Designing Law Students' Professional Identity
a mandate and an opportunity
Since its inception, we’ve viewed the Delta Model as an integral component to professional identity formation for law students and practicing lawyers. The Model itself does this by making clear, transparent, and understandable the competencies that 21st-century lawyering requires.
Design Your Delta activates the Model by providing a means for building self-awareness of one’s identity as a lawyer through intentional reflection, and by creating a method anyone can use to intentionally chart a course for meaningful professional formation and continuous growth. Starting in law school and extending throughout one’s career in the law.
We use the Model and tools with our students, to do just this. Why? Well, initially we started doing it because . . . no one else was. And, students were telling us (both explicitly and implicitly) that they need and want this help. Ask your students. Who in your school helps any and all students to focus intentionally and meaningfully and specifically on their holistic formation as a lawyer? Not just on formation in a specific area (e.g. legal writing), or in getting a job. And, how are they doing it?
These are important questions because now the ABA gives all schools the opportunity (via mandate)1 to include professional identity formation as part of the curriculum:
Standard 303: Curriculum
303(b) A law school shall provide substantial opportunities to students for:
(1) law clinics or field placement(s); and
(2) student participation in pro bono legal services, including law-related public service activities.; and
(3) the development of a professional identity.
Adopted in February 2022, the ABA now requires that law schools specifically address professional identity formation as part of the curriculum. The ABA offers the following interpretation of 303(b)(3)2:
Professional identity focuses on what it means to be a lawyer and the special obligations lawyers have to their clients and society. The development of professional identity should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice. Because developing a professional identity requires reflection and growth over time, students should have frequent opportunities for such development during each year of law school and in a variety of courses and co-curricular and professional development activities.
We observe that Design Your Delta tools and methods provide exactly this: a means of reflection that supports growth over time. And while the Delta Model focuses specifically on competencies across the People - Process - Practice dimensions, our Design Your Delta tools integrate an exploration into values, purpose, well-being, and more, to create a holistic and individualized approach.
How might we connect how we teach with what law students choose to study with what it means to be a lawyer, and what it means for a particular student to be a lawyer? We think this is important work, at the heart of helping students to form a professional identity as a lawyer — and as a person with values and purpose and identities that extend far beyond being a lawyer. Because we are much more than our “law student” or “lawyer” role, and our professional formation happens at the confluence of our many identities and our law school experience.3
And, we believe Design Your Delta can help. To this end, we’re working on a book for law students (and practicing lawyers) to use as an interactive field guide of sorts, to navigate lifelong formation in an intentional, personalized, and agile way. Starting in law school.
We’ll be sharing more information soon, and welcome your input and feedback as we design and iterate what we hope will be a valuable resource for any and all law students. If you/your school seeks resources specific to ABA Standard 303, feel free to reach out. We would love to talk with you.
10 March 2022
See Resolution adopted 14 February 2022, revising ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. The bold part was added as part of this resolution.
See “The Professional Identity Formation of Lawyers,” in which John Bliss reflects on his research into the various identities of 1L and 2L law students and the interplay with professional formation as part of the law school experience: “Through interviews, identity mapping, and ethnographic observations, this analysis considers how professional socialization alters not only career goals of lawyers-in-training, but also the fundamental machinery of identity construction—constitutive roles, narratives, and normative commitments.” We agree with Bliss’s findings that professional identity formation matters, both for the individual and the communities we serve: “How law students construct their professional identities—and how these identities are influenced by wider professional and social norms and structures—is critical to understanding lawyers’ career satisfaction and the civic contributions of the legal profession.”