Faculty teaching first-year lawyering skills classes, including legal research and writing, have long been part of the conversation surrounding law students’ professional development and professional identity formation. This is not to conflate the professionalism skills that are often learning objectives in our classrooms with the deeper, long-term process of professional identity formation that every successful young lawyer must engage in thoughtfully. However, our curricula have long offered deep and formative opportunities for socialization into the legal profession, from the simulations we devise reflective of law practice, to the direct feedback we provide on student performance, to the one-on-one mentoring relationships and space for reflection that are hallmarks of our courses. In addition, with ABA accreditors’ focus on assessment of institutional learning outcomes, many lawyering skills faculty have emerged as leaders at our institutions in efforts to define and assess school-wide learning goals, including those centering on professional skills and professional identity.
Recent revisions to ABA accreditation standards include a formal requirement that law schools offer “substantial opportunities to students for … the development of a professional identity.” The codification of an explicit professional identity formation requirement creates new opportunities for lawyering skills faculty—from highlighting and honing how these opportunities exist in our individual classrooms to assuming leaderships roles among teams of faculty and administrators devoted to identifying and expanding opportunities across a three-year curriculum.
In Law Student Professional Development and Formation: Bridging Law School, Student, and Employer Goals, Professors Neil W. Hamilton and Louis D. Bilionis provide a comprehensive blueprint for purposefully embedding professional identity formation throughout students’ law school experience. While intended to inform development of a school-wide curriculum, their proposals can also inform faculty, and particularly lawyering skills faculty, as they innovate at the individual course level. Readers will find the text a rich repository of clear explanations, summaries of empirical data, and practical suggestions for incorporating professional identity formation into individual courses as well as more widely across students’ entire law school experience.
I. Articulating professional development and formation objectives: empirical support for adding new learning outcomes, and strategies for helping students achieve them
The authors begin by providing a helpful definition of what a lawyers’ professional identity is. By explicitly articulating the objectives of law student professional identity formation and grounding them in empirical data on what client and employers need, Professors Hamilton and Bilionis provide faculty with a common vocabulary and purpose that extends beyond the broad, flexible language built into the ABA accreditation standard.
According to the authors, a lawyer’s professional identity formation requires understanding, acceptance, and internalization of:
ownership of a continuous professional development toward excellence at the competencies that clients, legal employers, and the legal system need;
deep responsibility and service orientation toward others, especially the client;
a client-centered problem-solving approach and good independent professional judgment that ground each student’s responsibility and service to the client; and
Importantly, as the authors demonstrate, these four “professional development and formation” (PD&F) goals are well supported by the literature of the professional development and formation of law students movement in legal education, including recommendations by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the American Association of Law Schools, and the American Bar Association. In Appendix A to Chapter 1, the authors provide a helpful summary of empirical studies that define foundational competencies that clients and legal employers need, and in which the four professional development formation goals are grounded. Importantly, these studies support the conclusion that the six traditional technical competencies already required by ABA accreditors don’t go far enough to capture additional competencies that client and legal employers need.
The authors also present a “Foundational Competencies Model” that “captures and conceptually organizes” a more robust model of the competencies client and legal employers need, embedding the professional development and formation competencies to fill pre-existing gaps. The Model is organized as a triangle. At the core are the PD&F goals of deep responsibility and service orientation to others, especially the client; and well-being practices. The base of the triangle includes the traditional technical competencies of law practice emphasized by law schools and reflected in ABA Accreditation Standard 302(a)-(c). The left side of the triangle emphasizes the foundational importance to clients of PD&F goal 3: client-centered problem solving and good professional judgment in serving the client. Finally, PD&F goal 4: ownership of professional development of essential competences, rounds out the right side.
In addition to providing a roadmap for educators to use as a basis for thoughtful school-wide curriculum design, one could imagine the value of presenting this model to students to help organize their own understanding of their socialization into the legal profession.
II. Best practices for encouraging professional identity formation: lessons for lawyering skills faculty
In addition to naming professional development and formation goals that can easily be incorporated into learning objectives across the law school experience, the authors provide helpful recommendations for helping students achieve them. One of the central theses of the book, of course, is that meaningful professional development and formation education requires purposeful planning and sequencing of learning and assessment across the three years of law school, and indeed, even before and after students’ official matriculation periods. As ABA Standard 303(b)(3) itself recognizes, in mandating “multiple opportunities” for professional identity development throughout the curriculum, no one faculty member or course should be operating in a vacuum.
However, as the authors themselves acknowledge, lawyering skills faculty have long been engaging in meaningful practices that can support students’ success in achieving professional development and formation outcomes. Lawyering skills faculty might find some of the authors’ suggestions effective in their own classrooms as they incorporate more explicit professional identity formation learning outcomes into the individual skills class, and as they engage in the broader process of mapping their courses to institutional learning outcomes.
The text covers myriad best practices of interest to lawyering skills faculty, but this review highlights a few key themes particularly useful for deepening professional identity development and building on successful past practices.
A. Understanding professional identity formation as a socialization process that occurs both inside and outside the classroom
The authors urge faculty to think outside of the role of the teacher in students’ professional socialization process. Other individuals and experiences will play key roles in students’ journeys, from interviewing employers to internship supervisors to moot court judges to law student peers. And even where faculty do play direct roles in the socialization process, we need to conceptualize our roles as “curators” of professional identity development opportunities and “coaches” as our students engage in the socialization process.
