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David Grenardo

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

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

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

Here is the abstract of the article:

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

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

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

A link to the article can be found here.

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


David Grenardo

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

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

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

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

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

David Grenardo is a Professor of Law and Associate Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

Janet Stearns

Insights From the Field Concerning Well-Being and Anti-Racism

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

2022 has been an eventful year. If you are like me, you may be focusing on completing critical year-end projects and starting to set your New Year’s resolutions. One of my ongoing objectives for the New Year, as it relates to professional identity work, is finding critical synergies between (1) the mental health and well-being agenda and (2) the diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda. Some mistakenly tend to consider these in separate silos rather than embracing the complex duality of these pillars of our professional identity agenda.

I invite you to read, or perhaps reread, an article I published in January 2022 for the AALS Student Services Publication Insights from the Field. My article speaks to some specific experiences from the 2020-2021 school year in programming at the intersection of law students’ well-being and diversity initiatives. This publication, under the guidance of Student Services Chair Maria Saez-Tatman (University of Tennessee College of Law) and Current-Elect Chair Jeffrey Dodge (The Pennsylvania State University-Dickinson Law), includes a number of provocative articles from my colleagues, with a particular focus on an anti-racist agenda in law schools.

Wishing you all a peaceful and joyful holiday season!

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.

Barbara Glesner FInes

Three Shifts in Thinking for Professional Identity Formation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sarah Beznoska

Professional Identity Formation and First-Generation Law Students

By: Sarah Dylag Beznoska, Assistant Dean for Student and Career Services,
Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University

It comes as no surprise to those of us who work with law students on first destinations and career paths that when the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) studied national employment statistics for the graduating class of 2020, it found that whether or not you are a first-generation law student impacts your career outcomes in the law.

NALP reported: “Overall, Class of 2020 continuing-generation JD students (graduates who have at least one parent or guardian with a JD degree) and continuing-generation college students (graduates who have at least one parent or guardian with a bachelor’s degree or higher, but whose parents/guardians all lack a JD degree) had a higher employment rate and were more likely to be employed in a bar passage required/anticipated job than their first-generation college student peers.”

The Law Student Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) also consistently highlights important disparities related to first-generation law students. From LSSSE, we know that first-generation law students bear more law school debt and face significant stressors related to debt. We know that “the amount of time that first-generation law students [spend] with peers and faculty outside of class [is] significantly less than non-first-generation law students.” LSSSE data has shown that first-generation students also participate in co-curricular opportunities at a lower rate that non-first-generation students, spend more time studying, and spend more time working to support themselves.

This data should be important to everyone in the legal industry, especially as we talk about diversifying our workplaces and our leadership. It is particularly important to me as someone who works in career services at an urban law school that serves a significant population of first-generation college and law students. To provide the best student and career services to our students, we are continually assessing our work through the viewpoint of first-generation students and making adjustments to provide better support.

This assessment can be done for professional identity formation (PIF) too. Understanding and accounting for the unique experiences noted above is critical to developing any comprehensive PIF plan. On the positive side of things, schools can leverage PIF to build belonging for first-generation students. At the same time, being mindful about the time constraints sometimes faced by first-generation students might inform the methods a school chooses for offering PIF opportunities.

First-Generation Students and Law School Culture: Professional Identity to Build Belonging

Belonging matters to law student success, and most especially to first-generation law students. The unique culture of law school and the legal industry can be a challenging adjustment even when someone has lawyers in their family. Without knowing any lawyers or having people already in their network to ask for help, first-generation law students can feel like outsiders from day one. (For some insights on the first-gen experience see: and

For this reason, I have sometimes been skeptical of the premise of professional identity formation that focuses on students moving from an “outsider” in the profession to an “insider” in the profession. As someone who was a first-generation law student myself (although I was not the first in my family to attend college), I know very personally that not having lawyers in my family or lawyers in my network impacted my law school experience in a negative way. From day one of law school, I internalized deeply that I did not belong and, although my law school trained me well on the doctrinal skills, I never once came to a place there where I felt like an “insider.”

