'Teaching' Formation of Professional Identity

37 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2012 Last revised: 1 Jul 2015

See all articles by David I. C. Thomson

David I. C. Thomson

University of Denver, Sturm College of Law

Date Written: November 5, 2012


The Carnegie Report criticized legal education for, among other failings, not being intentional about the formation of professional identity among its students. As we develop and extend our pedagogy for professional ethics instruction, we should be explicit about what we mean. In recent discussions, the terms “Professionalism” and “Professional Identity” have been used interchangeably. While there is some overlap between them, each contains components that are distinct from the other.

This article seeks to provide a guide to what professional identity formation is and what legal educators are doing, and could do in the future, to foster this sort of professional formation in their courses and curricula. This article offers in Part I some background and history of the topic. This supports a new definition provided in the article for lawyer professional identity formation. In Part II the article describes what some schools are doing to “teach” formation of professional identity, and argues that there are some significant limitations to those efforts. Part III argues that teaching law through simulations can provide learning opportunities that foster professional identity formation but that these learning opportunities can be added to any course. This section provides a framework that is applicable across the curriculum, by describing a combination of guidance steps that ideally take place in a particular order, which the article terms a “Guidance Sequence for Formation of Professional Identity (GSFPI).” Finally, Part IV describes a particular course in civil discovery law that illustrates how the concepts and arguments made in the article can be applied.

Suggested Citation

Thomson, David I. C., 'Teaching' Formation of Professional Identity (November 5, 2012). 27 Regent U. L. Rev. 303 (2015), U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-45, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2171321 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2171321

David I. C. Thomson (Contact Author)

University of Denver, Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States

HOME PAGE: http://tinyurl.com/DThomsonBio

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics