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David Grenardo

What About Us? How Law Schools Can Help Historically Underrepresented Law Students Develop Their Professional Identities

In a forthcoming article for Mercer Law Review, Holloran Center Associate Director David Grenardo presents a critically important perspective on the ways that historically underrepresented students face obstacles to their professional identity formation. Grenardo provides context around why these issues can seem insurmountable to staff and faculty, and explains why it is crucial to tackle them head-on: structural biases in law school stall the academic and professional development of historically underrepresented students. He closes with practical, solution-oriented suggestions around mentorship, academic support, and experiential learning that would create an environment in which all students are welcome.

The article abstract follows. You can also read a draft of the entire article on SSRN.

The revised ABA Standards require law schools to provide substantial opportunities for law students to develop their professional identity. An individual’s professional identity as a lawyer consists of one’s personal identities integrated into who they are as a professional. Gaining a professional identity means going from an outsider to an insider in that profession, and a law student’s professional identity formation refers to the process of evolving from law student to lawyer. Law schools must dive into the murky waters of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation because that is where our historically underrepresented law students are, trying to become professionals in a system that sees them as the other, different, and outsiders.

Part I of the Article briefly defines professional identity. Part II sets forth an overview of the many obstacles historically underrepresented law students face—including, but not limited to, the historical exclusion of underrepresented individuals from law school and the legal profession, imposter syndrome, bias, microaggressions, wealth and education disparities—in developing their professional identity. Part III provides a summary of tangible solutions that law schools may employ to address those obstacles and help those law students develop their professional identity. This Article concludes that it is critical for law schools to intervene to ensure historically underrepresented law students can properly develop their professional identity.

Please reach out to David Grenardo at gren2380@stthomas.edu with any questions or comments.

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


David Grenardo, Jerome Organ, Neil Hamilton

The Holloran Center in the News

by Felicia Hamilton, Holloran Center Coordinator

Jerry Organ, Associate Director of the Holloran Center, earned recognition as one the Top 20 Most Influential People in Legal Education by the National Jurist. From being a major player in the conversation that led to the revision of ABA Standard 303 to presenting at conferences on legal education and wellness around the world, Organ has been making major strides to advance professional identity formation and well-being for law students.

More details on this nomination are forthcoming upon the release of the National Jurist’s spring edition.

Neil Hamilton, Founding Director of the Holloran Center, was featured in the winter edition of the National Jurist. The article “What best prepares you for the practice of law?” by Sherry Karabin discusses the importance of experiential education. In this article, Hamilton is quoted regarding methods that encourage the thoughtful development of professional identity: “We think it’s…important that…educational experiences are coordinated in a progressive engagement of guided reflection over three years with the help of faculty and staff coaches.”[1]

Co-Director of the Holloran Center, David Grenardo, was interviewed by USA Today about the history of nepotism in the NFL prior to the 2024 Super Bowl. Drawing from his expertise in Sports Law, Grenardo highlights the contradiction between the perception of competitive sports as meritocratic and the existence of ownership structures that are decided by lineage or connections.

Speaking on the fact that 16 of the NFL’s 32 owners inherited their teams from family members, Grenardo notes: “’One of the reasons that these statistics may bother some people is that sports is supposed to be a meritocracy…The best players play on the team, and the team that plays the best wins. Meritocracy, however, applies to players, not ownership or coaching.’”[2]


[1] Karabin , S. (n.d.). What best prepares you for the practice of law? The National Jurist, 33(3), 9–10.

[2] Schrotenboer, B. (2024, February 8). Super Bowl is a reminder of how family heritage, nepotism still rule the NFL. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/super-bowl/2024/02/08/super-bowl-nepotism-nfl-49ers-chiefs-kyle-shanahan-andy-reid/72488948007/

Debra Moss Vollweiler

No Difficulty Holding Both Logic and Feeling: Can the Barbie Movie Help with Women’s Professional Identity Education?

By: Debra Moss Vollweiler, Professor of Law, Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law [1]

Hi Barbie! In the wake of the blockbuster Barbie movie in the Summer of 2023, women are embracing—or reembracing—women’s empowerment, including what many are calling a newfound freedom to express femininity. Like many across the country, I headed back to the movie theater in the summer of 2023 to see if the Barbie movie was as fun and meaningful as I’d heard. I didn’t expect it to change the way I think and teach professional identity in law school.

