Professional Identity Formation, Leadership and Exploration of Self
University of Missouri-Kansas City Law Review
16 Pages Posted: 29 Dec 2020 Last revised: 27 Jan 2021
Date Written: 2020
The value-neutral approach to legal professionalism that prioritizes the duty to zealously advocate for clients within the bounds of the law, sometimes with disregard for individual values and morals, has resulted in a decoupling of one’s individual values from our understanding of the values of the legal professional. Such detachment of personal from professional values has resulted in a dissonance that impedes professional identity formation by failing to provide students and lawyers with the opportunity to understand how their individual values fit within the framework of professional values. The importance of professional identity formation as a concept that should be given greater focus in legal education is well-supported by the Carnegie Report and a wealth of research stewarded by The Holloran Center at the University at St. Thomas. Such research shows that supporting the growth of professional identity formation increases lawyer effectiveness. There are various stages of professional identity formation in members of the legal profession, the characteristics of which include: an internalized moral code characterized by deep responsibility to others, particularly the client; integrity/honesty; internalized standards of excellence at lawyering skills; ongoing solicitation of feedback and self-reflection; independent professional judgment and counsel to the client; adherence to ethical codes; and public service. Many of these characteristics of professional identity formation are also the focus of the study of leadership, but that discipline offers further insights into how to marry personal and professional values, which, at times, appears lacking in the formation of lawyer professional identity. Experts in leadership, such as Marshall Ganz, have suggested that by exploring our “story of self” — the “challenges we have faced, choices we have made, and what we have learned from the outcomes” — we can communicate our values and inspire others to act.
In this Article, we propose that one way in which law schools can address the disconnect between one’s internal values and the values of the legal profession is to explore established leadership principles, such as emotional intelligence and ethical decision making, in the context of exploring one’s “story of self.” This Article, through a careful description and analysis of “Lawyers as Leaders: The Practice of Leadership,” a course that draws from the study of leadership in business and executive training programs, will explore the ways that the lessons of leadership development, in particular using the story-of-self frame, help improve the formation of professional identity in law students, which serves as a strong foundation upon which such students can further shape and refine their identities throughout their careers. In “Lawyers as Leaders,” we reinforce self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-direction as tools to develop values of fairness, honesty and trust. Through readings, simulations, and group projects centered on teamwork, communication and the exploration of self, students are required to reflect upon and assess their deeply personal values, based upon their individual backgrounds and experiences, and connect those values to the profession and their responsibilities to their colleagues, clients, organizations and society as a whole.
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