Professional Identity Formation Program

Through a combination of curricular and co-curricular offerings, the Professional Identity Formation program at the University of Richmond School of Law ensures that students: 

  • Discern their own values, strengths, and motivating interests in relation to their individual practice, the legal profession, and society;
  • Engage in a process of self-directed learning and professional development that includes opportunities for practice, feedback, and self-assessment; 
  • Attain critical interpersonal lawyering skills, including cultural self-awareness, attentiveness, responsiveness, and empathy;
  • Prioritize attorney well-being as essential to professional excellence, ethical practice, and superior client service; and
  • Recognize the professional obligation of lawyers to promote justice and equity, serve the public good, and dismantle racism and other forms of oppression, marginalization, and exclusion in the legal system.

Read reflections from students on the importance of service, charting a vision for 21st century legal practice, and finding meaning in the study and practice of law.

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  • Q: What is professional identity formation?

    A: As it relates to law students and lawyers, professional identity formation (PIF) is an ongoing developmental process characterized by self-awareness and the intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices needed to thrive in legal study and practice. PIF also encourages continual reflection on the attorney’s role in society.


  • Q: Why do I need to allot my finite energy and time in law school to identity formation?

    A: Education researchers have long proven that a professional education curriculum is insufficient unless and until it encompasses three “apprenticeships” of learning: a cognitive apprenticeship, a skills-based apprenticeship, and an apprenticeship of identity, meaning, and purpose. Just as one needs intellectual acumen and knowledge of doctrinal law to practice successfully as a lawyer, so, too, does one need to understand the personal and professional values that drive decision-making and the practices needed to navigate the demands and rigors inherent to legal study and practice.

    Think of your legal education, and later your legal practice, as a three-legged stool: your intellect, skills, and values comprise the foundation you need to thrive in the legal profession. You can be a great negotiator, but if you lack substantive doctrinal knowledge, you won’t succeed. You can be analytically brilliant, but if you lack the emotional intelligence to relate well to yourself or others, you won’t succeed. You can passionately hew to the values that inspire you to practice law, but if you lack legal writing skills or ignore professional rules of conduct, you won’t succeed.

    None of the three apprenticeships is optional; each leg of the stool is necessary to ensure your success.

  • Q: So, how does Richmond Law support my professional identity formation?

    A: At Richmond Law, we take seriously our commitment to ensure you enjoy a rewarding educational experience and graduate with the tools you need to create a successful and fulfilling legal practice. In line with this mission, we support your professional formation by offering:

    • Professional identity formation programming at orientation
    • A first-year course dedicated to thriving in law school and legal practice
    • A plethora of student organizations in which you can explore your values and the values of the legal profession
    • Formal and informal leadership training
    • Abundant mentorship opportunities, including that first-year and transfer students are matched with a peer and faculty mentor on matriculating
    • Dedicated career advisors who offer personalized guidance and feedback to help you identify your strengths and values
    • A dedicated Student Services team that offers well-being events and programming throughout the academic year
    • Academic Success Program faculty who work with you to identify your learning strengths and areas in need of development
    • A variety of programs, including the Richmond Law & Business Forum and the Richmond Criminal Justice Forum, that facilitate early and ongoing interaction with practicing attorneys
    • Myriad courses, clinics, and externship opportunities wherein you identify, practice, and hone holistic lawyering competencies
  • Q: I see that Richmond Law offers a first-year course dedicated to professional identity formation, but I don’t see “professional identity formation” courses offered in the second and third year. Why is that?

    A: The first-year professional identity formation course introduces you to the concept and process of professional formation and emphasizes the importance of undertaking this process in an intentional, self-reflective, and self-directed way. But “professional identity formation” isn’t a course – it’s an ongoing developmental process.

    The goal of the PIF program at Richmond Law isn’t to require or even offer a bunch of “professional identity formation” courses that will only encourage you to think of your professional formation as something separate from your “real” law school and professional experience. Rather, our goal is to ensure you thoughtfully identify and self-select the opportunities for professional formation that abound around you – whether as part of your considered decision to enroll in a particular course or clinic, volunteer, apply for a certain job, act in the face of a moral dilemma, or take initiative to seek help from colleagues, faculty, and staff.

    Our goal is to ensure you’re asking yourself the right questions. For example, “Why am I taking this particular action?”, “Does my decision accurately reflect my values, beliefs, and priorities (and am I satisfied by those values, beliefs, and priorities)?”, and “Does my behavior reflect who I want to be and what I want to build as a law student and lawyer?” In other words, every activity and course you undertake at Richmond Law both reflects your professional identity and offers you an opportunity for identity formation. Ultimately, it’s for you to decide whether and how to intentionally explore and engage the formative opportunities afforded you throughout law school and your legal career.