Amendments to ABA Standards Support the Objectives of Leadership Development Programming, Part 1

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By Leah Teague

Several amendments to the ABA Standard on Legal Education adopted on Feb. 22, 2022, reinforce the need for, and value of, leadership development. The proposed amendments are in Standards 303(b) (professional identity development), 303(c) (bias and cross-cultural competency & racism education), and 508(b) (student well-being resources). These three important topics are fundamental to robust leadership development programs and courses. Satisfying the new requirements can be achieved through adopting or enhancing leadership development at your law school. In this three-part series, we discuss each.

In Part 1 below, we focus on the new requirement in ABA Standard 303(b) requiring law schools to “provide substantial opportunities to students for … the development of a professional identity.”  Part 2 of this series addresses the requirement in ABA Standard 303(c) to “provide education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism.” Part 3 discusses the need for law schools to provide students with “information on law student well-being resources” in accordance with ABA Standard 508(b).

Part 1: Professional Identity Development is Now Required in Legal Education

Lawyers’ role as leaders in society IS a fundamental part of lawyers’ professional identity!

ABA Standards 303(b) was amended to require law schools to “provide substantial opportunities to students for: … (3) the development of a professional identity.  

Also adopted was new Interpretation 303-5 which reads:

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.

Leadership development IS professional formation. At the core of leadership development efforts is awakening law students to “the special obligations lawyers have to their clients and society.” For a visual model of the development of a law student’s professional identity, see the Holloran Center’s Model for How Law School Learning Outcomes Build on Each Other to Foster Student Development. The model presents five groups of competencies in a visual layered progression of law school learning outcomes to help students “grow[] from being a new entrant to the profession to being an integrated effective lawyer serving others well in meaningful employment.” In Group 5 (complex, compound competencies) is “Leadership and Influence in Organizations and Communities.” For a discussion of these competencies, see Neil Hamilton’s Mentor/Coach: The Most Effective Curriculum to Foster Each Student’s Professional Development and Formation. For a discussion of the role of lawyers as leaders in society, see the Preface and Chapter 2 of Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership and Chapter 1 of Leadership for Lawyers.

Leadership development goes beyond professional identity to teach students how to work well with others and to encourage students to use their education and training to serve others and benefit society. At Baylor Law we see the broader mission of our values-based leadership development program as three-fold:

  • encourage law students and lawyers to embrace their obligation to serve clients and society,
  • better equip law students for positions of leadership and influence, and
  • inspire law students to boldly seek opportunities to make a difference in their communities and the world.

The proposed amendments to Standards 303 (professional identity), 206 (bias, cross-cultural competency and racism) and 508 (student well-being) align with this mission and are important aspects of a law student’s preparation for professional life after law school. Notably, both of the leadership textbooks for law students address all three of these issues. One, of course, is Deborah Rhode’s Leadership for Lawyers (a third edition has recently been released) and the other is our textbook, Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership.

These amendments reinforce our duty to tend to whole development of our students’ professional formation through self-assessment, reflection upon values, and focus on techniques for better decision-making and goal-setting, in addition to the teaching of legal knowledge and skills. The amendment distinguishes professional identity from ethics and professional responsibility courses that are already required in law school: “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.” This is likely part of a larger scheme to improve lawyer well-being, which is supported by the amendment to Standard 508. The objective is to equip students with knowledge, skills and priorities that will better enable students to become successful, healthy and impactful lawyers.

With every conversation with leaders in our profession, the importance of our efforts and need for leadership development in law schools is confirmed! Thank you for your efforts and keep up the good work!

– Leah

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