responsibility).  Of the three required 3L bar preparation courses, 66% incorporated PIF elements but none incorporated cross-cultural competency elements.  The Implementation Plan anticipated that several elective courses would incorporate PIF and/or cross-cultural competency elements, but the survey revealed higher results than expected.  Of the 40 elective courses surveyed, 24 courses (60%) incorporated PIF elements (such as Administrative Law; Conflicts; and Employment Law) and another 24 courses (60%) incorporated cross-cultural competency (e.g., Poverty, Health & Law; Marijuana Law; and Information Privacy Law); 23 courses incorporated both (including Family Law; Sentencing; and History of Race & the Law).  Notably, of the eleven elective experiential learning courses, ten (91%) incorporated PIF (such as Criminal Practice and The Law of Starting a New Business) and nine (82%) incorporated cross-cultural competency (e.g., Estate Planning and Trial Advocacy).

Even before the full deployment of its Implementation Plan, ASL “provid[ed both] substantial opportunities to students for the development of a professional identity” and also “education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism.” ASL is pleased with its progress on meeting revised ABA Standard 303, and looks forward to fine-tuning and fully-employing its Implementation Plan for even greater integration of PIF and cross-cultural competency into its J.D. program.

Should you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the implementation of ASL’s plan, then please contact me at

[1] See

[2] This Curriculum Mapping Survey was primarily designed to gauge how ASL is meeting its Learning Outcomes and secondarily to assess the curriculum’s readiness for the NextGen Bar Exam.

Dawn Figueiras is an Assistant Professor of Law, the Associate General Counsel, and Chair of the Curriculum Committee at Appalachian School of Law.

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.


Barbara Glesner FInes

The Curse of Coverage and Professional Identity Formation

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

In any conversation about integrating greater opportunity for professional identity formation pedagogy into the curriculum, particularly when suggesting that this be part of the required doctrinal curriculum, one will hear an objection that there is no room.[i]  For many doctrinal teachers, incorporating professional identity formation opportunities or focus into classes would require sacrificing critical doctrinal content and analytical skills.  The pressures toward coverage as a course goal are not insubstantial.  Textbooks grow exponentially each year, reflecting the growing breadth of the law and legal resources.  If a faculty member assigns only a small portion of a textbook, or their syllabus identifies far fewer topics than those contained in the syllabi of other professors teaching the same course, then students feel cheated. The “mile-wide, inch-thick” bar exam looms over all.

The pressures toward broad coverage of doctrine as the primary goal of course design are premised on a number of false premises about student learning.  First, faculty presume that coverage means learning, when research tells us that more content does not mean more learning. “If learning is to endure in a flexible, adaptable way for future use, coverage cannot work.  It leaves us with only easily confused or easily forgotten facts, definitions, and formulas to plug into rigid questions that look just like the ones covered.”[ii]  Research in undergraduate programs and medical schools confirms that more content does not lead to more learning.  Deep learning requires context, repetition, application, and reflection.  For this reason, experts in course design emphasize focusing on “the big questions” or the “hard parts” of a course, so that students can master not only a doctrinal subject but also an approach to learning that subject that will support their lifelong learning.

Second, faculty presume that professional identity formation opportunities are disconnected from knowledge and skills, rather than providing the critical context that motivates and supports deep learning.  Quite the opposite is true.  Students approach their subject-matter study with much greater engagement and a broader lens when they are asked to do the following: (1) consider themselves in the role of attorney in applying a particular doctrine; (2) examine how the law impacted the individual clients in the cases they are studying; or (3) reflect on how the values brought forth in the classroom discussions comport with their own personal values and experience.

Third, faculty presume that the classroom is the primary locus of learning, when even the American Bar Association’s definition of a credit hour recognizes that most of a student’s learning occurs outside of class.  Classroom time is only one-third of the time students devote to any given subject.  Many faculty are coming to realize that this precious time in which students are together in the classroom is squandered if the opportunities for discussion, debate, and practice are spent on lectures (even if interspersed with question prompts) designed to cover content.  Even before the pandemic disrupted pedagogies, faculty had discovered the possibilities of a flipped classroom – providing lectures and efficient delivery of knowledge transfer outside of class and using class time to focus on development of skills and perspectives.  Faculty can then more easily take a small but significant further step to ensure that a frame for these exercises is the student’s own development as a professional.

So how do we exorcise the curse of coverage and make room for opportunities for professional identity formation in the classroom?  We do so by questioning the assumptions that more content is critical to learning and instead focusing on the big questions, marrying professional formation with knowledge and skill development, and finding more efficient ways to deliver content instruction outside of class so as to engage students more fully in the classroom.  Please reach out to me at if you have any questions or comments.

[i] This piece is excerpted from The Curse of Coverage and Professional Identity Formation, U. St. Thomas L. Rev. (Forthcoming 2023).

[ii] Grant P. Wiggins & Jay McTighe, Understanding By Design 46 (2nd ed. 2005)(Lee Shulman, Taking Learning Seriously, 31(4) Change 10, 12 (July/August 1999).)

