Joel Nichols.

National Leaders in Professional Formation

It’s not usually exciting to cite accreditation standards. But bear with me ... because when the story is that law schools nationwide are now following the lead of St. Thomas, those standards are worth citing!

At St. Thomas Law, we have long put people at the center of what we do. We don’t want to engage with the law in only intellectual ways, even if such engagement may shape policy goals or serve political, even justice-based ends. Instead, we want to put the impact of laws and policies on particular people at the center. We want to understand the experience of each community member even as we work together for the common good. We want to accompany our students on their journey to become who they are called to be, so that they develop their gifts and skills on behalf of others.

Academia sometimes refers to the process of working with students in a way that builds their legal skill set alongside their aptitudes for connecting relationally with others and for growing their own sense of self-understanding as “professional formation.” As the American Bar Association adds, this includes the idea of the “development of a professional identity.”

As you’ll see in this issue, the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Profession is at the forefront of the professional formation movement nationally. Other schools have long benefited from the conferences, writings and thought leadership of the Holloran Center. Now some of those core ideas are embedded in accreditation standards that are mandatory nationwide for every law school. For example, every school should help students with “an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice” (ABA Interpretation 303-5). It might seem obvious that schools should do this, but it hasn’t always been central for legal education generally. At St. Thomas Law, though, we’ve been helping students in these ways since our founding over 20 years ago.

For years, St. Thomas students have been the main beneficiaries of our best thinking and work on this, and we’re so proud of our alums who continue to carry this out into their professions. We’re also glad that these efforts and ideas continue to gain wider traction, ultimately benefiting future attorneys, clients, and the legal profession overall. We’re not done innovating and moving forward, and we will continue to give our best thinking and efforts to our students. We know that St. Thomas Law’s leadership will continue to shape the profession in the years to come.

This letter from School of Law interim Dean Joel Nichols ran in the spring 2023 issue of St. Thomas Lawyer.

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