Self-Directedness and Professional Formation: Connecting Two Critical Concepts in Legal Education
32 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2017 Last revised: 20 Mar 2020
Date Written: June 4, 2018
The authors performed original research in two separate surveys--one designed to ask a large number of law students their primary goals, and the other seeking to have students self-assess their degree of self-directedness. The first survey, of a large number of students at a variety of law schools across the nation, showed that students chose--after passing the bar exam--the goal of "meaningful employment" as the goal they would most like to achieve by six months after graduation. This finding is significant because although another choice in the survey allowed students to choose the goal of "sufficient income" to pay debts and for living, students still chose the "meaningful employment" option as a more important goal than seeking income. The second survey, again of a large number of students at a variety of school across the country, had students self-assess the degree to which they were "self-directed." Even accounting for the social desirability bias known to be common in surveys of this variety, a large number of students rated themselves as not self-directed. The authors took the results of these surveys and discuss their implications. Students want meaningful employment. Nevertheless, many if not most have not recognized the need to make a plan to pursue such employment. Most students have not identified the areas of law that best match their strengths and values. Moreover, most students do not have an intentional plan for exploring roles in the legal profession that would match their strengths, values, and interests. Only a small number of students have a written plan. The authors explore how law schools can help students in seeking their goal by cultivating self-direction and development of a plan to move toward their goal. The article discusses initiatives at a number of law schools, such as implementing new courses and coaching of students by faculty, as efforts to help students in this regard. The authors see the development of self-directed behavior, or self-regulated behavior, as a component of the development of each law student's professional identity. Recommendations for further action and further research are included.
Keywords: legal education, law, lawyers, law students, goals, self-directed learning, self-regulated behavior, professional identity formation
JEL Classification: I20, I25, I29, K10, K19, K30, K39, K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation