Every fall, judges from across Illinois issue a “live like a lawyer” challenge to incoming law students as part of the Commission on Professionalism’s orientation program. Each student starting law school in Illinois has a chance to ask themselves that crucial question of professional identity: “What does it mean to live like a lawyer?”
For many of us practicing, that’s a question we did not traditionally discuss in law school. And yet, that question now keeps many of us awake late in night as we reflect on our careers and consider what the future holds.
That’s the reason we suggest Illinois judges issue that challenge to law students. We believe that every law student should consider what it means to have the professional identity of a lawyer before they even read their first case. And we are hardly the first to think so.
Your professor will help you see what it means to think like a lawyer. I encourage you to challenge yourself to develop a vision of what it means to live like a lawyer.
The Carnegie Report
Almost ten years ago, a group of non-profit educators released what’s come to be known as the law school “Carnegie Report.” The report, actually titled, Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law, was part of a series of professional education reform reports produced by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
In all its reports, Carnegie broke down professional education into three apprenticeships – cognitive (in the case of law schools, the case-based first-year curriculum), practical (working with clients through clinics and externships) and identity (the ethical-social realm of lawyering). A successfully integrated curriculum combines all three apprenticeships, intellectual, practical and professional. And that last, the professional identity part, is crucial.
An Apprenticeship of “Professional Identity”
According to the Carnegie Report, professional identity is the “catalyst” for an integrated legal education. It teaches students “the skills and inclinations, along with the ethical standards, social roles, and responsibilities, that mark the professional.” It “introduces students to the purposes and attitudes that are guided by the values for which the professional community is responsible.” It provides a “wide, ethically sensitive perspective on the technical knowledge and skill that the practice of law requires.”
Most importantly, for many of us, learning professional identity can help us answer that eternal question, “Why am I a lawyer?” It forces us to answer, “Who am I as a member of this profession?” “What am I like, and what do I want to be like in my professional role?” and “What place do ethical-social values have in my core sense of professional identity?”
Do We Still Need to “Think Like A Lawyer”?
The Carnegie Report doesn’t discount the importance of “thinking like a lawyer.” On the contrary, the Carnegie Report recognizes the enormous benefit of teaching thousands of disparate students, within months, how to completely transform their way of thinking: seeing both sides of legal arguments, sifting through facts and precedents, using precise language, and understanding the applications and conflicts of legal rules.
At the same time, the Carnegie Report argues, what’s missing from the case-dialogue method is “thinking through the social consequences or ethical aspects of the conclusions.” Put more bluntly,
Being told repeatedly that such matters fall, as they do, outside the precise and orderly “legal landscape,” students often conclude that they are secondary to what really counts for success in law school—and in legal practice. In their all-consuming first year, students are told to set aside their desire for justice. They are warned not to let their moral concerns or compassion for the people in the cases they discuss cloud their legal analyses.
As the Carnegie Report concludes, what legal education needs to do is “combine the elements of legal professionalism—conceptual knowledge, skill and moral discernment—into the capacity for judgment guided by a sense of professional responsibility.” That’s what a successful legal education that meets all three apprenticeships would achieve.
Teaching Professional Identity in Law School
The Carnegie Report’s challenge to learn the ethical and social ramifications underlying our profession, and the professional identity we all share as lawyers, is precisely what we talk about at the Commission on Professionalism. We teach that law is a higher calling, a profession. Professionalism is what sets lawyers apart from, say, online legal service sellers. Or, eventually, robots. In a world where legal services can be disassembled and reassembled like a factory line, we need to teach our young lawyers what it means to have a professional identity as a lawyer.
Law students need to learn about loyalty, competence, diligence and good judgment to their clients. They need to learn about fairness, integrity and civility to their opposing counsel. They need to learn about respect, candor and courtesy to the courts. And most importantly, they need to learn about our service to the legal system, as an “officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.”
At the same time, law students have their own perspective to offer as well. See, what’s key about professionalism is realizing that what we think of as professionalism, and the universal nature of it, is seen through the lens of our own experiences, our own history, our own peers and superiors. One of the points raised by the Carnegie Report is, as the bar has expanded, the demographics of lawyers and the nation have changed, and the demands from clients have transformed our work. It therefore becomes more important than ever for the legal profession to identify its universal ideals. We need to continue teaching the lessons of professionalism to the younger generations, and through those younger generations, learn how professionalism is evolving.
How Law Schools in Illinois Teach “Professional Identity”
When I started researching the Carnegie Report, I thought that law schools would have focused many of their recent changes on clinical and experiential work, and fewer changes on professional identity. I should have known that our Illinois law schools would have focused on all three. The revamped curricula enshrine the change of what it means to a well-rounded law student and new lawyer. Here’s only a sampling of what our Illinois law schools are doing for their first-year students, many of which the Commission has been fortunate to participate in:
- Northern Illinois University has a mandatory first-year course, Introduction to the Legal Profession: History, Culture and Values, that introduces students to the professional role of the American lawyer, by reflecting on the “values, skills and qualities they will need to be ethical and effective members of the profession.”
- Loyola has a mandatory Civility in the Profession program for its first year students, and required professionalism programming for its extern students.
- Kent offers the PRAXIS Certificate program to its students, focused on how “new lawyers can position and market their unique value while adhering to the highest standards of ethical conduct,” along with several “experiential” professional responsibility courses, in advocacy, business, and general practice.
- The University of Illinois offers Fundamentals of Legal Practice as a required course for 1Ls, covering topics such as professional communication and client service.
- John Marshall offers its Professional Development Series, focused on providing 1Ls with the professional “soft skills” necessary to succeed. John Marshall also continues to offer its Justice Anne Burke Professionalism Luncheon Program for all students and alumni.
- The University of Chicago has its ongoing Keystone Professionalism & Leadership Program, its more recent Kapnick Leadership Development Initiative, and its real-world case law focused Professional Ethics Program, developed with the assistance of outside professionals.
- Northwestern offers the Lawyer as Problem Solver program for its first year and LLM students, where students discuss client counselling, conflict management, communication, and emotional intelligence.
- DePaul provides the Preparing to Practice course which introduces 1Ls to the legal profession and provides an overview of critical professionalism skills.
- SIU offers a Professional Development Program for all its first year students where students learn about the legal profession and their responsibilities as part of that profession. In its description, SIU notes that “it fulfills the [Carnegie Report’s] call for greater professionalism education.
Live Like A Lawyer
The Carnegie Report, and the changes that have followed it, have clearly demonstrated the need for teaching professional identity to law students. As the Report states, if we sacrifice teaching professional identity, we sacrifice much of the meaning behind the law that we teach:
[L]aw is a tradition of social practice that includes particular habits of mind, as well as a distinctive ethical engagement with the world. Learning the law thus loses a key dimension when it fails to provide grounding in an understanding of legal practice from the inside.
The legal profession has long shaped American politics and justice. We are the protectors, enforcers, deliberators, and arbiters of justice. Our law students will next lead this profession and this country. Yes, they need to think like a lawyer. At the same time, they also need to keep integrity, ethics, justice, and service at the core of what they do. In so doing, they can answer the life-long challenge to truly live like a lawyer.