First Year Course on Professionalism and Professional Identity
In its 1996 report, Teaching and Learning Professionalism, the Professionalism Committee of the American Bar Association Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar recommended that law schools devote more class time to lawyer professionalism, beyond discussion of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The report called particularly for a course for first-year law students and predicted that most law schools would find such a dramatic change to the curriculum to be difficult.
In 2004, Mercer added a required course on professionalism to its first year curriculum. This course, named “The Legal Profession,” is not a course in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Mercer’s upper-level Law of Lawyering course covers that material. Rather, the first year course addresses broader themes about life in the legal profession. Those themes include, as the ABA report called for, emphasis on reflective moral judgment and the practice of law as a public service. The course now emphasizes the cultivation of professional identity, a deep sense of self in role that internalizes the character traits that promote excellence and professionalism in lawyers.
In 2005, Professor Longan received the National Award for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching Professionalism for his work on the course from the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Professionalism, the Conference of Chief Justices, and the Burge Endowment for Legal Ethics. Mercer Law School received the E. Smythe Gambrell Award from the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism in 2014 for one component of the Legal Profession course, the "Inside the Legal Profession" series of interviews with lawyer and judges.
Over the past seventeen years, we have experimented in the course in many ways. Some of the experiments proved successful. Others did not. We have recently published a book that is based upon our experiences and is required reading for our students: The Formation of Professional Identity: The Path from Student to Lawyer. More information about the book is available here.
To enable others to have the benefit of our experience, and to assist other schools in the development of similar instruction, Mercer maintains this web site about its course. A brief written overview of the purposes of the course and its methodologies in pdf format is available here. Links to the syllabus and related materials for the current version of the course appear below. We invite others to use these materials and to contact Professor Patrick Longan with any comments or questions. Professor Longan’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and his telephone number is (478) 301-2639. If you find the materials useful, please email Professor Longan so that we can track the use of these materials for University assessment purposes.