Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Fostering Law Student Professional Identity In A Time Of Instability And Strife

Neil Hamilton (St. Thomas; Google Scholar) & Louis Bilionis (Cincinnati), Fostering Law Student Professional Identity In A Time Of Instability And Strife:

BilionisRecent posts in Legal Evolution have explored the country’s political and economic instability and social strife, theories for national decline, and the special roles and responsibilities of the legal profession to address these challenges. See Posts 312319321 (exploring duties of lawyers in the present age).  This post focuses on recent accreditation changes in legal education that, we hope, will help new generations of law students internalize the profession’s special roles and responsibilities and thus more effectively address our pressing social and political challenges.

In February 2022, the ABA revised Accreditation Standard 303(b) to add that “a law school shall provide substantial opportunities to students for: …. (3) the development of a professional identity.”  And a new subsection (c) has been added to Standard 303, providing that “[a] law school shall 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 again before graduation.”  Am. Bar Ass’n Sec. of Legal Educ. and Admissions to the Bar, Report to the House of Delegates at 4 (adopted Feb. 14, 2022).  New “Interpretations” accompany the revisions to Standard 303, including two that provide guidance on the meaning of professional identity and thereby illuminate the relationship between the revisions.


  1. New Interpretation 303-5 states that “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 a professional identity should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice. Because developing a professional identity requires reflection and growth over time, students should have frequent opportunities during each year of law school and in a variety of courses and co-curricular and professional development activities.” Id at 5.
  2. New Interpretation 303-6 provides “the importance of cross-cultural competence to professionally responsible representation and the obligation of lawyers to promote a justice system that provides equal access and eliminates bias, discrimination, and racism in the law should be among the values and responsibilities of the legal profession to which students are introduced.” Id.

Section I of this post focuses on the important threshold task of clearly defining professional identity. Section II explores how innovator and early adopter law schools and legal employers can build a bridge for students (and new lawyers) to grow toward later stages of professional identity. Section III discusses how the “skill of reflection” is central to each student’s (and lawyer’s) professional identity.  Finally, a short appendix collects the traditional technical skills that law school emphasize (Table 1) and the competencies that empirical studies show that clients and legal employers needs.

NB: These ideas were initially worked out in an open-access Cambridge University Press book that we have authored, titled Law Student Professional Development and Formation: Bridging Law School, Student, and Employer Goals (2022).  The book offers a framework, guiding principles, and practical suggestions for bringing purposeful support of law student professional identity formation into the American law school. Likewise, we believe these same principles can guide legal employers’ professional development efforts to foster lawyer professional identity. Thus, this post also borrows ideas from our recent articles in the May and June 2022 issues of NALP’s PDQ. ...

There are innovators and early adopters with law schools, firm legal employers, organizational client law departments, and professional organizations who are deeply concerned about the responsibilities of the legal profession to address the current challenges that our society faces. The Standard 303 accreditation revisions offer a major opportunity to work together to help the next generations of lawyers to internalize and live into a professional identity that includes the needed commitments, capacities, and skills to make a difference in addressing our society’s challenges.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:  Hamilton & Bilionis: Law Student Professional Development and Formation: Bridging Law School, Student, and Employer Goals

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