American law schools are paying increased attention to the professional identity formation of their students. The trend should grow now that the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has revised its accreditation standards to prescribe that “a law school shall provide substantial opportunities to students for … (3) the development of a professional identity.”
As law school faculty and staff proceed, professors who teach traditional doctrinal classes may doubt they can do much if anything differently in their courses to support professional identity formation. Questions about course coverage and their own competency to focus on professional identity formation understandably arise and may give professors pause.
This article illustrates how purposeful focus on professional identity formation in a doctrinal course can be done to enrich the educational experience for students. Rather than detracting from the doctrinal work, professional identity formation features can be a multiplier. They can be leveraged to promote the doctrinal learning and the sharpening of cognitive skills traditionally expected in the course, while also contributing positively to the student’s development
as a professional in other ways. Importantly, doing so is not difficult and requires no special expertise of the professor.
Part of a symposium exploring pedagogies to support professional identity formation, the article reports on the author’s personal experience since 2016 teaching a basic constitutional law course with professional identity formation as a central feature. The reader will find a model that has delivered positive results for students and the professor alike, and which any professor can employ in any typical doctrinal course. In addition to reviewing strategic considerations, the
article digs into the details of what to do and how to do it. It identifies and walks through various components that can be introduced to accent professional identity formation concepts while advancing traditional learning objectives. The components are easily adaptable to suit the needs and preferences of the professor, and faculty interested in experimenting can select one or more for a test run in their classes.
Louis Bilionis, Leveraging Professional Identity Formation in the Doctrinal Law School Class, __ St. Thomas L. Rev. __ (forthcoming).