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Indiana Law Professor Carwina Weng speaks in front of a class of students.

The Legal Profession: A 1L course for mapping the future

In The Legal Profession, students identify the career that will best suit them, based on the discovery of their personal and professional strengths, attributes, and values.

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Every year, more than 45,000 law students in the United States take a mandatory course in professional responsibility. Despite its prevalence, the course is often viewed as dreary and uninteresting, unsatisfactory to both student and teacher. And because it is typically an upper-level course, students complete their first year with little or no foundation for the ethical principles that guide their profession and their career choices.

For these reasons, the Maurer School of Law offers a different approach to the study of the legal profession — an approach that helps students identify the career that will best suit them, based on the discovery of their personal and professional strengths, attributes, and values. All first-year students are enrolled in this second-semester, four-hour course.

To accomplish these goals, Indiana Law’s legal profession course differs from other courses in several significant ways:

  • The substantive law of professional responsibility is taught through review of the ABA Code, case studies, and instructor experiences. This aspect of the course is often placed in context, with supplementary information about particular law firms’ culture and work environment. This topic is explored through lectures and Socratic dialogue with students.
  • At the beginning of the fall semester, all first-year students are assigned to practice groups of six to eight persons.  These groups are led by practice group advisors (PGAs), second- and third-year students recruited for their empathy and leadership ability. During the fall semester, PGAs help their practice groups become acclimated to the law school experience by providing study tips, networking opportunities, and moral support. During the second semester, the PGAs and their practice groups continue to function independently of the legal profession course but also become working teams within the course. For example, they organize mock interview sessions that give students the opportunity to gain experience by networking in a supportive environment. The interviews are recorded and feedback is provided within the context of the legal profession course.
  • The Law School has created competency model (the Effective Lawyer Profile) that identifies 23 professional success factors with accompanying assessment tools. All students now complete this assessment, which provides baseline information on behaviorally based workplace competencies and achievement motivation.  To narrow the focus, the list of competencies is limited to Active Listening, Empathy, Self-Awareness, Presentation Skills, Asking Questions, and Resilience. (These competencies are known as the "Fromm Six," in honor of Leonard D. Fromm, the school's late dean of students and alumni affairs.)
  • Because the workplace itself requires team interaction, students in the legal profession course are placed into teams coincident with their practice groups. The teams complete various projects calling for reflection and analysis. A typical team assignment: Watch a video in which a practitioner describes his experience litigating a complex case, and identify specific instances that call upon the Fromm Six: (“At 38:07, the lawyer demonstrated interpersonal skills by saying that ‘everyone [on a jury] is someone’s father, brother, mother, sister. . . . Try to remember they are just people’”).
  • Career Choices sessions bring lawyers to the Law School to speak to students in the legal profession course about their work, including their substantive area of practice. Students must attend at least three Career Choices sessions as part of the legal profession course requirement. Career Choices speakers often invite students to individual or small-group informational interviews or dinners during their visits, which provides networking opportunities.
  • In the JD-GPS assignment, students conduct independent research to help them learn about the context in which lawyers work while reflecting on their own potential fit within the profession. To do this, students interview at least five law school graduates in person, at least two of whom they don’t already know. Based on their interviews, they write a paper covering what they learned about the work undertaken by law graduates and how the lessons from the interview have shaped the students’ thinking about their own career choices. Of course, these interviews provide students with an additional benefit: a basis for a future networking relationship with the interviewees.