For many of us teaching first-year lawyering skills courses, we could immediately apply this lesson to deepen professional identity formation opportunities. In addition to the tradition of designing simulations which convey the practicalities and concerns of real-life practitioners, we could consider curating additional opportunities to connect students with important constituencies outside the classroom. For example, we might introduce podcasts that provide the insights and experiences of attorneys in the career areas are students are interested in. We can bring in practitioners to offer feedback on student work. We can partner with career services faculty to connect their work in our classrooms to the competencies that potential employers look for in interviewees and summer interns. We might design client interviewing simulations or practicums as key inflection points for students in the process of learning what lawyers do and how to be what lawyers are.
B. Continue incorporating opportunities for, and instruction and feedback on, reflection and self-assessment
Not surprisingly, the authors assert that “[r]eflection and self-assessment are powerful tools that should figure prominently” in any student’s development through the stages of professional socialization. By coaching students through meaningful reflection and self-assessment, at all stages of a curated experience, we deepen students’ learning and reinforce the foundational competency of student self-directedness.
As the authors themselves acknowledge, reflection and self-assessment have long been a hallmark in legal skills classrooms. But lawyering skills faculty will find useful guidance on strengthening assessment practices, including the authors’ definitions of core competencies of reflection, and even rubrics to help faculty assess the development of students’ reflective and self-assessment skills.
Faculty would also be well served to heed the authors’ advice to “go where [students] are” when helping them develop self-reflective practice skills. As with all skills, students will likely need more intensive coaching and feedback up front, with more opportunities for independent assessment later. First-year lawyering skills faculty also might think about connections that could be made with upper-level clinical courses and supervised externships by collaborating with upper-level skills faculty to develop common rubrics.
C. Connecting professional development and formation to the students personally
“The curriculum on the four PD&F goals,” the authors assert, “needs repeatedly to connect the dots so that each student sees that growing to a later stage on one of these learning outcomes helps the student reach their postgraduation goals.”
This seems one of the simplest best practices, and yet its importance cannot be understated. Many of us who teach lawyering skills in the first year have had students articulate their excitement over our courses because they can easily envision the connection between the practical skills we teach and their professional aspirations. In these courses, many students perceive, they are finally getting the chance to act like a lawyer and do things that lawyers do. Likewise, we can make the connection between professional development and formation competencies and their future practice careers even more explicit with the simple act of naming these competencies and engaging students in structured reflection and assessment of them, just as we do with other professional and technical skills we teach in our classes. We can also invite alumni practitioners and other constituencies we’ve identified as relevant to the development of students’ professional identity to discuss with students the relevance of these goals to real-life law practice.
III. Leadership opportunities for lawyering skills faculty
The book also provides practical wisdom for lawyering skills faculty interested in the broader work of implementing professional development and formation goals across the curriculum, reflecting the wisdom and savvy the authors have developed over their decades spent at the forefront of innovating in legal education, and particularly in the professional identity development space. Professors Hamilton and Bilionis counsel an approach starting with an assessment of “local conditions” at the law school, with an emphasis on starting with small steps using a multitude of “on-ramps.” Faculty are encouraged to start small, be innovative, and build a “coalition of the willing.” The book itself provides examples of thoughtfully coordinated courses and curricula at a few law schools, and these can serve as starting points for proposals for more connected curricula. Similarly, lawyering skills faculty willing to do so can emerge as leaders by running pilot initiatives in existing and new courses, and keeping other institutional stakeholders informed. As the authors themselves suggest, for those “willing to innovate … [t]he timing has never been better.”
This review will use the term “lawyering skills faculty” to broadly include faculty teaching legal research and writing courses as well as other foundational lawyering skills courses.
Neil W. Hamilton & Louis D. Bilionis, Law Student Professional Development and Formation: Bridging Law School, Student, and Employer Goals 31-32 (2022).
Am. Bar Ass’n Section of Legal Educ. & Admissions to the Bar, Revisions to the 2021-2022 ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools (February 2022) [hereinafter ABA Standards].
Id. at 2-3.
Hamilton & Bilionis, supra note 2, at 28-29.
Interpretation 303–5 defines “professional identity” as an exploration of “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.” ABA Standards, supra note 3, at 3.
Hamilton & Bilionis, supra note 2, at 1-2.
Id. at 2-3, n. 3
Id. at 11. These additional competencies include: (i) superior client focus and responsiveness to the client; (ii) exceptional understanding of the client’s context and business; (iii) effective communication skills, including listening and knowing your audience; (iv) creative problem-solving and good professional judgment; (v) ownership over continuous professional development; (vi) teamwork and collaboration; (vii) strong work ethic; (viii) conscientiousness and attention to detail; (ix) grit and resilience; (x) organization and management of legal work; and (xi) an entrepreneurial mindset, particularly when serving client in changing markets.
Id. at 11-13.
See id. at 39-40.
Id. at 46
Id. at 38.
Id. at 40-42.
Hamilton & Bilionis, supra note 2, at 73.
Id. at 73.
See id. at 46.
See id. at 72-75, 112-17.
Id. at 70-72.
At Boston College Law School, for example, lawyering skills professors guide students through a supervised reflection during the first in-person memo conference, followed by increasingly individual reflection opportunities, including written self-assessments of research skills and self-assessment of writing using checklists and rubrics.
Hamilton & Bilionis, supra note 2 at 89.
See id. at 119, 121-22.
Id. at 121-22.
See id. at 126-34.
Id. at 157.