Ethical Professional (Trans)Formation: Themes from Interviews About Professionalism with Exemplary Lawyers
Santa Clara Law Review, Vol. 54, 2012
50 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2011 Last revised: 6 Sep 2012
Date Written: August 21, 2012
This Article reports on an empirical study of professionalism with a diverse group of lawyers considered by their peers as exemplary professionals across a range of law firms and organizations in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We frame this study with the rationale for why a paradigm shift in legal education is necessary in order to focus on each student’s ethical professional identity. We conclude with the implications of this research for legal education. We used in-depth interview methodologies from lifespan developmental psychology. Our sample consisted of six men and six women, ranging in age from mid-40s to early-80s, using a modified random sampling procedure involving oversampling underrepresented groups. Asked to reflect on how the meaning of professionalism had changed over their careers, the lawyers reported that their understanding had gradually shifted from an external definition based on rules and existing norms, to a definition consisting of greater internalization of a moral core related to legal practice. They reported internalizing the habit of ongoing reflection, and discussed how facing significant life or work challenges fostered growth. They discussed the importance of giving independent and honest counsel to clients. The overall developmental profile we found in our study replicates findings of a similar study of senior military professionals at West Point Military Academy. Our finding of later stage identity development profiles contrasts with earlier developmental stage profiles predominant in our initial studies of early career lawyers and law students, lending support for this empirical approach to moral identity development research and curriculum development. Our findings suggest how law schools can foster later stages of moral identity development, self-transformation, or what we term as transformational professionalism.
Keywords: ethical professional identity, lawyer identity, legal education, adult development, Kegan
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