It is because of this personal experience, however, and because of the commitment I have to making sure that first-generation students at the law school where I work never feel this same way, that – as much as I can be skeptical about the terminology of PIF – I think PIF can be leveraged to build more belonging. There are a variety of ways a school might use PIF to increase belonging. For example:

  • Self-Assessment and Industry-Focused Panels: having students complete self-assessment exercises allows them to identify strengths and values that they bring with them to the profession. Taking it a step further, once schools provide an opportunity for students to identify their strengths and values, schools can offer diverse panels of attorneys to demonstrate the varying skillsets that can make someone successful. Providing students with opportunities to know their own strengths and then to see those things in successful practitioners can help them to feel like there is a place in the law for them and who they are matters.
  • Mentoring: providing thoughtful mentoring opportunities allows students to feel less alone in their journey through law school. Schools can engage alumni, peers, faculty, and staff in formal and informal mentoring programs with students, giving them a broad set of people to whom they can turn for support. Consider, also, having faculty, staff, or alumni identify themselves to students as first-generation students, so that your first-generation cohort has examples of first-generation success stories.
  • Student Organizations: schools can support student leaders to create a robust community of student engagement and a space where students can connect with each other and feel less alone. Connecting student organizations to a school’s alumni network can be helpful and assisting student organizations with career-related programs can give students more opportunities to understand the variety of paths in the law.

These three things have worked for us as a starting point to increase belonging at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. We start at day one when we dedicate a portion of our Orientation to professional identity. This Orientation program covers the essential eligibility requirements for the practice of law in Ohio and the 26 Lawyering Effectiveness Factors. More importantly, it includes diverse panel speakers who reflect on what these things mean in their practice, along with when and where they developed these skills.

We also require incoming law students to complete the Law Fit assessment, and we use those assessments with them in their meetings with career advisors. In addition, together with my team in Student and Career Services, we have built a one-on-one alumni mentor program and a one-on-one peer mentor program for every first-year student who enrolls with us. Later this Fall, we will offer a Storytelling event to our student body, in partnership with our First-Generation Law Student Association, focusing on things like times when we and they have felt imposter syndrome and why one’s personal story matters.

First-Generation Students and Time: Creating Meaningful Space for Students to Reflect

One of the foundational concepts behind PIF is reflective thinking and opportunities for reflective exercises to help students understand their values, the values of the profession, and the competencies required to be a successful lawyer. Reflection, in turn, requires time and space that are carved out to allow specifically for it. Time is a valuable resource for all students, but especially for first-generation law students. Therefore, PIF plans must be mindful of these time constraints.

There are a lot of reasons why first-generation students might not have time for PIF. For example, if they are working significant hours outside of the law school in legal or especially in non-legal jobs to support themselves, if they face family or personal expectations or obligations (especially from family members or personal connections who are unfamiliar with the legal industry), if they are trying to plan the logistics of taking two months off (unpaid and without benefits) after graduation to study for the bar exam, or if they are de-railed by a financial, health, or other crisis without social capital or resources to support them. In the optional space of Student and Career Services, when we support students with challenges like these, there is sometimes precious little time or energy available to ask students to reflect on how a chosen work or academic experience contributes to their professional identity.

Worse, when I see my first-generation students struggling with time, I worry that PIF will feel to them like optional engagement that is only possible for those law students who are supported by deep family resources or who are not struggling with other life priorities. I also worry whether they will trust me if I ask them to add to their already overflowing plates the additional work required by PIF. Notably, I believe these students are frequently already very self-directed learners, but they are people with clear and important demands on their time that often do not leave room for any optional piece of the law school curriculum.

For this reason – to bring all students along in PIF – schools must be creative about how and when to include PIF in the law school experience, and be respectful of the time constraints students might face, depending on their circumstances.

  • Bring PIF to Students: one option, of course, is to build into the existing curriculum opportunities for reflection and discussions about professional identity. But, if that won’t work for your school/classroom, schools might consider inviting the career services team to stop by before or after classes to provide handouts or resources that are aligned with related career paths. Schools can emphasize the importance of related programming that is happening outside of the classroom and encourage students to make strategic decisions about which to attend. Schools can include in other required spaces – Orientation, graduation-required courses, student leader trainings – information about building lawyering skills. Schools can encourage students to work with academic advisors, staff, or alumni to create a plan that works for them, and schools can help those advisors, staff, and alumni to have the PIF information they need to be impactful.
  • Create a PIF-focused Course: changing the curriculum to include a new course is another option, and one that may or may not be a fit for a school. For better or worse, however, we know that in a world impacted by COVID, general student engagement in optional parts of the law school experience is significantly decreased. Add to that the time constraints we know our first-generation students face and we simply cannot wait for students to come to us. As I’ve learned from my colleagues in the undergraduate space, we are responsible for finding ways to go to them. One way to go to them is to create a credit-bearing course that will reward students for doing PIF work while creating a meaningful space for first-generation and other time-strapped students to include the work among their other priorities.

At Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Students and Career Services has seen some movement with bringing PIF to students. For example, my department no longer expects that attendance will be robust at optional career related programs. Instead, we collaborate with student organizations on panel presentations and visit their student organization meetings to connect. We bring handouts and resources to student-run events, instead of requiring them to come to us for the information. We try to model the behavior we are seeking from students by showing up to the programs and panels that they have organized rather than simply demanding they show up at ours. We also leverage our alumni and peer mentor programs to provide resources to students. It is clear to us that peer-to-peer advising among students is at an all-time high, and rather than discourage or limit this connection, we provide information and resources to support it.

Perhaps most importantly, we try to ask students for input on what kinds of activities will help them most when it comes to lawyering skills. Without exception, they prefer activities that require engagement from them, opportunities to become involved in the community through pro bono work, and learning experiences where they connect with others. As a result, we are adjusting our traditional Student and Career Services programming to offer more of these kinds of experiences, and fewer lectures/presentations, while also incorporating reflective coaching questions into our everyday conversations with students.


Supporting first-generation law students to succeed is a critical component of increasing diversity in the legal industry. When PIF is offered thoughtfully and in a way that is mindful of time as a resource, it can be a place where schools can provide that support, not just through efforts focused on belonging, but also efforts focused on financial wellness, building support networks, introductions to professional norms, and academic planning.

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

Sarah Dylag Beznoska is the Assistant Dean for Student and Career Services at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University.

Sarah Beznoska

Leveraging Staff Departments in Professional Identity Implementation Efforts

By: Sarah Dylag Beznoska, Assistant Dean for Student and Career Services,
Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University

It’s a regular day in the Office of Student and Career Services at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. My day starts by meeting with a second-year student who is in tears because they did not receive any offers from our recent on-campus interview program. After reminding them that on-campus interviews are a very small segment of the legal market, I ask more questions than I answer: why they applied to the large law firms participating in on-campus interviews? Whether it is consistent with the conversations we had last year? What is their interest, if any, in public service? How they felt during the interviews? And what next steps they might take that are consistent with their strengths and values?

At noon, I moderate a panel discussion of site supervisors from our externship program, who talk about the learning opportunities available through the program. We focus on the skills that students develop on-site and the ways that the opportunities prepare students for employment goals. Throughout the program, I remind students about the deadlines for the program’s application process, noting that I understand they are busy, but I won’t waive the deadlines. If they are having trouble meeting deadlines, which is an essential lawyering skill, they can meet with a member of my team to talk about calendaring and time management.

After the panel, while eating lunch, I review a student’s cover letter for a new law clerk role. Knowing from conversations with the student that they have a lot more relevant experience than the cover letter demonstrates, I pull up their LinkedIn profile and send along some reflective questions to get them thinking about how they can leverage their past experience, even the non-legal experience, to demonstrate to this employer that they can do the work.

In the late afternoon, I meet with several first-year students, who are required to have an initial meeting with my office before the end of the semester. We cover everything from what brought them to law school to what experiences they have enjoyed most during their first semester to what steps they should be thinking about moving forward. We talk about graduation requirements, summer internships, and managing student debt, before I send them away with a Winter Break to-do list to advance their professional development.

As the day ends, I have a conversation with one of our third-year students, who has had a negative experience with a colleague in a student organization. We brainstorm some ways to address the issue, while remaining professional and consistent with their own values as a person. We also talk about taking some time for self-care and connecting with their personal support network to help process some strong emotions about the experience.

I close the day with an email from a recent graduate who has landed their first long-term post-graduate job. I congratulate them on success in what I know has been a long process, and I collect the ABA-required information for employment reporting before heading home.

This work—the day-to-day work I do in Student and Career Services, a combined department we launched in 2019 at Cleveland-Marshall—is built on some of the foundational premises of professional identity foundation. On a good day, I like to say that I help students, from day one, to assess and plan their entire law school experience with the goal of employability—coursework, student organizations and leadership, wellness support networks, externships, work experiences, and career outcomes. I meet students where they are at in their personal and professional development, and I talk with them about everything they are doing at the College of Law. Beyond that, I frequently hear about their personal life challenges, their families, their worries, and their successes. I hear students’ stories, I listen to their reflections on the experiences they are having in law school and the legal market, and I encourage them towards action items that move them along toward becoming the lawyers they want to be.

In other words, although we don’t do it all, we do a lot of professional identity formation in my office. In career services, we ask students to do self-assessment of their skills, strengths, and values during the fall semester of their first year. We offer practice area and industry panel presentations to allow students to explore the legal market. We help students to tell their own employability story through cover letters, resumes, and LinkedIn, in language that would resonate with legal employers. We support students on academic advising matters and the process of finding an experiential learning opportunity to fit their goals.

In student services, our focus is on developing responsible student leaders of our student organizations, empowering students to collaborate with their peers on events and programs, and developing wellness initiatives to create a culture of wellness and to help students embrace wellness as a part of their professional development.

It has been nothing but inspiring to see the professional identity formation (PIF) community embrace all of these things, and more, in developing implementation plans for the ABA’s professional identity standard. Inspiring to join a community of like-minded teachers and student-centered supporters, who are focused on helping students to build meaningful experiences towards successful outcomes. Inspiring to hear the creative ways that faculty engage students in PIF-related exercises and have conversations that don’t fit within the space of Student and Career Services. Inspiring to see institutional collaborations happening to benefit students.

So, when collaborating, don’t forget your staff departments! Engaging your talented staff team is as easy as reaching out to them to learn about their programs and offerings for students. Just ask! Build your PIF implementation plan to include Student and Career Services, to increase your employment outcomes for students, and to leverage all of the resources available in your institutions. I promise that your staff will be happy to hear from you!

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

Sarah Dylag Beznoska is the Assistant Dean for Student and Career Services at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University.


Kathryn Thompson

Normalizing Checking in with One Another and with Ourselves

By: Kathryn M. Thompson, Director of Academic Excellence and Teaching Professor,
Roger Williams University School of Law

Interpretation 303-5 states that “[t]he development of a professional identity should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice.”  Any of us who have struggled with our mental health understand that our first instinct is to isolate ourselves when the pangs of anxiety or the darkness of depression rear their heads. While society has come a long way since I first faced my own mental health challenges over twenty years ago, stigma and some shame still attach to these challenges, particularly in legal institutions where traditionally these challenges have been considered weaknesses.

Each year law school staff and faculty have an opportunity to choose what messages to prioritize in our early sessions with our incoming 1L students. I wrote this blog as I prepared for Orientation with our first-year students.  We greet our 1Ls each year in mid-August. Their fresh faces, revealing equal amounts of excitement and anxiety, remind me of the vital role law schools play in our students’ well-being. So many opportunities exist at this early moment to fan their excitement and curiosity and to alleviate their anxieties as they enter their first year of law school. Accomplishing this task while also being candid about the demands of law school and its potential impact on their mental health is an important goal for law school faculty and staff each year. Every year I try to balance teaching skills like case briefing and reading with the less obvious but equally necessary concepts of growth mindset and self-care. Law students need both types of information and while I know how to teach someone how to read a case and I have a decent presentation on growth mindset, I have struggled helping my students embrace self-care in law school. I am like most lawyers who never learned about wellness in law school and was forced to do so after I suffered a depressive episode in my mid-30s. It was only then that I worked with a therapist who helped me to understand the importance of “checking in” with myself regularly regarding my own mental health and only then did I become more able to embrace wellness practices. I am still working on embracing them.

