Developing Law Students' Professional Identities

University of La Verne Law Review, Forthcoming

51 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2015

Date Written: April 25, 2015


A key responsibility of law schools should be to help their students develop professional identities – “what it means to be a lawyer in today’s world.” As a law dean has declared, “A focus on ethical formation requires us to consider not just what lawyers should know and what they should do, but also who they should be in order to live out the best ideals of the profession. It requires us to envision our graduates as the lawyers they will be.” Similarly, a law professor has asserted, “law-learning is fundamentally a process of human development that must embrace the relationships and tensions between self, client, legal system, and society.” Likewise, two law professors have averred, “students must graduate with a sense of their own professional identity that will guide them to conduct themselves in a manner that conforms to the customs, values, and mores of the legal profession.”

However, while all law schools teach a course in legal ethics, only a few law schools go further and help their students cultivate their “selves” within the legal profession, despite the great need for such training. This article is an attempt to help law professors understand the fundamentals of legal professional identity and to show them how to help students create their own identities.

Part II of this article will examine the general literature on developing professional identity. Subtopics will include metacognition and professional identity, self-authoring as an element of professional identity, and self-efficacy and professional identity. Part III will show how to develop professional identity in law students through coaching, explicit teaching, reflection, and authentic learning. Finally, Part IV will discuss the elements of a professional identity class, such as competencies and skills that should be taught and possible substantive topics.

Keywords: profesional responsibility, professional identity, legal education, legal ethics

Suggested Citation

Fruehwald, Edwin S., Developing Law Students' Professional Identities (April 25, 2015). University of La Verne Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

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