First Year Course on Professional Identity
In February 2022, the American Bar Association approved an amendment to its Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools to require law schools to provide substantial opportunities for the development of professional identity. Since 2004, Mercer Law School has required all first-year students to complete a three-credit course on professional identity, known as “The Legal Profession.” As schools develop or improve their programs on professional identity, we hope that this page and our experience will prove useful.
When we started teaching The Legal Profession, there were no texts available on the subject. After years of teaching the course, three of us, Patrick Longan, Daisy Hurst Floyd, and Timothy Floyd, published The Formation of Professional Responsibility: The Path from Student to Lawyer. We now use it as our primary text for the course.
In the book, we define professional identity as a deep sense of self in role. Chapter One introduces students to the concept of professional identity and sets forth the six virtues that, according to the legal profession itself, all lawyers ideally should cultivate. These virtues are professional competence, fidelity to the client, fidelity to the law, public-spiritedness, civility, and practical wisdom. It then summarizes the conditions necessary for professional identity development through the structure of the Four Component Model of moral behavior developed by psychologist James Rest. Chapter Two explores in depth the question of motivation to cultivate professional identity and draws upon the modern work on virtue ethics of Alasdair MacIntyre and upon the tenets of Self-Determination Theory, a branch of positive psychology. Later chapters discuss each of the six virtues in depth. The final chapter explores professional identity and the future of the delivery of legal services.
The Legal Profession course includes four primary methodologies. The students are introduced to the concept and components of professional identity through a series of lectures that are mostly tied to chapters in The Formation of Professional Identity. Then the students participate in small groups of about twenty-five students each in the discussion of a series of increasingly complex problems and dilemmas. These discussions require the students to exercise each of the six virtues. Meanwhile, the students have weekly writing assignments related to the development of professional identity, many of which are reflective exercises either on assigned readings or the weekly small group discussions. Finally, the first-year class as a whole attends a series of interviews of a diverse roster of distinguished lawyers and judges who provide insight into different parts of the profession and serve as exemplars for students as they begin to craft their professional identities. This is the “Inside the Legal Profession” series. You can see the 2022 Syllabus and list of assignments by clicking here.
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 the "Inside the Legal Profession" series.
We hope you find this information and the related materials helpful. We welcome questions and comments about our approach to teaching professional identity. You can reach Professor Longan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (478) 301-2639.