Making It Explicit: Introducing and Engaging Students in Professional Identity Development
Clinical courses have long focused on developing the professional identities of students. The introspective curriculum of clinical and externship seminars departs substantially from that taught in much of law school, focusing on the development of professional skills, values, and self-reflection.
Even though developing students’ professional identities is a significant objective of experiential programs, we do not always explicitly introduce “professional identity” or “professional identity formation” as a focus of our courses. In part, this hesitance may be because these concepts lack uniform definition in the legal community. Even though the Carnegie Report urged a focus on professional identity development over a decade ago, legal education on the whole has been slow to explain what these terms encompass and to adopt related practices.
As clinicians, we play a significant role in helping our students figure out who they want to be as legal professionals. This role is particularly valuable in today’s environment where students face worrying aspects of our profession, including a sluggish job market and an increasing awareness of the mental health problems associated with the profession. This presentation will focus on improving our understanding and ability to engage our students in their professional identity development. We will also discuss ways we can we better communicate and collaborate about this process with our law school communities at large.
We will start our session by leading a short presentation and related discussion about the definition of professional identity development, drawing from legal sources (for example, the Carnegie report, and the academic work of a number of scholars, including, Daisy and Tim Floyd, John Bliss, Neil Hamilton, Marty Katz), from the training used in other professional disciplines (medicine, social work), and from psychological research. This portion of the session will take approximately 25-30 minutes and will involve some small group interaction.
Next, we will turn to clinicians’ own seminars and examine strategies we employ in fostering professional identity development in our students. We will offer three concrete activities that seek to create buy-in and engage students in professional identity development.