Analyzing Common Themes in Legal Scholarship on Professionalism to Address Current Challenges for Legal Education

Vol. 22 No. 1

Neil W. Hamilton is Professor of Law and Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, University of St. Thomas School of Law (MN). Prof. Hamilton recently authored Ch. 1, “Qualities of the Professional Lawyer,” in a book by the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism, Essential Qualities of the Professional Lawyer (ABA Center for Professional Responsibility 2013).


*I am very grateful for Aaron Knoll’s outstanding research assistance during his 2L and 3L years that contributed to this article. I am also grateful for the comments of Gerald Postema on an earlier draft of the article.

Abstract:

The ABA is going to change the accreditation standards to require more emphasis on fostering each student’s ethical professional formation or professionalism. Each law school can use this as an opportunity to embrace and build on the expected changes in the ABA’s accreditation standards regarding ethics instruction for each student that will help the students and the law school itself to prosper in these challenging markets. A student who has internalized a high degree of professionalism is going to demonstrate many of the capacities and skills that empirical research demonstrates legal employers are seeking and evaluating.

To satisfy the new accreditation standards, each law school must define assessable learning outcomes for the ethical professional formation of the students. This essay analyzes all the legal scholarship on professionalism since 1980 to define clearly the elements of professionalism and thus learning outcomes regarding professionalism that are assessable. The essay then analyzes how a law school fostering each student’s development toward a clearly defined learning outcome of this type will help each student toward employment which in turn will help a law school’s employment metrics as they increasingly become the focus of both the ranking agencies and the applicants for law school.


“If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.”

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki

I. Introduction

Secretary Shinseki’s aphorism above captures the challenge facing law schools because of both dramatic downturns in the markets for employment of law graduates1 and for applications to law schools2 and expected changes in the American Bar Association’s (ABA) accreditation standards discussed below. The logical extension of Shinseki’s point is that a law school can embrace dramatic market change not just to avoid irrelevance but also to seize opportunities to improve and grow and gain comparative market strength. This essay will focus on one major opportunity for a law school to embrace and build on the expected changes in the ABA’s accreditation standards regarding ethics education for each student in a way that will help each student and the law school itself to prosper in challenging markets.

The essay first analyzes in Part II the expected changes in the ABA’s accreditation standards to require the identification and assessment of learning outcomes designed to prepare students for “effective, ethical and responsible participation as members of the legal profession” and to help each student achieve “competency” both in the “exercise of proper professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system” and in “other professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession.”3 Part III synthesizes all the scholarship analyzed in detail in Part V, defining the elements of professionalism to articulate clear learning outcome that can be assessed. The essay in Part IV analyzes how a law school fostering each student’s development toward a clearly defined learning outcome of this type will help each student toward employment which in turn will help the law school employment metrics as they increasingly become the focus for inquiry from applicants. The essay then turns in Part V to analyze in detail how existing scholarship defining professionalism can help a law school to define a learning outcome for students of “effective, ethical and responsible participation as members of the legal profession.”

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