THE DEVELOPMENTAL PATH OF THE LAWYER
MICHAEL J. CEDRONE*
My mother does not drive, and I own a towel that I cannot use—these
are my reasons for studying law.1
I am an integrated tapestry of elation and disappointment, risk and
reward, ambiguity and conviction . . . . I discovered [through adversity]
that transitional challenges were not permanent impediments to my
progress, but were instead emboldening catalysts to my personal evolution
and professional development.2
These two stories come from admissions essays submitted by members
of Georgetown University Law Center’s class of 2014, recently published
in the Law Center’s alumni magazine.3 The published essays provide
fascinating views into the personal experiences and deep reflection that
lead people to pursue legal studies.4
Both of the quoted students experienced tragedy at the hands of the
legal system. The first young man’s mother does not drive after a court
Copyright © 2013, Michael J. Cedrone.
* Associate Professor of Legal Research and Writing, Georgetown University Law
Center. I acknowledge with appreciation Georgetown’s generous support of this project.
Many colleagues at Georgetown and beyond have generously shared their time and
perspectives on these matters, including Jane Aiken , Frances C. DeLaurentis, Diana R.
Donahoe, Alyssa Dragnich, Sarah Laubach, Lisa McElroy, Jill J. Ramsfield, Ruth Anne
Robbins, Anne Taranto, Karen Thornton, and Kristen K. Tiscione. I am particularly
grateful to Professor Jeffrey Shulman. I also acknowledge the love and support of my wife,
Luci V. Cedrone and my children, Timothy M. Cedrone and Elizabeth L.R. Cedrone, who
teach me new lessons every day. This pap er is dedicated to the memory of Associate Dean
Carol Q. O’Neil.
1 Ethan J. Bercot, Student Stories, RES IPSA LOQUITUR, Spring/Summer 2012, at 21, 21.
2 Tarik Ajani-Kehinde Barrett, Student Stories, RES IPSA LOQUITUR, Spring/Summer
2012, at 20, 27.
3 Student Stories, RES IPSA LOQUITUR, Spring/Summer 2012, at 18.
4 Id. at 18. (“No student arrives without a story. And the stories of these 1Ls are
especially riveting. They prove that Georgetown Law students have much more than good
grades and high LSAT scores. They have perseverance, p assion for their cause—and a lot
780 CAPITAL UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW [41:779
summarily and perhaps unfairly judged her responsible for a car accident
that injured a pedestrian.5 His mother’s treatment by the justice system and
the motto of his small Christian college, “Be great—serve,” motivate his
career in law.6 The writer aspires to “‘be great,’ . . . [by] serv[ing] those
like [his] mother, who, while serving others, need to be served
themselves.”7 The second man’s essay probes his relationship with his
incarcerated brother and concludes that he and his brother are not
fundamentally all that different.8 He, too, wants to use a legal education to
achieve his life goals.9
The stories continue. An officer in the Montgomery County Police
Department envisions a broader role for herself in criminal court.10 A
District of Columbia teacher of students with special needs blows the
whistle on administrators and colleagues for cheating on standardized tests;
she concludes that “[a] few teachers who are willing to leave the classroom
and enter courtrooms would greatly improve both fields.”11 A project
manager at an international development consulting firm travels to
Afghanistan and Pakistan and learns, in “places where law is most fragile,”
that “the rule of law is the linchpin of a more prosperous, safe and just
world,” and vows to support this goal through a legal career.12 For a legal
educator, these essays are deeply satisfying and enjoyable reading. Bright
and accomplished young adults at a moment of transition reflect on the
meaning and purpose of their lives. Formed by past experiences, they
articulate their deepest goals, hopes, and reasons for pursuing legal
education.13 In these essays, the authors begin to construct their
5 Bercot, supra note 1, at 21.
6 Id. at 21, 27–28. The motto, which is embroidered on the towel the writer cannot use,
refers to the Gospel account of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and commanding
them to follow his example of service to others. Id. See also John 13:1–17.
7 Bercot, supra note 1, at 28.
8 Barrett, supra note 2, at 20, 27.
9 See id.
10 Alexa Andrade Briscoe, Student Stories, RES IPSA LOQU ITUR, Spring/Summer 2012,
at 22, 28.
11 Mia Carre Long, Student Stories, RES IPSA LOQUITUR, Spring/Summer 2012, at 23,
12 Steven Seigel, Student Stories, RES IPSA LOQUITUR, Spring/Summer 2012, at 25, 29.
13 Put differently, experiences lead these individu als to create meaning and purpose for
their lives. This process exemplifies the central tenet of constructivism, a psychological
theory that posits that reality is created by the human person’s interaction with
environmental factors. See ROBERT KEGAN, THE EVOLVING SELF 7–13 (1982) (discussing
2013] THE DEVELOPMENTAL PATH OF THE LAWYER 781
professional identities as lawyers. These students are under no illusions
that the legal system is perfect or that it can solve every problem. Rather,
they are motivated by deeply personal goals and commitments, and they
want to use law to advance those goals, changing the law along the way if
It is unfortunate that the law school curriculum provides so few
opportunities for students to engage in sustained reflection on their
emerging professional identities and goals. Opportunities for this kind of
reflection abound in the legal curriculum. The law is riddled with enticing
characters in morally ambiguous situations: the injured tort plaintiff; the
contracting party who must breach covenants; the landowner facing the
state’s powers of eminent domain; criminal defendants facing the death
penalty; medical professionals seeking to comply with myriad safety,
financial, and privacy regulations; winners and losers under the tax code;
and so many others. Each of these archetypes, if examined in the rich
context of human experience, presents fertile ground for reflection on the
client’s needs, the law’s limits, and the lawyer’s role; alas, this ground is
often left untilled.14
Important recent examinations of the law school curriculum have
called attention to shortcomings in educating about the lawyer’s
professional role.15 In 2007, the Carnegie Foundation issued the seminal
report Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law. As is
now widely known, Carnegie posits three facets of legal education: a
cognitive apprenticeship, which teaches the knowledge or “way of
thinking” in law; an apprenticeship of practical skill, which requires
students to use and apply knowledge in the context of simulated or actual
practice; and an ethical apprenticeship, which considers the ethical
constructivism generally); SHARAN B. MERRIAM ET AL., LEARNING IN ADULTHOOD 291–94
(3d ed. 2007) (describing the constructivist orientation as applied to learning). This theory
will figure prominently in the discussion that follows. See discussion infra Part IV.A–B.
14 See, e.g., Jane Harris Aiken, Clients as Teachers, 16 WASH. U. J.L. & POL’Y 81, 84
(2004) (“The case method . . . permits, perhaps requires, the student to be detached from the
people involved . . . . It is rare to see a shocked response by the class to an instance of
physical injury, or to a human tragedy of a person who has lost his liberty unjustly.”).
15 See, e.g., ROY STUCKEY ET AL., BEST PRACTICES FOR LEGAL EDUCATION (Clinical
Legal Educ. Ass’n ed., 2007); WILLIAM M. SULLIVAN ET AL., EDUCATING LAWYERS:
PREPARATION FOR THE PROFESSION OF LAW (2007) [hereinafter CARNEGIE REPORT]; Judith
Welch Wegner, Reframing Legal Education’s “Wicked Problems,” 61 RUTGERS L. REV.