Thanks to ABA Standard 303(b) all law schools should be focusing on the development of professional identity for their students.[2] According to the Holloran Center, professional identity education “should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice.[3]

Part of this exploration for students is helping them develop an accurate self-understanding of who they are and how their values guide them. But the exploration of professional identity for women has sometimes hit a speedbump. For many women law students, their system of values and principles that are connected to their gender and self-expression of that gender historically have been downplayed. In other words, even though professional identity education should be enabling students to fully examine who they are, what they value, and how that shapes their identity, some students are seeing that many women in the legal profession have had to keep key parts of their identity—as women—tamped down to fit into their professional environments. Such dissonance can be harmful to the professional identity development of women.

There are many obstacles to women discussing their gender as part of their professional identity. Some of these deterrents include:

  • Imposter syndrome by women lawyers, stemming from male-dominated work environments;
  • A lack of diversity (including gender) in leadership roles within the legal profession;
  • Women in leadership criticizing other women; and
  • Lack of systematic support for woman and their choices.

I wasn’t expecting a movie to help me teach women law students how to move past these obstacles, but it did.

What is the Legal Profession Modeling for Women?

In late 2022, a female lawyer in Ohio received a text (which has since gone viral) from a male attorney at her law firm.[4] She’d returned from maternity leave a few days earlier—a leave during which she was asked and expected to perform legal work. Shortly after her leave, she notified a partner that she was resigning and going to another firm. The text said: “What you did – collecting salary from the firm while sitting on your ass, except to find time to interview for another job – says everything one needs to know about your character. Karma’s a bitch. Rest assured, regarding anyone who inquires, they will hear the truth from me about what a soul-less and morally bankrupt person you are.”

While ultimately that male attorney was fired, it pulls back the curtain on attitudes some women in the legal profession face about their commitment to work as women. Not all women are mothers, but the same level of scrutiny is also focused by some on how all women are expected to speak, dress, and present themselves in the profession. Just recently, even as a 25+ year member of the academy, I recently faced a curious comment about my choice of jacket worn during an academic presentation. It wasn’t quite a compliment or a criticism, but I am certain none of the other presenters (all male) received any wardrobe feedback at all. It made me conscious of being a woman in a field where I have no doubts of my accomplishments nor of my professional identity. I couldn’t help but wonder what impact such a comment would have on a female student or new lawyer still developing hers.

There is no question that women in the profession are definitely struggling with their professional identity and that the struggle is impacting them and the profession.

The 2022 Survey of Women Leaving the Law presented a multitude of statistics on why women left top 200 law firms. The report largely debunked COVID and other family-first excuses that firms have been making to explain away the number of women failing to make equity partner status, or to stay in their employment. Instead, the focus was clearly on the difficulty women still have merely being women in the profession. Based on their interviews, the report suggested that to increase gender diversity retention in the profession, the profession needed to solve basic problems, such as ensuring that firms are giving women opportunities and amplifying their voices, providing women with a seat at the decision-making table and having a zero-tolerance policy for sexism. At the ABA National Summit on Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law, Iris Bohnet, professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, indicated some women leave because of a work culture that forces them to minimize important parts of their lives.[5] She noted that women who leave often ask themselves, “Can I bring my whole self to work?”

On top of that, Forbes reports on the large scope of the problem for women in the legal profession. “It’s not just less pay and fewer promotions. According to a recent survey… female lawyers, and especially women of color, are more likely than their male counterparts to be interrupted, to be mistaken for non-lawyers, to do more office housework, and to have less access to prime job assignments.”[6]

Women law students who are learning about professional identity are seeing that Forbes has also reported that the study indicated female lawyers have been penalized for their assertive behavior, even when part of the job. “Although assertiveness and self-promotion are often needed to succeed in the legal field, women often feel that they must walk a tightrope. If they are too assertive, then they are criticized for not behaving in a ladylike fashion. If they are not assertive enough, then they are often seen as lacking the confidence needed to succeed.”[7]

The struggle for women in the profession is still real, and as such, women need to know how to develop their professional identity to be able to face these challenges.

Professional Identity Education, and a (Re?)-Awakening to Gender in the Legal Profession

For students to develop their professional identity as lawyers, they need to understand more about identity formation overall. As has been written about professional identity, “Our identities are like icebergs. The large bulk of them lies invisible to us below the surface of consciousness…” The non-conscious bulk of identity is called “habitus.[8] A key in  understanding professional identity education is understanding that when “one’s habitus is in dissonance with the professional identity of one’s chosen profession”  a professional can struggle with both success and stress.[9] At the same time, we know that “the formation of a professional identity should be most significantly informed by and consonant with one’s personal identity—including one’s lived experience as a person of, among other things, a particular race, gender, or socioeconomic class.”[10]

This reflection tells me we need to recognize that there exists fundamental conflict between the idea of developing a professional identity as women lawyers and the workplaces in which we are going to enter with those identities accepting them as women.

