The Stakes of Professional Identity Formation: Why Integration is Needed

For those wondering about the stakes in the professional identity initiative, I’d like to highlight that both the Carnegie and Best Practices’ reports showed that the seeds of lawyer dissatisfaction—one might say, dysfunction—are sowed in law school. See William Sullivan, et al., Educating Lawyers 31 (Carnegie Foundation 2007) (describing how law schools consciously create a climate emphasizing competitiveness to the exclusion of other values, or any kind of balance); Roy Stuckey, et al., Best Practices for Legal Education 33-37 (Clinical Legal Education Association 2007) (law schools create an atmosphere that begins the process of students becoming dysfunctional and preparing them to accept that as “normal” in practice).
I was curious whether much had changed since 2007 in terms of the high degree of lawyer dysfunction. The reports suggest otherwise. See, e.g., Reid Mortensen et all., Alternative Perspectives on Lawyers and Legal Ethics: Reimaging the Profession 270-272 (Routledge 2011) (according to a 2008 study by the Brain and Mind Research Institute, one in five lawyers suffer from clinical depression, and depression in the legal profession is four times higher than the general population; also, according to a 2007 study by Beaton Consulting and BeyondBlue, lawyers are significantly more likely to suffer from depression than the general population, and “lawyers are more likely than any other profession to use alcohol or other drugs to manage depression or anxiety.”). Rachel Tarko Hudson, Pick Your Poison: Abuse of Legal Versus Illegal Substances as Mitigation in Attorney Disciplinary Cases, 22 GEO. J. LEGAL ETHICS 911, 911 (2009) (“According to the American Bar Association Commission of Lawyer Assistance Programs, fifteen to eighteen percent of attorneys suffer from alcoholism, compared to only ten percent of the general population.”). Nancy Levit et al., The Happy Lawyer 6, (Oxford University Press, Inc. 2010) (a still widely accepted Johns Hopkins University study conducted in 1990, found that three to five percent of the general population suffers from major depression disorders, while more than ten percent of lawyers suffer major depression; also, a still widely accepted survey of lawyers in Washington conducted in 1991, estimated that one in five lawyers suffer substance abuse problems – more than twice the national average).
These studies do not undermine in any way the recommendation of the Carnegie and Best Practices’ reports, which encourage law schools to make professional identity formation, a larger component of the law school experience. Five years has only allowed schools to start implementing the reports’ recommendations. If anything, the above evidence suggests that the problem is as crucial as the reports suggest. To the extent that law schools have been focusing on integrating practical values (probably the easier part of the reports’ recommendations), now it is time to redouble efforts to find ways to integrate professional identity training in schools.

1 comment:

  1. As a law student, I can attest to how addressing professional identity questions throughout a law school course can help students think about how they want to behave in practice before the heat of the moment. I thought it would be fairly easy to discern right from wrong and quickly make a decision regarding the best course of conduct while in practice. I now realize that there are subtleties in practice that make it difficult to discern for sure the right decision. Answering professional identity questions that address the areas in limbo of right and wrong while in law school, has helped me determine how I will behave in those difficult situations in practice. I have certainly appreciated the exercise of thinking through my professional identity before beginning work, and I would encourage other classes and programs to emphasize similar initiatives.