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

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).

David Grenardo

A Behind-The-Scenes Look at the Holloran Center that Provides Guidance to All Law Schools Implementing 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

Ever since I attended my first Holloran Center Workshop in 2016 and read the powerful materials provided by Neil Hamilton and Jerry Organ, I always wondered how those two operated the Holloran Center. What were they doing at their own law school to implement professional identity since they were the ones giving others ideas of how to do so? What were their personalities like given their considerable influence and impact in legal education?

After joining the University of St. Thomas School of Law and the Holloran Center as its Associate Director this past fall, I can finally answer these questions and share those answers with you. The answers provide an incredible amount of knowledge and wisdom that any law school can use to implement professional identity formation for its students.

Raw Self-Reflection

Professional identity entails continuous self-reflection that allows law students to develop into the professionals they can and want to become. Neil and Jerry strongly encourage this aspect of professional identity for students, and they demonstrate it themselves.

The University of St. Thomas School of Law requires that all 1Ls take three one-credit classes, Moral Reasoning for Lawyers (MRFL), Serving Clients Well, and Business Basics. The concept of professional identity is introduced and reinforced in these courses, particularly MRFL and Serving Clients Well. When St. Thomas Law first introduced some of these ideas, they were included in one three-credit course, Foundations of Justice (Foundations). The three-credit course format was not well received by students. Jerry spearheaded efforts to improve each part of the course, which included commissioning a focus group of students who previously took Foundations to learn what the class did well and not so well.  Those conversations resulted in splitting Foundations into two courses— MRFL (one credit) in the fall and Foundations of Justice (two credits) in the spring. Eventually, the two-credit Foundations of Justice course in the spring also was divided and renamed Serving Clients Well (SCW) and Business Basics (BB) to give students exposure to client-service competencies they will need to be successful in practice.

I am now part of this evolutionary process myself as we revisit the design/implementation of the BB course, which I will co-teach with Jerry. Despite being an accomplished and elite teaching professor and scholar, Jerry once again has invited students to share their concerns about the design and content of the course, which has generated some brutal honesty from the students. Jerry has taken the critique and reflected on his own execution and design of the class. We are presently redesigning the class to make it more effective and to engage students where they are.

I also have witnessed Jerry’s and Neil’s honest self-reflection in our weekly Holloran Center meetings where they admit something could have been done better or acknowledge something went well. The vulnerability and candor in which they approach their own self-reflection allow them to truly understand and see where improvements can be made and success has been achieved. This leads to my next observation – they exhibit a growth mindset.

We Will Continuously Try New Things, and When We Fail, Which is Good, We Will Make Them Better

I sometimes feel like I am in the middle of the “Meet the Robinsons” Disney movie when I am working with Neil and Jerry. In that movie, the great inventor, genius, and orphan Lewis goes into the future as a young boy and unknowingly meets his eventual family. As he attempts one of his inventions, it fails horrendously and his future family cheers and congratulates him, “You have failed! From failure we learn, from success. . . not so much.” With Neil and Jerry, there is a humble joy in them when they speak of attempts at implementing professional identity with little or no success. Each of them will say something like, “We tried, but it didn’t work the way we expected or not at all.” They make statements like these without remorse or regret; instead, they do so with humility, pride, and hope. They would probably not call their efforts failures, but instead would likely characterize their attempts as Thomas Edison did, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

They attempt new things knowing that they will not be perfect and actively seek out ways to improve what they have done.

The tinkering and re-jiggering of MRFL, SCW, and BB, led to the inclusion of Roadmap into SCW. Now SCW includes one-on-one coaching of students in January and February of the 1L year using the Roadmap in SCW.

Roadmap, for the uninitiated, is a book written by Neil Hamilton that guides a law student “to prepare and implement a successful plan for meaningful employment.” Neil won the prestigious E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award from the ABA in 2015 based on the Roadmap and his efforts to improve professionalism in the legal profession. Neil is currently finishing up the third edition of the book to make it even more accessible and helpful to law students. The revised Roadmap will be ready for students to utilize this spring in SCW.

Over the last two decades, Jerry and Neil also have played a role in developing and implementing the classroom component associated with the law school’s distinctive Mentor Externship program in which all law students have a mentor for each of their three years in law school. A law student can change mentors during that time, but each law student is guaranteed a mentor throughout every year of law school. This program has also evolved and changed over time to better meet the needs of our students.  Presently, in the second year and third year, there is a classroom component with students earning one pass/fail credit in each year. The classroom component involves both small group conversations and also one-on-one coaching with each student three times over the course of the academic year. The Mentor Externship program includes a good deal of professional identity formation, such as self-reflections by the students based on the work they do and their experiences in the program. In addition, each student must develop a networking plan designed to support the individual student’s professional development as reflected in the student’s work with Roadmap.