So that brings me to my viewing of the Barbie movie. Imagine my delight and astonishment, mere minutes into the movie when I hear Lawyer Barbie exclaim, “This makes me emotional, and I’m expressing it. I have no difficulty holding both logic and feeling at the same time and that does not diminish my powers; it expands them! Imagine! Emotion as power! A world where we allowed our full humanity into spaces of collective decision making!”[11]

And I thought, “Well, here’s my professional identity education opener for my new students this fall.”

This is not the first time we’ve seen gender as a fundamental part of law student education coming from pop culture. Many women lawyers point to Legally Blonde in 2001—the final scene where she can “ditch the black and the pantyhose”—as a professional identity moment for Elle Woods that inspired many young women to go to law school. While it may have impacted the decision to attend law school for women, it didn’t quite make huge inroads into integrating a woman’s identity fully into the profession. So now twenty or so years later, here we are with Barbie.

Since the announcement of Barbie, we’ve witnessed the rise of unapologetic hyper-femme codes intertwined in mainstream culture.[12] We’ve heard the acknowledgement that being a woman is “literally impossible.”[13] So that leaves me with two questions in moving forward with professional identity for women lawyers—thanks to Barbie, is it now easier to talk about being a woman in the legal profession, and if not, can we make it easier?

Such questions about women and being able to be themselves as they enter the profession should be an integral part of professional identity education. And in the wake of this national conversation about women—sparked by a movie about a doll—making space and plans for women to discuss their femininity, their often-unique needs in the workplace as women, and how to incorporate those needs into professional identity education may be the key to long-term success for future lawyers.

Suggested Solutions for Teaching Professional Identity

When we teach women to be their whole selves as part of their professional identity, we lay the groundwork for both helping students use the full strength of their character and values to navigate the legal profession as it exists, and also lay the groundwork for changes in the profession in the future. While encouraging women to develop their identity in a way that enables them to navigate the bias that women can feel until a culture change can be made, we can also help all students work to change the culture.

Here are three suggestions in teaching professional identity for law students that can contribute to the success of women entering the profession, each inspired by quotes from the Barbie movie:

  1. Women hate women. And men hate women. It’s the only thing we all agree on.”—Sasha

Help students understand the current deterrents for women to express themselves as women that exist in the workplace, the full range of biases that women face and how all students can contribute to a workplace to eradicate those biases. Additionally, as part of the professional identity education, talk about what women can do without obvious leadership models or mentors. Analyze and discuss why women often keep other women down. You can also explore with students what supports are missing for women in the workplace and how do you develop your guiding principles even if they are missing. For students to truly learn to bring their whole selves to their profession to guide their formation, they must understand the profession itself.

  1. I worked very hard, so I deserve it!”—Nobel Prize Barbie

Explicitly discuss imposter syndrome. Don’t be afraid to include gender identity as part of the equation of why professionals can feel unworthy to be in a position which they have earned. Additionally, though, don’t be afraid to recognize the impact of systematic bias on women, and how it may cause imposter syndrome.[14] Talk about gender and how gender impacts your view of your world. Remind students that trying to please others by being someone else isn’t serving them or their clients. Instead, help them explore how to show up as themselves.[15] Normalize these discussions and help students deal with the problem now, and for the future.

  1. Why didn’t Barbie tell me about patriarchy?”—Ken

Pair professional identity education with cultural competency education. When students understand the struggles inherent to students from all backgrounds, it can help all students understand these issues. When students come to understand the challenges that women are facing in the workplace simply because they are women, it helps lay the groundwork for all members of the profession to change the culture in the future. Ensuring all members of the legal profession are aware of the biases that exist throughout the profession can help them develop as individuals to combat those biases.

I’m hoping that through professional identity education, in the words of Stereotypical Barbie, “By giving voice to the cognitive dissonance required to be a woman under the patriarchy, [we’ve] robbed it of its power,” that women can fully develop with their whole selves as part of the legal profession, and that we, in teaching professional identity, can guide them.

Debra Moss Vollweiler is a tenured Professor of Law at Nova Southeastern University, Shepard Broad College of Law, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.


[1] This blog post arose out of a presentation made at the AALS Annual Meeting 2024 for the Women in Legal Education section.

[2] https://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/standards/.

[3] https://blogs.stthomas.edu/holloran-center/introduction-to-the-definition-of-professional-identity-and-the-formation-of-a-professional-identity/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CProfessional%20identity%20formation%E2%80%9D%20is%20a,foundational%20to%20successful%20legal%20practice.%E2%80%9D.

