Transitioning from Student to Lawyer: Infusing Professional Identity Formation into the Required Curriculum – Holloran Center Professional Identity Implementation Blog
David Grenardo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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