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Impact of Law School Culture on Formation of Professional Identity The University of St. Thomas Mentor Externship Program
Law School Culture and the Formation of Lawyers • What does it mean to be a lawyer? • What does the prevailing law school culture communicate to law students about what it means to be a lawyer? • As we think about how a new law school would implement the Carnegie recommendations, we have to be cognizant of the existing law school culture so we can appreciate what should be preserved and what should be changed.
Law School is a Formation Experience • Some people say that law students, as adults, are fully formed moral persons, such that law school can’t impact their moral formation • The reality is that law students are not fully formed moral persons. • We each are shaped and formed by our experiences – by the communities in which we live and work, by the encounters we have with others in our community, by the values that our espoused in our work environment, in our worship environment, by our families and friends. • Law students are no different – the culture of law school impacts/forms law students in profound ways.
Law School Culture – The Hidden Curriculum • Law students are shaped by the explicit messages communicated about what it means to be a lawyer and the implicit messages – the “hidden curriculum” of the law school. • So how is law school forming the professional identity of law students? • What are the experiences and influences shaping the professional identity of law students? • What do students understand to be the “role of the lawyer”?
Aspects of Law School Culture that Form Law Students • Success defined by grades and extrinsic awards – money, prestige • Technical excellence at first apprenticeship is celebrated excessively • Fierce competition in a zero-sum game is the norm • Individualistic learning experience fosters atomism – disconnection from others and from oneself and one’s values • Pro bono activity is insufficiently encouraged
How do These Aspects of Culture Shape Law Students? • Students tend to shift from intrinsic motivation toward extrinsic motivation • psychology literature tells us intrinsic motivation leads to greater contentment or fulfillment. • Students lose touch with the value systems that have guided their lives – particularly their commitment to public service • Students embrace amoral analytical reasoning – “hired gun” role of the lawyer becomes the hidden “signature image.” • The existing culture in law schools does little to emphasize professional identity and does a fair amount to promote self-interest and “overzealous advocacy” for the client.
“Signature Image” Along with “Signature Pedagogy”? • Educating Lawyers highlights the “signature pedagogy” – the case analysis that dominates the first-year curriculum (and much of the rest of law school). • But law schools should have a “signature image” of the role of a lawyer • The culture of a law school should be designed intentionally to reinforce this “signature image.”
UST’s “Signature Image” • The University of St. Thomas School of Law explicitly recognizes law school as a “formation experience.” • UST has adopted a “signature image” of lawyer as “servant-leader.” • UST has tried to create a culture in which there is • a greater sense of community (less atomism), • a greater respect for the students as unique individuals with a variety of gifts/skills. • an opportunity for students to integrate their faith and values into their understanding of their professional identity • and a greater commitment to public service.
UST’s Mentor Externship Program • UST also has developed a unique program designed to help students in their professional identity formation – the Mentor Externship Program • Each student is paired with a mentor for each of their three years. • Each student must take part in five “experiences” each year and reflect on some of those experiences with his or her mentor. • Each student participates in a sixteen session classroom component in the second and third years of law school featuring small group facilitated peer discussion along with reflective writing.
UST’s Mentor Externship Program • The students meet in groups of 15-16 with an attorney facilitator eight times per year in their second and third years. • The topics for the sixteen sessions include such things as – • Law firm economics, balance, gender and race discrimination in the profession, building a mentoring relationship, networking, marketing, billing, having difficult conversations, and listening among others. • The classroom component combines peer conversation with reflective writing and encourages students to converse with their mentors about these topics as well. • That the materials fill a void is evidenced by the fact that all the new attorneys we have brought in to facilitate small groups conversations have remarked “I wish I had had the opportunity to learn about these things when I was in law school.”
Benefits of the Mentor Externship Program • For students, the benefits include • Getting a glimpse of what it means to be a lawyer through experiential learning and reflective dialogue with a practicing judge or lawyer and with peers. • Developing an appreciation for different types of legal practice and different contexts in which one can practice. • Developing an understanding of a number of factors essential to becoming a professional and being successful as a professional. • Having someone appreciate them for who they are and the individual questions/challenges that they have while in the maelstrom of law school.
Benefits for the Law School and the Profession • Return on Investment – Direct investment of probably $300,000 for director and staff. • Indirect investment of time of mentors – 450 mentors at 12 hours per mentor – 5000-6000 hours – conservatively $500,000-$1,000,000. • The law school generates good will in the legal community through the engagement of attorneys with students • The law school has more satisfied students (and alumni) and can foster an engagement model with alumni • The profession benefits from the “renewal” that comes from interactions with students with idealism and enthusiasm for the practice of law.