[4] https://www.businessinsider.com/lawyer-who-shamed-coworker-about-maternity-leave-text-fired-2023-1.

[5] https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/publications/youraba/2017/december-2017/aba-summit-searches-for-solutions-to-ensure-career-longevity-for/?login.

[6] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimelsesser/2018/10/01/female-lawyers-face-widespread-gender-bias-according-to-new-study/?sh=70a20e2b4b55.

[7] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimelsesser/2018/10/01/female-lawyers-face-widespread-gender-bias-according-to-new-study/?sh=70a20e2b4b55.

[8] https://www.regent.edu/acad/schlaw/student_life/studentorgs/lawreview/docs/issues/v27n2/10_Thomson_vol_27_2.pdf.

[9] https://www.regent.edu/acad/schlaw/student_life/studentorgs/lawreview/docs/issues/v27n2/10_Thomson_vol_27_2.pdf.

[10] Harmony Decosimo, https://scholarship.law.slu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2321&context=lj.

[11] See the Barbie movie! Also, if you’re a critic of the SCOTUS decision in Citizens United, there’s another layer of commentary woven into Lawyer Barbie’s speech, which many movie goers didn’t catch.

[12] https://www.lofficielusa.com/fashion/barbie-hyper-femininity-ultimate-act-of-feminism-coquettecore-bimbocore.

[13] https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/a44725030/america-ferrera-barbie-full-monologue-transcript/.

[14] https://hbr.org/2021/02/stop-telling-women-they-have-imposter-syndrome.

[15] https://www.2civility.org/has-your-professional-identity-morphed-into-something-you-dont-recognize/.

Natt Gantt

The Centrality of Spiritual Well-Being to Professional Formation

By: L.O. Natt Gantt, II,* Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, High Point University Kenneth F. Kahn School of Law

In July 2023, I was pleased to moderate a discussion group titled “Professional Identity as a Search for Spiritual Well-Being—Helping Students Care for their Souls” at the Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) Conference. Having spent time reflecting on this session since last summer, I have been contemplating the depth and complexity of our task of helping students develop their professional identity. This task goes beyond encouraging students to engage in certain professional behaviors or even adopt specified professional values; it should involve helping them find purpose and meaning as they develop as a professional.

The session featured nine esteemed discussants: Professor Lisa Avalos from Louisiana State University; Paul M. Hebert Law Center; Professor Timothy Floyd from Mercer University School of Law; Professor Max Hare from Regent University School of Law; Professor Kendall Kerew from Georgia State University College of Law; Professor Kellyn McGee from Widener University Commonwealth Law School; Associate Dean David Miller from Liberty University School of Law; Professor Jerry Organ from the University of St. Thomas School of Law; Professor Lucas Osborn from Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law; and Carwina Weng, Senior Specialist in Professional Identity Formation at LSAC. My former colleague from Regent University School of Law, Professor Ben Madison, developed the idea for the session and asked me to moderate.

During the two-and-a-half hour session, we had a rich discussion that focused on: (1) why the topic of law student spiritual well-being is important to discuss; (2) how to define the term “spiritual well-being”; (3) what practices and strategies can help law students cultivate their spiritual well-being; and (4) what are the challenges to improving students’ spiritual well-being and what are positive ways to overcome those challenges.

I was enthused about participating in the group because my work in law student and lawyer well-being has underscored to me how exploring the topic of spiritual well-being is a key component to the well-being crisis we face in legal education and the legal profession. The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being’s groundbreaking 2017 report, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, raised this issue nearly seven years ago. In masterfully outlining an expansive definition of well-being, the Report defined well-being as “a continuous process in which lawyers strive for thriving in each dimension of their lives” and identified six dimensions of well-being: “emotional health, occupational pursuits, creative or intellectual endeavors, sense of spirituality or greater purpose in life, physical health, and social connections with others.”[1] More specifically, the Report defined spiritual well-being as “developing a sense of meaningfulness and purpose in all aspects of life.”[2]

Since 2017, many reports and studies have affirmed the reality of the well-being crisis in legal education and the legal profession.[3] Moreover, as Interpretation 303-5 in the ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools stresses, the relationship between well-being and professional identity formation is clear. The Interpretation provides, “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.”[4]

