Conversations on Professional Identity

I mentioned in my post on “Curriculum Reform: Best Processes?’ that one of our curriculum committee “accomplishments” this year was initiating conversations.

Our conversation on Profession Identity took place during a very busy week for faculty and at the same time as the Student Bar Association election speeches. So our conversation involved less than thirty people. What it lacked in size, it made up for in content.

We started by asking folks to do a short writing exercise about what the idea of professional identity meant to them. That immediately surfaced the fact that participants were inclined to go two distinctly different directions: the intellectual dimension of professional identity — specialized knowledge — and the affective dimension of professional identity — values and sense of oneself as a lawyer.  Surfacing different understandings of professional identity was helpful, because it kept us from talking past each other.

We heard lots a great comments emphasizing the need to limit the volume of reading and to create space and time for reflection, the value of our extensive clinic opportunities and the importance of making them available to all students, and so on.

The observation from this conversation that has stuck with me the most came from my colleague Dwight Drake. (He teaches primarily in our LLM tax program, but also teaches antitrust and business planning to J.D. students. Dwight was the managing partner of a local law firm and a successful businessman. He’s also a fabulous lecturer anD a very creative teacher.)

Dwight observed that many of our students are very assignment driven. They want to know what’s expected and they’ll try hard to meet those expectations. But they don’t yet think of themselves as budding professionals who need to have their own standards for performance and their own agenda of skills to develop.

Doesn’t that capture why we need to integrate “professional formation” — the building of a professional identity — into legal education?

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