Expanded Conversations about Professional Identity and Leadership at AALS 2023

Aric K. Short | Professor of Law & Director, Professionalism and Leadership Program
Texas A&M University School of Law

          At this year’s AALS Annual Meeting in San Diego, there was a noticeable increase in the number of presentations and panels related to professional identity formation and leadership development from prior years. This heightened attention may stem, in part, from the newly-implemented ABA Standard 303, which requires all law schools to provide students with multiple opportunities for professional identity formation and training in anti-racism and bias. But it also likely reflects an increasing recognition within the academy that the competencies and values associated with professional identity formation are critical to preparing our students for a successful and rewarding career in law.

          Below is a sampling of topics addressed by panels and presentations on professional identity formation and leadership at this year’s Annual Meeting:

  • How to effectively spread the load of providing professional identity formation opportunities across the entire law school enterprise, including faculty and staff (sponsored by the Section for Associate Deans for Academic Affairs and Research);
  • Ways to weave training on bias, cross-cultural competencies, and anti-racism into the law school curriculum (sponsored by the Section on Civil Rights);
  • Specific techniques for helping students explore and form their professional identities from orientation through their last weeks of law school (sponsored by the Sections on Balance and Well-Being in Legal Education, Academic Support, Clinical Legal Education, Student Services, and Teaching Methods);
  • Practical tools for effectively implementing anti-racism training (sponsored by the Section on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Professionals);
  • Suggestions on how to move beyond diversity to equity and inclusion in law school teaching (sponsored by the Sections on Teaching Methods, Academic Support, Balance and Well-Being in Legal Education, and Minority Groups); and
  • Exploring ways that leadership training in law schools can bring about positive change in society and for the clients our students serve (sponsored by the Section on Leadership).

In addition to these formal opportunities to discuss the theory and practice of professional identity formation and leadership, there were countless informal discussions about strategies and best practices that occurred during the Annual Meeting. All of this AALS attention on Standard 303 topics aligns with the growing number of workshops, symposia, and other efforts in broader academia addressing professional identity formation and leadership.

Of particular note to section members, the Holloran Center at the University of St. Thomas School of Law is hosting a symposium/workshop later this month for authors of casebooks used in required law school classes: “Transitioning from Student to Lawyer: Infusing Professional Identity Formation into the Required Curriculum.” Over 20 authors from all four major casebook publishers are scheduled to attend and present ideas for more formally incorporating Standard 303 themes into existing courses. Be on the lookout for articles synthesizing these ideas in a forthcoming issue of the St. Thomas Law Review.