2016 Gambrell Professionalism Awards Articles

Benjamin K. Grimes, Washington, D.C ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism

Law schools and bar associations fulfill a number of needs for students and new practitioners.  While they offer education on the fundamentals of law and opportunities to develop and extend professional networks, they also educate their constituents about the expectations of practice, provide guidance as they transition from student to attorney, and offer tools to ensure continued wellness and competent practice.  At least the most innovative and forward-thinking do.  Each year, the E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Awards recognize exemplary professionalism programs for lawyers and law students that have proven to be successful, replicable, and exceptional in some way.

Administered by the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism (the Committee) the annual awards recognize projects contributing to the understanding of professionalism among lawyers.  As many as three awards are presented and offer recipients financial support as well as the public recognition they deserve.   The three programs featured below, chosen from award-worthy program submissions from law schools, state commissions, bar associations and other law organizations, are Gambrell Award recipients for 2016.



Campbell Law School and the Professionalism Committee of the North Carolina 10th Judicial District and the Wake County Bar Association Connections Mentor Program

Campbell Law School was honored with a Gambrell Award because of its exemplary law student and new lawyer mentoring program that embraces best practices and stands as a model bar/law school partnership for others to follow.  Highly effective mentoring like the Campbell Law program is essential in an era when law students and new lawyers face significant challenges requiring the kind of guidance and support that only committed mentors can provide.

To overcome the traditional barriers to a successful mentoring program, Campbell Law School and the Professionalism Committee of the Tenth Judicial District/Wake County Bar Association (WCBA) partnered to develop and implement the Connections Mentorship Program. Connections’ primary goals are to enhance and enrich the law school experience, to maintain and promote professionalism and civility within the bar, and to provide practical opportunities for students to learn from experienced attorneys. The planning, organizing, funding and launching of Connections was a long-term, collaborative effort between Campbell Law School and the WCBA. This unique partnership, combining the organizations’ respective resources, has been critical to Connections’ success, and made it stand out among the many remarkable professionalism programs the Committee reviewed.

Campbell has committed significant financial resources, faculty and administration, and has hired dedicated staff in order to ensure the Connections Mentorship Program was both successful and sustainable. The WCBA also contributed financial resources, provided experienced practitioners to serve as mentors, and leveraged its long commitment to promoting professionalism.  This collaborative partnership created a robust mentoring program for third-year law students and newly-licensed attorneys through the program’s dedicated mentors. In offering a bridge to practice, Connections is a model for other law schools and bar organizations to establish successful joint mentoring programs.



South Carolina Bar Attorney Wellness Committee and Living Above the Bar program

The most non-traditional of the professionalism programs considered by the Committee this year, the South Carolina Bar’s Attorney Wellness Committee and its Living Above the Bar program are acknowledgement that attorney wellness is a critical component supporting attorney competence.  This highly innovative initiative proactively offers solutions to the health challenges facing so many in our profession.  It is at the forefront of the legal community’s recognition that lawyers cannot function well as professionals or client advocates when inadequate attention is paid to their mental and physical well-being.

In the wake of several attorney suicides, the South Carolina Bar formed a task force to raise awareness and promote the prevention of substance abuse, treatment of mental illness, and reduction of suicide within the legal profession.  The task force worked from 2008 to 2011, successfully pushing for new Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) for judges and active members of the Bar, requiring increased instruction devoted exclusively to substance abuse or mental health issues, and publishing The Lawyer’s Epidemic: Depression, Suicide and Substance AbuseThis work was the genesis of the Attorney Wellness Committee, which created the Living Above the Bar program in 2015, a series of events offering guidance and support on nutrition, fitness, and other issues.

Among the ambitious goals the Attorney Wellness Committee took on were decreasing stigma associated with seeking support, developing law school wellness programs, and addressing issues specific to senior lawyers.  This approach attempts to meet the needs of a variety of constituencies within the bar. Through the establishment of a speaker’s bureau to serve as a centralized source of experts, the development of programs to address various sources of law student stress, direct liaison with and CLE classes for lawyers transitioning out of practice, and other steps, the Living Above the Bar program has been steadily raising the bar of attorney wellness in South Carolina. 



University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Bowen School of Law Comprehensive Developmental Professionalism Curriculum

The Comprehensive Developmental Professionalism Curriculum was selected for recognition because of its multi-faceted, extremely well-conceived professionalism curriculum that exposes Bowen Law students to a rich array of professionalism principles and related experiences.  The developmental structure of the program ensures that students are immersed in and committed to professionalism values from the outset of their legal education, values that add meaning to their experience as they move through mandatory professionalism coursework, mandatory pro bono, reflective journaling, sessions related to professional identity formation, and other exemplary program elements.

Three core values--professionalism, public service, and access to justice--animate the mission at the Bowen School of Law.  In accordance with that mission, Bowen has implemented a comprehensive, developmental professionalism curriculum, which is required of every student.  It makes professionalism and the development of a professional identity core components of students’ legal education.  Bowen’s professionalism curriculum begins on the students’ first day of law school and ends with students’ completion of their required clinic or externship experience before they graduate. 

In their first week of law school, Bowen students are introduced to professionalism in multiple ways, ultimately participating in a ceremony in which they swear to uphold a professionalism oath they have written.  Throughout students’ first year, they take a one credit course, Professionalism and the Work of Lawyers, that includes a mandatory pro bono requirement, a mandatory professional mentoring component, reflective journaling, and class sessions addressing critical topics relating to professionalism and students’ development of a professional identity.  Meanwhile, students learn teamwork skills through a program integrated into their required Real Property I and II courses.   In their second year, Bowen students take a year-long lawyering skills curriculum taught by practicing lawyers and judges.  And in students’ third year, they must participate in the law school’s clinic or externship requirement, which immerses them in law practice settings, allowing them to confront and work through professionalism and professional identity issues as they naturally arise.  Finally, throughout students’ legal education, Bowen offers programs designed to emphasize wellness and help students achieve balance.  This multi-year, multi-faceted approach to professionalism education makes this a program worth emulating.

Nominations for the 2017 E. Smythe Gambrell Awards will be accepted through January 31, 2017 for presentation during the 2017 ABA Annual Meeting in New York on August 11, 2017. Additional information about past recipients and the nomination process is available online at www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/initiatives_awards/awards/gambrellaward/. Questions can be sent to cpr@americanbar.org