Learning to be Lawyers: Professional Identity and the Law School Curriculum
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Maryland Law Review
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The Carnegie Report faults American legal education for focusing exclusively on doctrine and analytical skills and neglecting the formation of professional identity. According to the Report, law schools can fix this problem by enabling students to “encounter appealing representations of professional ideals, connect in a powerful way with engaging models of ethical commitment within in the profession, and reflect on their [own] emerging professional identity in relation to those ideals and models.” The Report identifies pro bono work, clinics, and externships as sites for this sort of learning, where students can interact with members of the profession and reflect on the models of professionalism that they encounter. Taking the Carnegie Report’s charge as a starting point, this article proposes an additional model for integrating a focus on professional identity into the law school curriculum. It profiles an experimental law school course that combined field work observations of practicing attorneys with in-class simulations of the work of a small law firm. The course was quite successful in prompting students to engage in an inquiry into what it is to be a lawyer and what kinds of lawyers they wanted to be. One student commented in a course evaluation, for example, that the course allowed him to see “a new vision for what being a practicing lawyer can be.” That this sort of exposure to professional exemplars and reflection on professional identity was possible in a non-clinic course was an exciting discovery, suggesting new directions for curricular design as law schools continue to meet the challenges of the Carnegie Report.
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