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

Transitioning from Student to Lawyer: Infusing Professional Identity Formation into the Required Curriculum

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

On April 20 and 21, 2023, the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions and the University of St. Thomas Law Journal hosted a symposium/workshop that focused on incorporating professional identity formation (PIF) into the required curriculum, namely 1L courses and Professional Responsibility (PR). The speakers consisted primarily of casebook authors who include PIF in their textbooks and corresponding courses.

Orchestrated and led by Jerry Organ, Co-Director of the Holloran Center, the symposium/workshop offered one impactful speaker after another. The presentations provided a wide array of means to include PIF in the required curriculum. Each panel is listed here, and the following are just snippets of what professors presented:

  • Role-playing exercises, which included an inter-disciplinary dental malpractice deposition simulation in Torts in which law students work directly with dental students as purported expert witnesses;
  • team-based approaches to learning in first-year and PR courses;
  • the use of technology to aid in PIF;
  • the importance and use of reflective journaling;
  • methods to address well-being; and
  • details of a required 1L PIF course.

The panelists inspired and motivated each other and the attendees with creative ways to incorporate PIF. For example, Neil Hamilton, Co-Director of the Holloran Center, shared how he matched coaches (alumni of the law school) with teams of students in his PR course based on the students’ practice areas of interest, and the coaches guided discussions and reflections within those small groups on critical aspects of the practice of law, such as how to deal with adversaries and the importance of relationships. Kendall Kerew, a Holloran Center Fellow, discussed a simple technique to ask students anonymously about what they learned after each class, remaining questions they had from class, and how they are feeling. The effects of that daily exercise at the end of class allow her to gauge where further instruction is needed on certain topics and to monitor and address any well-being issues that students may be encountering.

Whether incorporating PIF entailed an exercise in a class or a complete immersion throughout the fabric of an entire course – as Lou Bilionis, another Holloran Center Fellow, demonstrated could be done in his Constitutional Law course – a common theme throughout the event was placing the students in the role of the attorney serving a client through various types of simulations. PIF involves helping law students become lawyers. Giving a student opportunities to act in the role of an attorney helps them understand what it means to be a lawyer and how to be a lawyer, particularly when coupled with purposeful and guided reflection.

The other theme that echoed throughout every speaker and group discussion was a love for the students. PIF encompasses trying to help law students become the best people and professionals that they can be, which means something different for every single student. The dedication and commitment to help law students develop into professionals resonated with all those attending, including the talented members of the University of St. Thomas Law Journal who helped put on the event.

Holloran Center Fellow Barbara Glesner Fines, who initially came up with the idea to bring together doctrinal faculty of required courses to discuss PIF, led a necessary discussion on the “curse of coverage.” This curse oftentimes prevents law professors from adding anything new or changing the way they teach because they feel constrained to get through all of the material they can to prepare students for the Bar exam. It became clear early on in the event that through planning, intentionality, and just a modicum of creativity, a professor can easily incorporate PIF in small, medium, or even large portions in any class they choose, with no loss of coverage and the possibility of some gain in learning.

As with every Holloran Center symposium/workshop, the participants left feeling empowered, inspired, and motivated to help law students move along in their journeys to become lawyers.

The Law Journal will be publishing pieces from this symposium, which will be highlighted on this blog when those articles are ready. Should you have any questions or comments about this post, 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.

Barbara Glesner FInes

A Question to Define Professional Identity Formation

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

During many Holloran Center Workshops since 2017, Jerry Organ (Co-Director of the Holloran Center) has asked participants to begin their exploration of professional identity formation with a simple question:  “When did you first think of yourself as a lawyer?”  Participants reflect on the question individually and then share their reflections.  The question helps to highlight the development process that is identity formation and the key transitional moments in that process.

In a recent faculty workshop at my law school, we used that same exercise but with a slight variation. Participants were asked to think of an identity or a role that they have assumed as adults that is central to their concept of who they are.  For many of us, parenthood is one such role, but we were encouraged to consider professional roles, including the one role we all had in common: “professor” or “teacher.”  We were then asked to think back to one of the first times that we thought of ourselves as being or fitting into that role.

The identities shared varied widely: lawyer, teacher, mentor, public servant, military officer, and parent, among others.  While the identities varied, the descriptions of the transformative moments that caused each of us to more fully assume that identity shared many characteristics.

Nearly all the incidents involved the awareness of significant responsibility for another.   Whether it was the moment that a new parent brought their babies home from the hospital to the moment that a new attorney found strangers in a courthouse lobby asking for help, there was a realization that others were depending on us.

For many, the incidents had a sense of permanence as well—that the shift in our sense of self was not a momentary impression but a moment of transformation.  This sense of movement might have been from outsider to insider, from observer to actor, or from one who follows to one who leads.

These moments often carried significant emotional weight as well.  They were challenging, frightening, exhilarating, or confusing, but never mundane.

The process of reflecting on this question and sharing the reflections helped us to better understand the process of professional identity formation and to think more deeply about how we might guide our students along this path.