Regarding spiritual well-being specifically, social science and physiological research has found that spiritual and religious belief and practice can have significant health benefits. For instance, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Human Flourishing Program have conducted extensive research on the relationship between spirituality, most notably religious service participation, and well-being. This research has found that “the communal aspect of religion, namely service attendance, was inversely associated with various factors related to despair (e.g., lower risk of suicidality, heavy drinking, substance misuse, and depression)” and was “positively associated with psychosocial well-being outcomes, such as greater purpose in life.”[5] In addition, this research found that individuals who attend religious services at least weekly were significantly less likely to die from “deaths of despair,” such as deaths related to suicide, alcohol poisoning, and drug overdose.[6] The researchers point out that the social support individuals experience from such attendance explains only about a quarter of the effect and that religious community participation is a stronger predictor of health and well-being than other forms of social support.[7] The researchers thus opine that religious participation enhances health and well-being by providing individuals with a sense of “hope, meaning, and purpose in life.”[8]

Yet, despite the abundant research on well-being, the regulatory changes in the ABA Standards, and the ensuing well-being initiatives adopted in law schools and legal professional settings, the topic of spiritual well-being is often overlooked. It no doubt may be a difficult topic to discuss. Some may view the topic as only associated with a religious worldview and conclude that many lawyers and law students would not be interested in the topic because they do not come from a specific faith tradition. Others might similarly claim that most law schools are not faith-based and may face programmatic resistance to such efforts because discussing spiritual well-being could be perceived as imposing religious values. Still others might avoid the topic by asserting that it is difficult to measure and assess the success of efforts to cultivate spiritual well-being because the concept is too vague to fall within the proper purview of legal education. Finally, others might contend that students may have had negative experiences with religious communities in the past and therefore may be resistant to spiritual topics.

As the discussants in the session noted, each of these understandable concerns, however, does not override the importance of spiritual well-being as a foundational topic all law schools should consider in their professional formation efforts. The concerns about ties to specific religious worldviews and faith traditions belie the expansive definition in the National Task Force Report itself, which focuses on meaning and purpose with no expected connection to a specific faith tradition. The concern regarding measurement and assessment relates to professional formation generally, and many readers of this blog have already developed innovative and successful ways to assess professional formation in their students which could be adapted to assess spiritual well-being. Finally, the concern regarding negative experiences with religious communities relates to the first concern and can be addressed by honest and transparent discussions about these realities while recognizing that discerning meaning and purpose in life must not be shelved because of the troubling actions of some.

As we seek to shape students who are well and grounded, discussing spiritual well-being thus must be part of our professional formation process. Discussant David Miller powerfully observed that professional identity is downstream from personal identity. Even at the graduate, professional law school level, some of our focus must be on helping our students find purpose and meaning.

So what does it mean to help our students enhance their spiritual well-being? Here, the Task Force Report’s definition of spiritual well-being represents only a starting point. “Meaning and purpose” can be completely self-defining and self-serving. As I reasoned in our session, helping students find spiritual well-being must be more than affirming students who, for instance, find their meaning and purpose solely in making money so that they can accumulate physical possessions. Meaning and purpose must include more. That pursuit must connect to something beyond oneself—to the pursuit of justice, to the service of others, to the love of fellow humans, to the connection to the eternal and transcendent.

In her recent book The Awakened Brain: The New Science of Spirituality and Our Quest for an Inspired Life, Professor Lisa Miller at Columbia University describes extensive studies of the brain which find that spiritual and religious belief and practice have significant mental health benefits. She does not offer a precise definition of spirituality, but her research clearly supports a broad conception of the term, not tied to specific religious traditions.[9] At the same time, her research does not support a conception so broad as to include anything in which an individual might find purpose and meaning. Her research specifically traces the mental health benefits to when individuals experience a connection to someone or something beyond themselves—“a feeling of oneness with the environment or the divine; a sense of their own individual voice or identity dissolving into something larger around or beyond them.”[10] She writes that individuals with an awakened, healthy brain have experiences “involv[ing] self-transcendent awareness and relationship [which] induce a feeling of unity or closeness whether or not the content is explicitly relational [with other people].”[11]

The point in sharing Professor Miller’s words is not to advocate that law schools should create such experiences as part of their curricula. However, we are educating students who are confronting a well-being crisis in our profession and in our larger society,[12] and we must educate them on the mental health benefits of spirituality. In our discussion group, discussants presented strategies for how to enhance our students’ spiritual well-being, such as offering students more wholistic mentoring and opportunities for meditation and prayer, exposing students to moral exemplars who can encourage students’ pursuit of vocational purpose, having students write a statement of purpose or their personal philosophy of lawyering, and providing students with tactics they can use to better understand themselves and what values most inspire them.[13] The particular strategies a school adopts can and should vary based on the particular missional context in which each of our schools operates. Nonetheless, as we begin another year, I challenge our professional formation community to work collectively and creatively to help our students become spiritually well by finding purpose, meaning, hope, and connection in their vocational calling. If you have any questions or comments about this blog, please feel free to contact me at ngantt@highpoint.edu.


