May 2024 — Professor Emerita Laurel Terry recently attended the “Workshop on Professional Identity Formation in the Professional Responsibility Course” held at St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis. Although “Professional Identity” has been an important topic for many years, it is receiving more attention lately because of changes to ABA Standard 303(b)(3). This section of the ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools was added in February 2022 and requires ABA-accredited law schools to “provide substantial opportunities to students for… the development of a professional identity.”

Holloran CenterThe St. Thomas Professional Identity Workshop was sponsored by the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions. The Workshop hosts were Professors Neil Hamilton and Jerry Organ who have been leaders in encouraging law schools to help their students develop their professional identities. (Professor Neil Hamilton is the author of the “Roadmap” book which Penn State Dickinson Law students have been encouraged to read in their 1L “Contexts” course.)

Professor Terry reports that there were two reasons why she attended this Workshop, even though she retired in July 2021 and no longer teaches the Professional Responsibility course. First, Professor Terry is a co-author of a Professional Responsibility casebook. The next edition of the casebook is expected in 2027 and will incorporate additional “Professional Identity” material. Second, Professor Terry wanted to share with Workshop attendees and her casebook coauthors some of her experiences teaching the 1L required Penn State Dickinson Law “Contexts and Competencies” course. (Although the “Contexts” course has evolved over the years and currently is coordinated by Associate Dean Jeff Dodge, an early version of this course was featured at the 2018 NALP [National Association for Law Placement] education conference.)

For those who were not familiar with the concept of “Professional Identity,” Professor Terry offered the following explanation in her 2019 1L “Contexts” course introduction document:

Most, if not all, of you came to law school in order to become a lawyer. But what does it mean to be a lawyer? Are there qualities and characteristics that lawyers have in common? What is the significance, if any, of the fact that lawyers are considered to be part of a “profession”? And since all lawyers are considered to be part of a single “legal profession,” does this mean that all of the work performed by lawyers is the same?

These are some of the questions that you will study in this course. The course has been inspired, in part, by a 2007 Carnegie Foundation report called Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law. This report identified three “apprenticeships” and concluded that U.S. law schools were doing an excellent job with the first “apprenticeship,” an acceptable job with respect to the second apprenticeship, and a poor job with respect to the third apprenticeship. The first apprenticeship is the “cognitive apprenticeship.” Among other things, this first apprenticeship teaches law students to “think like a lawyer.” The second is the “apprenticeship of skills and practice” in which law students learn how to use and apply the skills of being a lawyer. Penn State Dickinson Law adopted its 12-credit experiential education graduation requirement in order to ensure that you have a solid grounding in this second apprenticeship. The third apprenticeship is the “apprenticeship of professional identity and values.” As one of the Carnegie Report’s coauthors observed, this “third “apprenticeship” is the one that seems most absent and least well understood within the legal education universe of today.”

Practicing Law in a Global World: Contexts & Competencies is designed to address this third apprenticeship. You will read about, hear from, and speak to, lawyers who work in many different practice settings or “contexts.” Our guest speakers will describe their jobs and the “competencies” that they believe makes one a good lawyer. Through the reading materials, the assignments, and the guest speakers, you will have the opportunity to learn about, and reflect on, the professional identity, values, and competencies that make up the 21st Century lawyer.

The material covered in this class should be useful in several different ways. First, because lawyers are part of a profession, certain aspects of your work life will be controlled by professional rules. Many of these rules are largely shaped by the legal profession, rather than by legislatures or others. This course provides an opportunity to learn more about the legal profession as a whole. At the conclusion of the course, you will have a better understanding of the systemic issues (and pressure points) connected to various practice settings. As a result, you will be in a better position to understand and influence regulations that affect lawyers’ professional lives and the lives of their clients. A second reason why knowledge of practice area similarities and differences may be useful is because developments that occur in one practice setting may migrate to other practice settings. For example, the phenomenon of detailed itemized legal bills which started in large law firms has now migrated to virtually all areas of private law practice. Thus, understanding practice settings other than your own should help you anticipate and respond to developments you may face. Third, this course provides you with the opportunity to learn more about lawyers with whom (or against whom) you may work. Finally, for those students who are not yet sure of the “context” in which they would like to work, this course will provide an opportunity to learn more about the available professional options and to consider whether a particular professional setting would be a good “fit.”

One of the documents distributed to attendees before the 2023 St. Thomas Workshop was a law review article by Prof. Jerry Organ entitled “Thirty Reflection Questions to Help Each Student Find Meaningful Employment and Develop an Integrated Professional Identity.” In 2017, Professor Terry had written a “Jotwell” review of this article (and discussed the Penn State Dickinson Law 1L course) in an essay entitled “Looking For Competencies in All of the Right Places.” Professor Terry was pleased to have the opportunity to attend the 2023 St. Thomas Workshop and discuss these ideas with her Professional Responsibility colleagues.

Professor Emerita Laurel S. Terry, who held the inaugural H. Laddie Montague, Jr. Chair in Law and was Dickinson Law’s inaugural Associate Dean for Research and New Faculty Development, is a three-time Fulbright recipient who writes and speaks about the impact of globalization on the legal profession, especially with respect to regulatory issues. Her scholarship has identified emerging issues for the legal profession and urged stakeholder engagement, new initiatives, and regulatory reform. In addition to speaking at academic and professional conferences, she has been invited to speak about her scholarship to organizations that include the Conference of Chief Justices, the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the National Organization of Bar Counsel, the National Conference of Bar Presidents, the CCBE, which represents EU’s legal profession and legal regulators, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, the International Institute of Law Association Chief Executives, the International Bar Association, and the International Conference of Legal Regulators.