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Professionalism Day prepares law students for future legal leadership

October 12, 2021

Nearly 300 law students participated in this year’s Professionalism Day, hosted by the Law School’s Center on Professionalism (COP).

Each fall, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s Center on Professionalism (COP) hosts “Professionalism Day,” an event that introduces students to the foundational skills they will need for successful lawyering careers. Though Professionalism Day has traditionally been geared exclusively toward incoming 1Ls, this year, COP expanded its Professionalism Day offerings to upper-level students as well. A total of 290 students — including 1Ls, 2Ls, 3Ls, and LLMs — participated in the legal conference-like event.

Foundational lawyering skills and qualities

“Our office’s mission is to instill in students workplace skills, interpersonal behaviors, and professional characteristics that make new lawyers successful,” said COP Director Joseph Glyn. “Part of Professionalism Day was getting students to start developing the foundational professional skills and qualities that are needed in the legal profession. When you unpack leadership, what does that break down into? We wanted to get into navigating difficult conversations, understanding roles in a team, and understanding how to work together.”

McNulty Program on Leadership's Jeff Klein and Umi Howard lead a Professionalism Day workshop McNulty Program on Leadership's Jeff Klein and Umi Howard lead a Professionalism Day workshopIn creating the event, COP worked closely with the Wharton Business School’s McNulty Leadership Program. McNulty Executive Director Jeff Klein and Senior Director Umi Howard collaborated with COP to design a program that would allow Law School students the space to explore different elements of leadership while simultaneously growing their networks and connecting with their new classmates.

Teaching leadership

In curating the programmatic lineup, the organizers sought to ensure that Professionalism Day remained both engaging and informative. Though some of the programs may have seemed far-removed from the realities of a legal office, they were in fact carefully planned to teach crucial leadership skills in an enjoyable way.

Among the day’s offerings was a storytelling program led by Quinn Bauriedel, the Founder and Co-Artistic Director of Pig Iron Theatre. In another program, students divided into groups to complete an outdoor navigation challenge led by Klein and Howard. Glyn explained that the storytelling program focused on every leader’s —and lawyer’s — need to communicate in a compelling manner, and the outdoor navigation challenge prompted students to practice dividing tasks among themselves as members of a team while working collaboratively toward a common goal.

“For us, this was a push outside of the box,” said COP Assistant Director Claudia Toro. “We were trying to push our students to get out of their comfort zone, even though law school isn’t necessarily a comfort zone yet. The sooner we can introduce these concepts to them, the better position they will enter the work force in.”

Cross-disciplinary focus

COP regularly partners with the Student Affairs Office to develop programs that help students expand their professional competencies as they take on increasing responsibilities as leaders of student organizations during their time in law school. In illustration of this strategically incremental skill building, upper-level students had the choice between Professionalism Day workshops focused on project management and business simulation. These workshops, along with other trainings that will be offered throughout the academic year, enable students to continue to fine-tune their professionalism educations to best serve their unique career and professional development needs.

Glyn emphasized that, overall, the collaborative effort that made Professionalism Day possible reflects both the intra- and inter-school cooperation characteristic of Penn and demonstrates the vast network of support Law School students have in their professional development.

“This program, even though we started planning it over the summer, was actually years in the works,” said Glyn. “This is a natural connection for our students to learn about leadership qualities from the experts on leadership over at Wharton. We have all of these great resources between our different schools that we can be sharing and helping each other. As happy as we were with the programs that we did this year, there is a lot to build upon for future years. We can think about how to build on the success for even more robust leadership programs for 1Ls.”

Cultivating lifelong lawyering skills

Toro underscored that, though the programming traditionally occurs early in the Law School journey, the concepts students learn at Professionalism Day become relevant quickly and remain relevant throughout the duration of their professional lives.

“These are skills that might feel far away, but I think planting the seed now is essential to make sure that our students have that little bit of a step up as they start their careers and as they start working,” Toro said. “Their 1L summer is going to be here before they know it, and so if one thing that was said from a presenter on Professionalism Day has stuck with them, I think that Joe and I have achieved something pretty fantastic.”

Learn more about the Law School’s Center on Professionalism.