New Rubrics Available to Help Law Schools that Have Adopted Learning Outcomes Related to Professional Identity Formation

By: Professor Benjamin V. Madison, III


A recent blog by Andi Curcio and Dean Alexis Martinez addressed the manner in which well-developed rubrics help law schools in program assessment. As newcomers to assessment of program learning outcomes, see Article, law schools need guidance on best practices for program assessment.

Rubrics are clearly a key part of assessing whether law students, by the time they leave law school, have attained skills, competencies, and traits embodied in a given school’s program learning outcomes. The Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions created a database of program learning outcomes adopted by law schools. See Database. The program learning outcomes that many of us find most intriguing are those under ABA Standard 302(c) (exercise of professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system) and Standard 302(d) (professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession). The competencies and skills in learning outcomes adopted by law schools under these categories include: Cultural Competency (46 schools), Integrity (27 schools), Professionalism (31 schools), Self-Directedness (41 schools), and Teamwork/Collaboration (52).

Associated with St. Thomas School of Law, the Holloran Center brought together two leaders in the professional formation movement, Professor Neil Hamilton and Professor Jerry Organ of St. Thomas Law, with faculty and staff from other law schools that have committed to pursuing professional identity formation as part of their law schools’ effort to produce complete lawyers. Like Professor Hamilton and Professor Organ and St. Thomas, these faculty, administrators, and staff–and their law schools–have demonstrated a commitment to the professional identity formation movement—a movement inspired by the 2007 publication of the Carnegie Report and of Best Practices in Legal Education. Recently, rubrics developed over the past year by working groups assigned to specific competencies were added to the Holloran Center web site, see Holloran Competency Milestones.

The Holloran Competency Milestones offer any law school that has published a program learning outcome in the competencies listed above—competencies that some educators may consider too challenging to assess. If anyone believes these competencies are impossible to assess, however, the Holloran Competency Milestone rubrics show otherwise. A law school must decide in what courses, or in what contexts (possibly clinical settings), the school uses the rubrics to assess attainment of a given competency. However, the Milestones are a valuable tool for assessing these competencies.

The work of the Holloran Center, and of those of us on the working groups that developed these first rubrics will continue. (The persons and schools who have participated in this project to date are identified on the site with the Milestones.) Law schools that have not previously been involved in development of rubrics have recently committed to developing further rubrics. Continuing the progress that has begun will provide rubrics for program assessment of competencies for which assessment tools have not been developed. For instance, these schools are likely to address competencies such as Reflection/Self-Evaluation (36 schools include in published learning outcomes), Active Listening (31 schools include in published learning outcomes), and Judgment (18 schools include in published learning outcomes).

Anyone who considers the competencies discussed here to be too abstract to include in a law school’s program of instruction ought to review the impressive survey by Educating Tomorrows Lawyers (ETL), called the Foundations of Practice Survey. There, ETL’s survey of more than 24,000 lawyers nationwide demonstrated that the very competencies discussed above (1) were among the most important factors in employers’ decisions whether to hire law students, and (2) determined whether the student is likely to succeed in law practice. See Foundations of Practice Report (The Whole Lawyer and the Character Quotient).

In short, the law schools that adopted learning outcomes designed to produce lawyers who are not only legal technicians but whole persons are on the right track. The law schools that adopted competencies that go beyond traditional competencies (analytical skill, writing, etc.) showed they believed a complete lawyer needed other competencies to be complete. The efforts described here validate the decision of such schools to adopt learning outcomes that go beyond the traditional ones. The hope, of course, is that law schools now use these rubrics to do program assessment of competencies such as cultural competency, integrity, professionalism, self-directedness, and teamwork/collaboration.

May these efforts ultimately produce more lawyers that embody these competencies.

2 Responses

  1. This is fabulous. Ben, thanks for the work and for sharing it!

  2. Every law school needs to “teach” professional identity, and every law school needs to include it in their learning outcomes. Just teaching the ethics rules is no longer enough. Law schools must prepare their graduates to be professionals.

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