A Conversation Circle with Students on Professional Identity

On returning from a women’s retreat in April where we spent some time trying to identify what we long for, I happened to open Parker Palmer’s book, A Hidden Wholeness, looking for a wonderful quote analogizing the soul to a wild animal.  (“If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently at the base of the tree, breathe with the earth, and fade into our surroundings, the wild creature we seek might put in an appearance.”) On the preceding page I happened to see a reference to “formation.”

Seeing that word, I was immediately reminded of the Carnegie Report’s discussion of professional formation, and I realized that one thing I long for in my life as an educator is more opportunity to be authentic with students and to talk about professional identity issues. I was already scheduled to have a conversation with three of my first year students about these issues a few days later. That conversation was intense, passionate, and wide ranging. So I took the risk of asking the students whether they’d be interested in creating a group — a circle — to discuss these issues on an ongoing basis. It doesn’t seem like an overstatement to say that they leapt at the idea. Their response was immediate; their enthusiasm palpable.

So we settled on a date for a first potluck and discussion at my home and they agreed to invite a diverse group of classmates to join us a month later. By that time exams were looming (we’re on the quarter system), and I wondered whether anyone would really show up. But eight of them came, stayed for several hours, and decided to meet once a quarter next year.

The lesson I draw: at least some of our students are longing for the type of education that Educating Lawyers and Best Practices in Legal Education champion– an education that is not limited to black letter law, legal analysis, and even “skills,” but one that helps them find a life that they will find meaningful and fulfilling.

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