Assessing Professionalism: Measuring Progress in the Formation of an Ethical Professional Identity

44 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2008 Last revised: 1 Sep 2008

See all articles by Neil W. Hamilton

Neil W. Hamilton

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)

Date Written: 2008


The Carnegie Foundation's 2007 study of legal education, Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Practice of Law, observes that "Across the otherwise disparate-seeming educational experiences of seminary, medical school, nursing school, engineering school, and law school, [we] identified a common goal: professional education aims to initiate novice practitioners to think, to perform, and to conduct themselves (that is to act morally and ethically) like professionals." This article focuses on the third goal of legal education - to help law students to conduct themselves morally and ethically as professionals. Carnegie calls this the apprenticeship of professional identity formation or the apprenticeship of professionalism.

This essay outlines why a clear definition of professionalism is important, and notes the failure of scholarship in both law and medicine to provide a clear definition. The article proposes a definition consisting of five elements of an ethical professional identity. The article then provides criteria by which measures to assess the professionalism of a student or practicing lawyer should be evaluated, and then applies those criteria to current tools we have available to assess student and practicing lawyer professionalism. The article recommends the development of new professionalism assessment tools tailored specifically for the legal profession.

Keywords: Legal education, professionalism, professional identity, professional responsibility, legal ethics, lawyer ethics

Suggested Citation

Hamilton, Neil W., Assessing Professionalism: Measuring Progress in the Formation of an Ethical Professional Identity (2008). University of St. Thomas Law Journal, Vol. 5, 2008, U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-10, Available at SSRN:

Neil W. Hamilton (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States

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