Neil, through trial and error, even added coaches to his Professional Responsibility course. Now, his class not only teaches the basics of what law students need to understand and apply the rules of professional conduct, but it also explores aspects of professional identity formation as students learn from local practitioners.

Whatever Neil and Jerry do (or try to do), their focus is always on the students—learning about where the students are and searching for the most effective ways to help each student grow. Their thoughtful and creative approach entails a constant loop that involves trying something, seeking feedback, reflecting, improving the exercise, lesson, or class, and then repeating those steps.

Whole-Building Approach

Neil and Jerry have been working for several years towards a whole-building approach to professional identity. They preach it to other law schools, and they are living it out themselves. They have been working diligently to create a “one file” system that allows many departments of the law school to add feedback and notes on each student. The Roadmap coaches from SCW, Mentor Externship professors, the Office of Career & Professional Development (CPD), and Lawyering Skills (aka legal research and writing at some law schools) professors would each add their notes, thoughts, and work relating to professional identity formation into a file for each student so that when faculty or staff meet with students they could see the evolution of the student’s professional identity and the student’s professional development plans over the course of law school.

In particular, Jerry and Neil worked with our law library and IT experts to create a “one file” system that is scheduled to begin operation next semester, starting with the Roadmap and the Roadmap coach observations that will go into that file for each student. Jerry and Neil believe that we will be able to train the 2L and 3L Mentor Externship faculty on how to use the “one file” system by contributing their observations on professional identity formation learning outcomes into an efficient form for gathering insights after each of the six one-on-one meetings that occur throughout the 2L and 3L years. Additionally, notes from the one-on-one meetings with CPD staff will also be added to each student’s file. Neil and Jerry also plan on providing our required curriculum colleagues with some positive and reinforcing language on professional identity to cross-sell the value of these professional identity formation efforts to the students.

Planting Seeds

Jerry and Neil are always anticipating the needs of law students and law schools in the future. They look ahead to try to bridge the gap between what will be needed and what is currently offered. The Holloran Center’s next step will be hosting a symposium/workshop in the spring of 2023 in conjunction with casebook publishers focused on 1L and Professional Responsibility casebook authors (and possibly law professor adopters of those casebooks). It will be the first time the Holloran Center intentionally seeks out casebook authors and 1L/Professional Responsibility professors to convene in a single setting where they can learn, share, and generate ways to help law students develop their own professional identities within these required courses.

Neil and Jerry have done so much amazing work in the legal academy and professional identity formation in particular. I continue to learn from their fearlessness, humility, optimism, and apparent clairvoyance. Even though I was their twentieth choice to serve as Associate Director—I was actually their tenth—I feel honored and humbled to serve alongside them as they continue their phenomenal work.

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

Janet Stearns

Teaching “Reflection & Growth” Through Mindfulness

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

In this past year, I enjoyed some significant opportunities to advocate, negotiate, and study the new ABA standards. I return often to the text and context of the Standards and interpretations and consider how this language is challenging us in our critical roles in law schools today. In review, the comment to Standard 303 guides us:

The development of professional identity should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice. Because developing a professional identity requires reflection and growth over time, students should have frequent opportunities for such development during each year of law school and  in a variety of courses and co-curricular and professional development activities.(emphasis added).

How do we teach the foundational skills of ‘reflection and growth” as part of well-being practices in law school? One very significant contribution to answering this question is through the teaching of Mindfulness in law schools.

My colleague and friend Professor Scott Rogers has written a fabulous and important resource—The Mindful Law Student: A Mindfulness in Law Practice Guide. Scott serves as Lecturer in Law and Director of University of Miami School of Law’s Mindfulness in Law Program and Co-Director of the University of Miami’s Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative. Scott is also a co-president of the national non-profit Mindfulness in Law Society. Scott has spent more than a decade collaborating on peer-reviewed neuroscience research assessing the efficacy of mindfulness training and shares a series of core practices that have been part of this research and are among those found in many well-respected mindfulness training programs. This Practice Guide was published in September by Edward Elgar publishing and is thus a very new tool in our toolbox for teaching mindfulness.

Overview: The Mindful Law Student

The Mindful Law Student is both profound and concise. The materials build upon Scott’s teaching at the University of Miami for the past 15 years. I have been blessed to have a “front row seat” and observe the evolution of Scott’s teaching from his first arrival at Miami Law. Having seen and heard many of his presentations over this time, I was tremendously impressed by Scott’s ability to pull together this complex body of work into such a focused and readable text.

