Transitions Unexplored: A Proposal for Professional Identity Formation Following the First Year

Clinical Law Review, forthcoming Fall 2022

57 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2022 Last revised: 16 Aug 2022

Date Written: February 4, 2022


Like students in other professional fields, law students experience significant transitions during their education. These transitions consist of intense learning periods associated with major change as students develop their professional identities. These challenges and experiences allow students to develop and internalize the skills needed to be a successful lawyer. Law schools are in a unique position to create and reinforce structures to help students navigate these transitions and maximize professional identity formation. This paper will detail some of these transitional challenges and provide suggestions for law schools to further support students during transitions—most notably during the summer following their 1L year.

Summer employment is a key transition point and a crucial opportunity for professional development and growth. The challenge for law schools is that summer employment falls outside their curriculum and oversight. But even when such transformational experiences occur outside of the traditional curriculum, law schools can still prepare students to maximize their development and internalization of professional values by utilizing effective pedagogy for professional identity formation. Externship pedagogy uniquely aligns with professional identity formation. By implementing common externship pedagogical tools, such as goal setting, reflection, and skills assessment, law schools can help students maximize development of professional identity in real world practice settings, particularly over the summer after 1L year. This article proposes that law schools implement professional identity formation programs comprised of key externship pedagogical tools and provides suggestions for creating stakeholder buy-in for such programs.

Keywords: professional identity formation, transitions, professionalism, externships, experiential education, clinical legal education, legal education, legal education reform, accreditation

Suggested Citation

Bess, Megan, Transitions Unexplored: A Proposal for Professional Identity Formation Following the First Year (February 4, 2022). Clinical Law Review, forthcoming Fall 2022, Available at SSRN: or

Megan Bess (Contact Author)

UIC School of Law ( email )

300 South State Street
Chicago, IL 60604
United States
3124272737 (Phone)

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