Several forces at play in the first year of law school inhibit a student’s willingness and ability to reach out for help. First, the sheer novelty of the legal casebook method of learning and the Socratic method (however modified it may be) creates a challenge to prepare for classes. Add the legalese in many casebooks and the need to learn a whole new foundational vocabulary and students are hard-pressed to manage their time particularly come October when legal writing papers and midterms first hit. The sheer pace of law school can prevent them from being aware of the impact their sleep deprivation or anxiety is having on their studies. And the shame associated with being “the only one” who isn’t thriving does not encourage wellness practices. Again, without awareness of our own mental health status and an intentional reflection on our mental health, students – and lawyers – continue riding the roller-coaster without seeking help in the early stages before crisis hits.  Added to the workload is a law student’s concern (and misconception) that seeking counseling for their mental health challenges will lead to character and fitness issues when they seek to practice law. In this environment, helping students to embrace wellness practices requires an intentional effort to message to all students that the law school community values self-care and that wellness is a key component of a balanced life as a lawyer.

While the counseling center in a university (if a school is fortunate to have one), provides the expert counseling, efforts by law school staff and faculty in alliance with the student body can provide the fertile ground in which students embrace wellbeing practices such as meditation, exercise, deep breathing, therapy, and medication. There are steps that law schools can take early on in a students’ career to provide students “permission” and opportunity to incorporate wellness practices into their studies and, thus, their future legal practice. At RWU law over the past two or so years we have instituted some steps to foster our students’ awareness of their own mental health and to normalize pausing and reflecting on one’s own mental health at regular interviews throughout the course of the semester. One of these measures is called Early Alert: Proactive Check-Ins to Prevent Suicide/Violence and Promote Wellness. Through the initiative of Lorraine Lalli, Dean of Student Life and Operations, the law school partnered with Early Alert last year. Early Alert provides regular, confidential opportunities for students to pause and reflect on their wellness in various areas such as Sleep, Academics, Finances, Relationships, etc. Students who opt into the program report on their wellness on a scale of one to ten. A student who reports a score that shows the student is struggling in that area receives resources and a check-in over the next few days. Another measure the school has taken, which is more subtle but equally important is that we have intentionally prioritized wellness with our students early in the semester. During the first week of school, we bring all of our 1Ls together for a session on wellness. During this session we introduce our students to the Director of our Counseling Center who provides an overview of the counseling center’s services and also a brief explanation of the various reasons that students may seek counseling. 2L and 3L students attended that session this year to provide the message that the 1Ls have a network of support within the law school.

This year, Anna Arakelian, the President and founder of the RWU Law Mental Health Club spoke of an upcoming session the club had scheduled in September on Imposter Syndrome with Remmy Stourac, the author of “The Arsenal of Gratitude.”  “Whatever you’re feeling, we felt it, too,” Anna told the 1Ls who listened intently to her and to the two Academic Excellence Teaching Fellows, 3L Nellie Large, and 2L Stefanie Fischer who came to connect with the 1Ls that day. All three upper-level students encouraged the 1Ls to use Early Alert and to be honest about how they were feeling. If the alert asked them to rate their sleep on a zero to ten scale and they had a zero, put zero. “At first I would usually put the higher number because I didn’t want to say that I wasn’t doing well, but one day I was honest and the Alert provided me with helpful resources,” Anna told the students. All upper-level students spoke of finding time (whether thirty minutes or a whole day) to take breaks from law school and how important those breaks are to their ability to thrive in law school. Each wished they had paused more often during the 1L year to provide time for maintaining some balance in their lives.

Forging human connections with our students provides opportunity for authenticity and vulnerability. If students feel free to voice their anxieties and their self-doubts, whether with another student, a staff member, or faculty member, students are much more likely to implement wellness practices as a meaningful part of their lives as students and future lawyers. As Anna said to me after the session, “We’re all humans before we become lawyers.”

Please contact me at with comments or questions.

Kathryn M. Thompson serves as the Director of Academic Excellence and Teaching Professor at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island.


Aric Short

Crowdsourcing Implementation Plans, Tools, and Techniques for Standard 303(b)(3)

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

As law schools welcome students back to campus this fall, a revised accreditation standard goes into force. Under the new Standard 303(b)(3), each law school “shall provide substantial opportunities to students for the development of a professional identity.” As explained in Interpretation 303-5, “[p]rofessional identity focuses on what it means to be a lawyer and the special obligations lawyers have to their clients and society.” Exploration of this topic should include the “values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice.” Importantly, the ABA recognizes that professional identity formation is a process that takes time, experience, and reflection. As a result, students “should have frequent opportunities for such development each year of law school and in a variety of courses and co-curricular and professional development activities” (emphasis provided).