The book is divided into three parts, each consisting of 5 chapters. The first part is called “Mindfulness Elements” and includes a discussion of Leadership, Attention, Relaxation, Awareness, and Mindfulness.  This material is foundational and elucidates the relevance of this topic to every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Part II is “Mindfulness and You” and features specific strategies relating to Solitude, Connection, Self-Care, Movement, and Practice. As Scott tells us:

The chapters in Part II can be read in any order, and you may find them to be useful interludes that complement the readings in Part I.

(I will admit that I read them “in order” the first time but see the opportunities to return to them in different orders, and that this would be welcoming to students.)

Part III, Mindfulness Integrations, raises our awareness of the ways that Mindfulness can affect our lawyering in the areas of Listening, Negotiation, Judgment, Creativity, and Freedom. This section included some very significant “aha” moments for me. For example, in Chapter 11 on Listening, Scott talks about the tendency of lawyers (and physicians) to interrupt their clients and patients. He then offers very specific guidance on how to transition to a mindful listener. Chapter 12 on Negotiation highlights the value of mindful attention to understand better our counterparties and moving beyond self-centered thinking to productive negotiation strategies. Returning to our main theme of professional identity, Part III makes clear the integral role of a mindfulness and reflective practice in performing key elements of our work as lawyers.

Some Special Gems in The Mindful Law Student

Each chapter skillfully integrates scholarship and key teachings on Mindfulness with elements that make this particularly accessible to law students. For one, Scott features seven fictional, diverse law students who face academic and professional challenges and find a pathway for Mindfulness to assist each of them. Each chapter also includes some insightful visualizations and images that capture main concepts. As a visual learner myself, I find these images particularly captivating. Scott is most adept with his key “metaphors”—a reader of the book will quickly understand the images of the flashlight (of attention), the snow globe (of life’s confusing moments), the lightbulb (for awareness), and the spirals (of over-reaction). These images return throughout the book.

Most chapters introduce readers to a different mindfulness practice that connects to that chapter’s subject matter.  A website for the book offers a series of 6-, 12-, and 18-minute versions of each practice, which students can also access via a free app. Scott provides access to practice scripts for those faculty who may wish to offer live guidance in class.

The text skillfully integrates the teachings of many great thinkers, from Rumi and Buddhist devotees to musicians like Herbie Hancock and Supertramp, from civil rights leaders like W. E. B. Du Bois to contemporary lawyers and judges who practice mindfulness.

The Mindful Law Student includes specific exercises and probing questions for meditation and self-reflection at the end of each chapter. Mindfulness requires practice and this is a practice guide. Each chapter also highlights key Trials and Takeaways, which are summaries of main concepts and areas for future work. Finally, each chapter has a concise but helpful list of references and resources for those who might want to dig deeper into any subject.

Chapter 14, “Creativity,” challenges the reader to connect with one’s creative soul through art and poetry. I felt the need to accept that challenge and take the “first step” on that “journey of a thousand miles.” The text discusses the Haiku structure, composed of three-line stanzas of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. I took the plunge, and so here I share my first mindful Haiku with you, inviting our readers to consider your own creative endeavors.

Haiku #1

Powerful Law profs

Changing the world mind by mind

Moment by moment


Guiding law students

Capable of breath, thoughts, dreams

The key: mindfulness


Reflective lawyers

Navigating this world with



Strategies for Using The Mindful Law Student

This Practice Guide can be integrated in a number of productive ways into the law school experience of teaching professional identity. Some options might include:

-A stand-alone course on Mindfulness. The fifteen chapters would be a successful outline of a weekly course dedicated to exploring the practice and applications of Mindfulness in the Law.

-The book, at just over 200 pages, could be on a recommended summer reading list for new law students, and then form the basis for well-being and orientation programming.

-The sections of the text that focus on listening, negotiation, judgment (and ethics), leadership, and creativity could be part of courses that focus on these particular skills, or included in law clinics, externships, or other experiential learning classes where these skills are taught.

As we explore new curricular options and models around professional identity in 1L and upper-level courses, consider whether The Mindful Law Student would be an appropriate addition to your curriculum.

For More Information:

Contact Elgar Publishing for a copy of The Mindful Law Student so that you can consider strategies for integrating this practice guide into your professional identity teaching.

Other useful resources include:

Mindfulness in Law Society website:

UMindfulness at the University of Miami

Mindfulness in Law Program at the University of Miami School of Law

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

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