The Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions was created in 2006 to help the next generation of lawyers form professional identities with a moral core of responsibility and service to others.

The center provides interdisciplinary research, curriculum development and programs focusing holistically on the shaping of both law students and practicing attorneys into ethical leaders in their communities.

Center co-directors Neil Hamilton and Jerry Organ have conducted extensive research into which attorney skills are valued by clients and legal employers and are using it to help students be fully prepared to find meaningful careers.

“Preparing our students for meaningful employment is not just about teaching them particular skills, but also about forming their professional identities to reflect a commitment to serve others,” said Robert Vischer, dean and Mengler Chair in Law.

The Holloran Center’s research is at the heart of a national professional-formation social movement focused on two foundational learning outcomes:

  • Proactive professional development toward excellence at all the competencies needed to serve others well in meaningful employment
  • An internalized, deep responsibility to others, especially the client and the legal system, whom the student serves as a professional in widening circles as the student matures

“We’re trying to influence law schools to give more emphasis to these two outcomes, which you can see are beyond technical skills,” Hamilton said. “We want to increase the number of law students nationally who experience a professional-formation curriculum,” Hamilton said.

Since 2013, the center has held 13 summer workshops to create core groups of faculty and staff at different law schools focused on supporting formation. More than 250 faculty and staff have attended from 41 U.S. law schools and four outside the U.S. Twenty-five law schools have sent two or more teams. Hamilton and Organ also have conducted traveling workshops at law schools at Drexel, Baylor and Brigham Young universities and the University of Florida.

“We’re getting a lot of schools coming back: The George Washington University Law School has sent 14 faculty and staff members, while Georgia State University College of Law has sent 17. At those schools we have many people across the entire law school who are committing themselves to helping students develop into these two learning outcomes,” Organ said.

More than 20 schools have very proactive core groups. Using the framework of the Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation Curve, the Holloran Center has a strategic goal of moving the number of law schools focused on professional formation learning outcomes beyond innovators (2.5%) and early adopters (13.5%) into the early majority. With roughly 200 ABA-accredited law schools, that would mean having more than 30 law schools with an active core group of faculty and staff promoting the learning outcomes.

A roadmap for students

Students entering law school want a law school experience that leads to meaningful post-graduation employment, and St. Thomas Law helps them develop the skills that clients and legal employers want.

“We want our students to take ownership of pro-active continuous professional development, which is a foundational skill for a lawyer in rapidly changing markets for both clients and lawyers,” Hamilton said. “We decided to help each student create and implement a professional development plan with coaching help from faculty and staff over the entire three years of law school.”

In the second semester of the 1L year, each student starts this developmental process by working through Roadmap: The Law Student’s Guide to Meaningful Employment, now in its second edition. Originally published in 2015, it received the American Bar Association’s Gambrell Award for excellence in professionalism. The guide, spearheaded by Hamilton with contributions from other St. Thomas Law faculty, staff and students, is used by a number of law schools.

The Holloran Center has data from several law schools demonstrating that the Roadmap method helps students progress to later stages of development by taking ownership of their own professional growth.

The Holloran Center also is working with a few dozen faculty and staff from several different law schools on the creation of stage development models – or “Holloran Competency Milestones” – for some of the key professional formation competencies.

“For every needed skill, you can actually show students these stage development models and help the student grow to the next stage. For example, a student could be told, ‘On “teamwork” you’re at this level, and you need to be at a later-stage level by graduation, and we can help you develop and implement a plan to get there,’” Hamilton said.

Hamilton and Organ, who also teach a full load of classes each, are carrying on the work of the center’s founder, Thomas Holloran. A lawyer, CEO and professor, Holloran was dedicated to helping future law students and young lawyers achieve the competencies to create meaningful work.

Read more from St. Thomas Lawyer

Most Valued Attorney Skills

Holloran Center data reveals that clients and legal employers need attorneys with not only technical skills, but also client-service orientation and relational skills, and an entrepreneurial mindset to serve clients and legal employers in changing markets.

Competencies that clients and legal employers want for proactive law schools and students:

Internalization of client-service orientation and relational skills with others

  • Superior client focus and responsiveness to client
  • Exceptional understanding of client’s context and business
  • Trustworthiness
  • Communication, including listening and knowing your audience
  • Creative problem-solving and good judgment

Entrepreneurial mindset to serve clients and legal employers in changing markets

  • Ownership of proactive continuous professional development
  • Constant attention to:
    • More for less
    • The capabilities of technology to do the work more efficiently
    • More use of project management and collaboration with teams including non-lawyers

Through its curriculum, St. Thomas Law helps students develop all of these needed skills.

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