* Natt is Chair of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs Well-Being Pledge Committee and a member of the Research & Scholarship Committee of the Institute for Well-Being in Law.

[1] National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change (Aug. 2017), at 9, https://lawyerwellbeing.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Lawyer-Wellbeing-Report.pdf. In a diagram summarizing these six dimensions, the Report identified them as “Emotional, Occupational, Intellectual, Spiritual, Physical, Social.” Id.

[2] Id.

[3] See, e.g., “It is Okay to Not Be Okay”: The 2021 Survey of Law Student Well-Being, 60 Univ. of Louisville L. Rev. 441 (2021).

[4] Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, Am. Bar Ass’n, ch. 3 (2023–24), https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/standards/2023-2024/2023-2024-aba-standards-rules-for-approval.pdf (emphasis added).

[5] Ying Chen et al., Religious Service Attendance and Deaths Related to Drugs, Alcohol, and Suicide Among US Health Care Professionals, 77 JAMA Psychiatry 737, 738, 742 (2020) (citing studies).

[6] Id.

[7] See Tyler J. VanderWeele, Religious Communities and Human Flourishing, 26 Current Directions in Psych. Sci. 476, 478-79 (2017).

[8] Chen et al., supra note 5, at 738; see also id. at 743.

[9] As one example, Professor Miller’s brain research found “the moments of intense spiritual awareness were biologically identical whether or not they were explicitly religious.” Lisa Miller, The Awakened Brain: The New Science of Spirituality and Our Quest for an Inspired Life 162 (2021).

[10] Id. at 157.

[11] Id. at 161.

[12] See Madeline Holcombe, Welcome to the ‘new normal’ of people expressing low levels of well-being, according to a report (January 18, 2024), https://www.cnn.com/2024/01/18/health/gallup-well-being-2023-wellness/index.html.

[13] Specific approaches included having students work through self-assessment inventories, such as the VIA Character Strengths Survey and the exercises in Neil Hamilton’s book Roadmap: The Law Student’s Guide to Meaningful Employment.

Toni Jaeger-Fine

Introducing the Second Edition of Toni Jaeger-Fine’s Becoming a Lawyer: Discovering and Defining Your Professional Persona (2023)

By: Toni Jaeger-Fine, Senior Counselor, Fordham Law School; Principal, Jaeger-Fine Consulting

Jaeger-Fine’s concept of the Legal Professional Persona refers to a set of attitudes and behaviors that enable success and flourishing in the profession. As legal educators, students, and professionals, we tend to focus on legal knowledge and technical skills to the exclusion of these attributes that comprise the professional persona. The touchstone of cultivating a strong and sustainable professional persona is intentionality, and the goal of this book is to make each of us more deliberate about how we develop and nurture our professional identity.

This second edition is the product of conversations with, and feedback from, hundreds of law students and legal professionals, and the author’s own lifelong journey toward building and refining her own professional persona.

The book is divided into three main parts, reflecting the pillar of the professional persona: fundamentals; self-management; and relationships.

Fundamentals introduces the concept of the professional persona and its importance, discusses the state of today’s legal profession, and identifies the building blocks of a professional persona. In particular, this part examines how we move through stages of competence, the need to create sustainable habits and tools for doing so, the primacy of social and emotional intelligence, and the importance of leadership as a mindset and general orientation rather than a matter of position in a hierarchy.

Self-management—professionalism from the inside—addresses a range of issues relating to mindset and dispositions (such as a positive mindset, commitment to excellence, and character), time management and organization, and well-being. This part also offers a practicaand mindset approach to a sustainable form of well-being.

Relationships—professionalism with the outside—considers working with others, which embraces among other things the importance of inclusive thinking and controlling our cognitive biases, effective communication, managing up and down, and business development and client management. This part also covers talent management, development, and retention, including how to accelerate diversity, equity, and inclusion. In addition, this part addresses ensuring that our public professional persona promotes our own professional identity, the goals of the institutions with which we are associated, and the profession more generally.

The book is eminently readable, and most chapters end with a series of questions for reflection, making this book readily adoptable for professional identity courses. Becoming a Lawyer: Discovering and Defining Your Professional Persona is available from West Academic or on Amazon. Please feel free to email me at tfine@fordham.edu if you have any questions or comments.