The ABA has taken a sequenced approach to implementation of this new professional identity formation requirement. In the fall of 2022, all law schools are expected to have initial plans in place to implement Standard 303. By the fall of 2023, schools are required to begin implementing their plans.

Figuring out exactly how to comply with this new ABA standard can be challenging. Embedded in that challenge are various procedural and structural questions. What process will your school use to evaluate existing professional identity formation efforts? Who will be in charge of ensuring compliance? Which law school stakeholders will be involved in that process? Will professional identity formation be introduced during Orientation? If so, how and by whom? Will 1L students take a course on professional identity formation or be required to attend a series of workshops? Or will similar themes be introduced in classes across the 1L curriculum? Similarly, how will each school continue to expose students to professional identity formation themes throughout the remainder of their law school experience—including in experiential courses and in interactions with offices supporting career services and academic support? Beyond these and other mechanical issues, there exist significant questions about content. What exactly does professional identity formation mean to your institution? What are the core themes you want to emphasize and reinforce with your students? And how will those themes be staggered and built upon so that students develop a deeper sense of their own professional identities as they move through law school?

To assist law schools as they work through these and other issues related to Standard 303(b)(3) implementation, the Holloran Center is announcing two new crowdsourced and collaborative resources. You and your school are invited to contribute to these resources and to learn new ideas and approaches to professional identity formation from colleagues across the country. While these resources are related, they have different purposes:

Resource #1: A repository of law school implementation plans for Standard 303(b)(3). This database, in Google Sheets, is intended to capture law schools’ evolving plans to implement Standard 303(b)(3). Each school is requested to share a narrative describing its Standard 303(b)(3) plan, as well as whether that plan is currently in draft or approved form. Schools are encouraged to provide a full description of their plans to help share creative and effective ways to implement this new Standard. This Google Sheet also asks for contact information for the person at each school responsible for Standard 303(b)(3) implementation, as well as anyone else on your staff or faculty who will be taking the lead in any specific professional identity formation efforts (for example, related to academic support, career services, clinics, externships, legal writing, doctrinal courses, etc.). Each school is also encouraged to provide links to any related web-based materials and to submit any other supporting documents through this Dropbox. While anyone with the link to this Google Sheet can review the submitted plans and contact information details, this document should be completed by the person at each school responsible for compliance with Standard 303(b)(3).

Resource #2: A clearinghouse of specific ideas, techniques, strategies, and tools related to professional identity formation. We know that many of you are already doing impactful work in this area, regardless of your title and the capacity in which you engage with students. This database, also in Google Sheets, provides a means to share those great efforts and learn new ideas from other law school faculty and staff across the country. Anyone who is engaged in professional identity formation efforts—big or small—is encouraged to share their ideas, as well as their contact information. This database is organized broadly in tabs across the bottom by the general area of student engagement, including academic support, career services, clinical / experiential classes, doctrinal classes, lawyering skills classes, student organizations, and professional formation courses. Within each tab, contributors are asked to indicate the primary professional identity focus of the exercise, program, or reflection and to include additional information, including the primary contact person for that contribution. We hope this format makes it easy for you to search for techniques and strategies that might be useful for you. In addition to providing a description of the professional identity work you are doing, you are encouraged to submit to this Dropbox any supporting documents that might be helpful for others, including syllabi, course plans, teaching notes, assessment tools, and grading rubrics.

A note on scope: As described above, these two new crowdsourced resources are focused primarily on Standard 303(b)(3), which relates to professional identity formation. The ABA has also implemented a new Standard 303(c), which requires law schools to “provide education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism (1) at the start of the program of legal education; and (2) at least once before graduation.” Most of us working in this general space understand that bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism are foundational topics within professional identity formation. As a result, you and your school should feel free to share in the databases above specific implementation plans and strategies related to Standard 303(c). However, our primary focus is Standard 303(b)(3). We also encourage you to visit Buffalo School of Law’s Website on ABA Standard 303(c) for more specific information about efforts across the country to implement Standard 303(c).

We wish you and your law schools the best of luck as you create institutional plans and design specific techniques for implementation. Hopefully the two databases announced above will help you come up with impactful and effective ways to engage in this important work. We encourage you to share your ideas, to borrow from others, and to connect with other faculty and staff exploring professional identity formation.

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