Learning to Be Lawyers: Professional Identity and the Law School Curriculum

20 Pages Posted: 18 May 2011 Last revised: 17 Dec 2012

See all articles by Charlotte Alexander

Charlotte Alexander

Georgia State University – Institute for Insight; Georgia State University College of Law

Date Written: 2011


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.

Keywords: legal education, education, law school, Carnegie Report, professional identity, classroom teaching, classroom simulations, professionalism, professional responsibility

JEL Classification: I29, K00, K19, K40, K49

Suggested Citation

Alexander, Charlotte, Learning to Be Lawyers: Professional Identity and the Law School Curriculum (2011). Maryland Law Review, Vol. 70, 2011, Georgia State University College of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2011-21, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1844691

Charlotte Alexander (Contact Author)

Georgia State University – Institute for Insight ( email )

Tower Place 200, Third Floor
3348 Peachtree Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30326
United States

Georgia State University College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 4037
Atlanta, GA 30302-4037
United States

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