Felicia Hamilton, Jerome Organ

“We’re Always Shaping People”: Podcast Interview with Jerry Organ, Co-Director of the Holloran Center

By: Felicia Hamilton, Holloran Center Coordinator

Jerry Organ, Bakken Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, University of St. Thomas School of Law

Our very own Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership, Jerry Organ, was recently featured on the Legal Docket segment of the podcast The World and Everything in It: September 11, 2023 Episode. Legal correspondent Jenny Rough speaks with Organ, along with hosts Mary Reichard and Nick Eicher, about the revision to Standard 303(b), which encourages law schools to provide opportunities for the development of a student’s professional identity.

In the interview, Organ emphasizes the importance of identity formation in a career that is focused on serving others:

Law school… [is] about developing a specialized knowledge base and a specialized set of skills that are directed toward serving others. So, part of professional school really is a shift from a kind of a self-focus to now acquiring knowledge, acquiring skills. I’m going to shift from being a student absorbing information to a lawyer who’s now serving others.” [1]

He also highlights the need for law students to have the opportunity to discover and test out their professional interests along with the importance of being able to process those experiences with a faculty mentor or advisor, noting that at the start of second and third years of law school there is a rich opportunity to help students process their summer experience and then plan for next steps on their journey.

Organ also speaks to the importance of having courses like St. Thomas’s Serving Clients Well intensive, which highlights communication and relationship skills and encourages students to focus on client service and to act in accordance with their values.

According to Organ, law schools arealways shaping people. We just have tended not to be very thoughtful about it. And what this new movement is really talking about is trying to help us as law professors and people involved in legal education be more intentional about what it is we want to be communicating to our students about what it means to be a lawyer.”

Listen to the full podcast episode and read the transcription here! The interview can be heard starting at 08:45.

[1] Rough, Jenny. “Legal Docket: Law and service.” The World and Everything in It, World News Group, September 11, 2023, https://wng.org/podcasts/legal-docket-law-and-service-1694291807.

Jerome Organ is the Bakken 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

Felicia Hamilton is the Coordinator for the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

David Grenardo

Kill 1L: A Realistic Look at Legal Education Reform

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

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

Here is the abstract of Professor Cox’s article:

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

A link to the article can be found here.

Should you have any questions or comments about the article, please feel free to contact Professor Cox at coxxx211@umn.edu.


Janet Stearns, Jerome Organ

Well-Being and Professional Identity: Inextricably Linked

By: Janet Stearns, Dean of Students, University of Miami School of Law
Jerry Organ, Bakken Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, University of St. Thomas School of Law

Well-being and professional identity are inextricably linked. While this has been true through the ages, the new articulation of professional identity in Interpretation 303-5 embodies this linkage when it states:

Professional identity focuses on what it means to be a lawyer and the special obligations lawyers have to their clients and society. 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.

In earlier posts for this Blog, Dean Stearns has spoken of infusing law school orientation with lessons about well-being, activities for the October 10 Mental Health Day, and two new important books that can be used to educate law students about mindfulness and stress reduction.

Much of our teaching and advocacy involves explaining these principles of “well-being practices” and integrating these into the law school curriculum and larger professional identity environment. The needs are great. The news is filled with too many stories of suicide. The students who are now entering our law schools have faced significant isolation and related depression and anxiety through these recent pandemic years.

The best snapshot of the state of our law students today is the national survey published in the University of Louisville Law Review Symposium under the title “It Is OK To Not Be OK”: The 2021 Survey of Law Student Well-Being (Summer, 2022). The authors of this study were David Jaffe (Washington College of Law, American University), Professor Kate Bender (Bridgewater University), and Jerry Organ (University of St. Thomas, MN), and the work includes an analysis of data from 39 law schools across the country. The 2021 Survey showed that the percentage of respondents who had a diagnosis of anxiety in their lifetime increased from 21% to 40% since the original Survey of Law Student Well-Being in 2014. Similarly, the percentage of respondents who had a diagnosis of depression in their lifetime increased from 18% to 33% since 2014. Roughly one-third of the 2021 respondents had considered suicide sometime in their life (up from 20% in 2014) with 11% having considered suicide in the previous 12 months (up from 6% in 2014). The 2021 Survey also found that five in six respondents had experienced trauma, with one in five dealing with challenges to their day-to-day thriving associated with their experience of trauma (based on responses to the PCL-5, a screening tool for PTSD).

The data continues to be evaluated but the high levels of reported depression, anxiety, suicidality, and trauma should give us all pause.