First, the exercise emphasized that, for most of us, transformative moments in professional identity formation came from an experience of acting in the role.  That is not to say that formation never occurs in a classroom or in reading or listening, but transformative moments more often involve the emotional content that results from being given real responsibility to another.  This realization led to a discussion of how we could provide or capture more of these high-impact experiences for our students.

Second, the exercise demonstrated the power of reflection as a pedagogy for identity formation.  We saw that the process of reflection and discussion about identity and meaning were just as rigorous and had just as much impact as Socratic dialogue about the meaning of a legal doctrine.  Not only did the exercise require reflection, but for many of us the transformative moments we were describing also included reflection as an integral component.  “I remember thinking…” was a common phrase in the shared reflections.  We discussed how we could more regularly incorporate reflection into our work with our students.

For faculty who are looking for helpful exercises to explore the meaning and practice of professional identity formation, this simple question accompanied by reflection can serve as an invaluable tool.

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

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

Megan Bess

Goal Setting Across the Law School Experience: a Simple and Powerful Professional Identity Formation Tool

By: Megan Bess, Director of the Externship Program and Assistant Professor of Law,
University of Illinois Chicago School of Law

I have spent a good amount of time over the past few months reflecting on how to best incorporate professional identity formation in my teaching and across our law school’s curricular and extracurricular programming.  Like many of us, I wear many hats at my institution, some with easier connections to PIF than others. For instance, in my role overseeing externships I have been able to craft a curriculum centered on reflection, self-assessment, and professional identity formation. Nearly everything students do in their externship experience furthers the development of their professional identity. But when I teach a large section of Professional Responsibility, my interest and desire to incorporate professional identity formation often conflict with the pressures to cover as many Model Rules and PR concepts as I can. I have been asking myself which of the PIF-related activities I utilize in the externship program could I easily incorporate into other classes and activities. And then I had a realization: I can work goal setting into almost anything I teach.

More than three years into my role directing my school’s externship program I have now seen hundreds of student goals for their externship experiences. Many follow common themes of improving specific research and writing skills and participating in lawyering activities. Some of the best goals I have seen, however, demonstrate strong self-awareness and a desire to improve professional behaviors. For example, one student set a goal to develop a system to better manage their school, work, and personal obligations so that they could be more fully present in each rather than multi-tasking. I’ve seen students set goals for increasing and managing their physical and mental health or strengthening their understanding of, and connections to, their legal community.

While an externship, clinical, or other real-world lawyering experience easily lends itself to goal setting, I believe that students can and should be encouraged to set goals across their entire law school experience. Goal setting is especially powerful if introduced early in law school. For example, UIC Law has a one-credit required first-semester course, Expert Learning, that introduces students to study and exam-taking strategies, lawyering skills, resilience and mindset, and other professional skills and behaviors important for success in law school and in law practice. The course covers goal setting and requires students to set a goal for the course itself.

Goal setting empowers students to take charge of and responsibility for themselves and their experiences. Studies show that rigorous and specific goal setting correlates with higher performance.[1] And feelings of success in the workplace derive from pursuing and attaining meaningful goals.[2] In short, setting goals is a habit that will aid students in their legal careers. And the very act of setting goals requires some self-reflection that aids in professional identity formation.

Most students are familiar with the concept of goal setting. A popular framework is SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely). Encouraging students to set goals for the courses you teach and activities you oversee is a simple tool to encourage their reflection and self-assessment with a framework that is familiar to them.

The good news is that this can be incredibly easy to do. There are numerous goal setting lessons and resources available. When I first sought to incorporate goal setting in the externship program, a simple online search turned up numerous videos (I selected a simple SMART goal overview from LinkedIn Learning) and written materials. One of my favorites is this simple worksheet from Baylor University that explains SMART goal setting and walks the user through a goal setting process.

If you are worried about the labor required with providing feedback on student goals, consider asking students to share their goals with and elicit feedback from their peers. My students have shared that they enjoy this goal setting method. I give students time to brainstorm one goal and then have them share in small groups with instructions to offer suggestions for making the goal “SMARTer.” In my experience, law students are amenable to suggestions from their peers who are proud of themselves when they can offer helpful feedback to their classmates.

I can easily envision students setting goals related to course performance and grades. But we can encourage our students to think of goals from a broader perspective. Students can set goals for a course that relate to organizational skills, time management, study habits, understanding and applying course material in real-world context, the contributions they make to their group, and/or class participation. If we provide them some examples along these lines, then they will feel like they have permission to identify and work on these skills. Imagine the power we have to help students commit to and practice goal setting habits in as few as ten (10) minutes at the start of our courses.

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

Megan Bess is the Director of the Externship Program and Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Law.

[1] Edwin A. Locke & Gary P. Latham, New Directions in Goal Setting Theory, 15 Current Directions in Psychological Science, 265-268 (2006).

[2] Barbara A. Blanco & Sande L. Buhai, Externship Field Supervision: Effective Techniques for Training Supervisors and Students, 10 Clinical L. Rev. 611, 642 (2004); Laurie Barron, Learning How to Learn: Carnegie’s Third Apprenticeship, 18 Clinical L. Rev. 101, 107 (2011).