Empirical Evidence that Legal Education Can Foster Student Professionalism/Professional Formation to Become an Effective Lawyer

Document Type

Law Review Article

Publication Date



professional identity formation


Legal education should move toward much more effective educational engagements to foster each student’s professional formation and thus improve each student’s ultimate effectiveness as a lawyer. Part I reviews and analyzes the empirical evidence that convincingly points toward the importance of a law student’s or practicing lawyer’s capacities and skills of professional formation for legal employers and clients. Part II reviews and analyzes the empirical evidence about the most effective curriculum, culture and pedagogies to foster each student’s professional formation. Part III explains the professional formation curriculum, culture and pedagogies of University of St. Thomas School of Law (the empirical evidence in Part II aided in the design of this curriculum, culture, and pedagogy). Part IV analyzes empirical data demonstrating that the UST law students experience growth in moral development and professional formation over their three years of law school in a manner different from that which might be anticipated from law school generally.The data from this study reasonably support the link between the overall UST Law educational program and an increase in both student moral reasoning and ethical professional identity. Our findings add to the research presented in Part II that education to foster professional formation must engage each student at the student’s current developmental stage. The UST Law curriculum, culture, and pedagogies reflect and incorporate the earlier research analyzed in Part II. Future studies will evaluate which specific elements of the curriculum, culture or pedagogies are most effective. The challenge at its core is to help each student internalize deep responsibilities both for others, especially the client, and for the student’s own development toward excellence at all the competencies that a practicing lawyer must have to fulfill his or her responsibilities for others.