One of the most critical lessons that we can teach in law school is the ability to reach out and access needed resources. Professional identify includes our ability to address needed self-care while balancing duties to clients and the profession. Tragically, many law students believe that they cannot access these resources, and in fact some believe that their admission to the bar will be jeopardized if they access resources. We teach these life-saving lessons in the classroom and when we respond to students in crisis. Dean Stearns has received calls and emails from students who are en route to an emergency room to ask if their bar admission will be impacted if they are admitted for mental health treatment.

Janet Stearns, David Jaffe, and other national well-being advocates have been working for years to reform state character and fitness investigation processes to ensure that students understand their ability to access essential resources; their efforts have seen some success with a number of states amending their questions. The most recent article on the topic by Stearns and Jaffe is Fixing a Broken Character Evaluation Process, which was published online in the ABA’s Law Practice Today in May of 2023. The article evaluated the mental health and substance use questions in the various jurisdictions and assigned grades to the states (and NCBE) on the basis of our rubric. The more a state’s questions focused primarily on conduct than condition, the higher the grade it received – an A was the highest grade available; and the more a state’s questions focused on condition instead of conduct, the lower the grade it received – an F was the lowest grade available. We continue to advocate for questions that will focus on conduct rather than condition, with a goal of destigmatizing efforts for law students to seek appropriate help and support for these challenges.

This month, Jerry Organ added a new and significant dimension to this advocacy. He analyzed two questions in the 2021 survey, separated law school responses by state, and then correlated those to the grades that Stearns and Jaffe had assigned in the ABA article.[i] The two critical questions were:

C15: Percentage who strongly agree or agree to the following statements (by year in law school)

If I had an alcohol or drug use problem, my chances of getting admitted to the bar are better if I hide the problem rather than seek treatment.

D21:  Percentage who strongly agree or agree with each of the following statements (by year in law school)

If I had a mental health problem, my chances of getting admitted to the bar are better if I hide the problem rather than seeking treatment.

Jerry Organ’s analysis determined the following:

The overall averages for “better off keeping problems hidden” (reluctant to seek help) were 49.8% (substance use) and 39.9% (mental health).

Schools in A/B jurisdictions had average scores for “better off keeping problems hidden”(reluctant to seek help) of 47.5 (substance use) and 37.3 (mental health).

Schools in C jurisdictions (including Virginia) had average scores for “better off keeping problems hidden” (reluctant to seek help) of 51.8 (substance use) and 42.6 (mental health).

Schools in F jurisdictions (Georgia/Florida/Nevada) had average scores for “better off keeping problems hidden” (reluctant to seek help) of 55.9 and 47.1.

These data suggest that there is a correlation between the type of state character and fitness questions and the reluctance to seek help among law students. The states that focused their character and fitness questions more on conduct rather than on condition have lower percentages of students who believe they are better off keeping problems hidden for substance use and mental health. And the states that focused their character and fitness questions more on condition instead of conduct have higher percentages of students who believe they are better off keeping problems hidden for substance use and mental health. The more than 8-point spread between A/B and F states on substance use and the nearly 10-point spread between A/B and F states on mental health strongly suggests that a relationship exists between the nature of a state’s character and fitness questions and a law student’s reluctance to seek help.

Law schools and boards of law examiners have to continue to message the importance of help-seeking so that the percentages of respondents who believe they are better off keeping problems hidden begins to decline. On this front, efforts in Minnesota and North Dakota are noteworthy. Respondents from law schools in those two states were among the lowest in terms of the percentage who believed their chances of being admitted to the bar were better if they kept a substance use or mental health problem hidden. In both states, the law schools have worked closely with their board of law examiners to facilitate messaging in the first year of law school about the importance of seeking help. Those efforts seem to be bearing fruit.

For all of us who care deeply about professional identity education, we must continue to understand the inextricable link between our work and ensuring the well-being of the next generation of our profession.

The authors welcome comments and input. You may connect with them at jstearns@law.miami.edu or JMORGAN@stthomas.edu. If you live in a state that has not yet reformed the substance use and mental health questions on the bar, then please contact Janet Stearns or David Jaffe (djaffe@wcl.american.edu) for strategies and advocacy resources.

[i] The only exception to the grading system was that Virginia, which Stearns and Jaffe assigned a B-, was included in the “C” category.

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

Jerome Organ is the Bakken 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


David Grenardo

Integrating Artificial Intelligence Tools into the Formation of Professional Identity

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

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

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

Here is the abstract of Professor Medill’s article:

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

A link to the article can be found here.

Should you have any questions or comments about the article, please feel free to contact Professor Medill at cmedill2@unl.edu.

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 benjmad@regent.edu.