Leadership, Professional Identity, and Student Wellness Programs Honored by ABA

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Back in July, we congratulated our colleagues from Texas A&M Law and Ole Miss Law for joining us as recipients of the 2022 E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Awards. See pictures below from August at the Annual Meeting of the ABA in Chicago as we proudly shared the stage for the presentations by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Professionalism. Our schools were recognized at the Joint Awards Luncheon of the ABA Division of Bar Services and the National Conference of Bar Presidents. “This Award recognizes the nation’s exemplary, innovative, and ongoing professionalism programs established by law schools, bar associations, courts, and other not-for-profit legal organizations that help ensure the maintenance of the highest principles of integrity and dedication to the legal profession and the public.”

As you develop your plan for professional identity formation and student wellness programs (now mandated by ABA Standards 303 and 508), we encourage you to review and consider aspects of the programs described below that could be adapted for use at your law school. We certainly are!

All three programs recognized with this prestigious award were honored for education, training, and activities already in place before the new ABA requirements. Here are brief descriptions of the 2022 E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Awards Recipients:

Baylor Law School Leadership Development Program

The Baylor Law School Leadership Development Program stands out for its deep commitment to preparing law students for their important roles as leaders in our society, emphasizing that lawyers as leaders have a special obligation to their clients and society to act with honesty, integrity, and civility in all matters. The leadership development program incorporates all essential characteristics and competencies essential to students’ professional identity formation. Created in 2013, Baylor’s Leadership Development Program consists of five major components: (1) an elective two-hour Leadership Engagement and Development course covering various topics including leadership styles and strategies, public service, and professional responsibilities; (2) 18 hours of professional development programming offered throughout the year designed for students to build skills necessary to succeed in practice and help students understand and embrace their responsibilities as a lawyer and leader in society; (3) a Leadership Fellow designation at graduation for a select few students who complete additional requirements in a Fellows program, including 25 hours of community service and serve as an intern for a charitable or community organization working a minimum of 45 hours; (4) an annual Making a Difference (MAD) Conference, featuring speakers selected to inspire students and lawyers to use their legal training to make meaningful contributions to their communities, discussing various topics, including public service, access to justice, and racial disparities; and (5) a national blog, entitled Training Lawyers as Leaders, dedicated further to encourage and support leadership development programming in legal education across the nation.

Baylor Law’s Leadership Development Team holds the E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award with members of the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism. (L-R) D. Nichole Davis, Risk Management Director & Mentoring Program Administrator, South Carolina Bar; Stephanie Villinski, Deputy Director of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism; Baylor Law Professor Leah Teague, Associate Dean Pat Wilson, and Assistant Dean Stephen Rispoli.

Texas A&M University School of Law Professional Identity Course

Professional Identity (PI), at Texas A&M University School of Law, a required 1L course since Fall 2016, emphasizes core lawyering values, the self-directed development of interpersonal competencies critical to effective law practice, and the importance of well-being. This robust program focuses on helping students develop professional values, competencies, and a professional identity at the beginning of their law school career and provides a meaningful foundation for a successful career in the practice of law by introducing students to the “foundational pillars of the legal profession, including service, justice, and civility.” The PI program meets six times in the Fall and six times in the Spring and is structured into specific class modules centered on various professionalism concepts. Examples of the topics covered in the course modules include identifying lawyering competencies, developing an authentic narrative, well-being with an emphasis on mental health, grit, resilience and strategic pivoting, and leadership for lawyers. Student reflection writing exercises following each module provide students an opportunity to think more deeply about the topics discussed in class and allow the law school to assess the effectiveness of the PI program and make any necessary changes to build the program for the next year.

Stephanie Villinski and Aric Short, Professor of Law and Director, Professionalism and Leadership Program, Texas A&M University School of Law (https://ncbp.org/resource/dynamic/communitygallery/20220902_150808_27493.JPG)

The University of Mississippi School of Law Student Wellness Program

The University of Mississippi School of Law Student Wellness Program is a robust, multi-dimensional program aimed at helping students thrive both in law school and after graduation. Built around the foundational research supporting the recommendations of the ABA National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being and the principles of the ABA Well-Being Campaign and Pledge, the Law School established the Student Wellness Program in 2018 with the objectives to promote healthy habits and lifestyles of the students at the beginning of their 1L year and communicate the relationship between wellness and professionalism. The program’s initiatives are designed to help students learn about, practice, or reflect upon six dimensions of personal well-being: intellectual, mental/emotional, physical, social, spiritual, and occupational/financial. Beginning with a Student Wellness Challenge, presented the first week of each new semester, students are encouraged to track the healthy things they do daily, earn points for various activities and events, and are ultimately rewarded with different levels of prizes. The student with the highest total points at the end of the semester receives the first-place prize, a much-coveted parking place in the Law School’s front parking lot. Other programming, activities, and events available to students throughout the student’s law school career also incorporate wellness, including programs on diversity, equity, and inclusion and the recognition of its relationship to wellness. Orientation for first-year students combines programming on wellness and professionalism followed by students taking a professionalism oath. Programs presented on National Law School Mental Health Day discuss work-life balance, financial literacy, psychological resilience, and strategies for coping with the stresses of life in the law. To provide students with the highest-quality well-being resources, the Law School partnered with the University of Mississippi’s Department of Psychology to make available on-site individual, confidential counseling sessions to students free of charge. Counselors are fifth-year doctoral students in clinical psychology and licensed therapists who are supervised by the Department’s clinical faculty.  The Continuation-To-Do Kit with the “1-2-3” framework of the Student Wellness Program makes it easy for the Law School to adapt and expand the program as necessary to reflect rapidly changing student needs and preferences, new environmental factors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and staffing changes. The wide acceptance and success of the Student Wellness Program led the University to launch the Chancellor’s Wellness Challenge, modeled on the Law School’s program and available for all University of Mississippi students. 

(L-R) Susan Duncan, Dean and Professor of Law; Brittany Barbee, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs; Alexandra Gilbert, Wellness Counselor;
all from the University of Mississippi School of Law

Our sincere thanks and appreciation to the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism for recognizing and supporting these important efforts to better equip our students for entry into our noble profession. Through efforts such as these across the nation, future lawyers will be better prepared to serve and lead clients, organizations, and communities.

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