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“Why do you want to pursue a career in the law?” Nearly every aspiring attorney answers this question as part of their law school application personal statement. They pour their hopes, dreams, and challenges into the answer to this question—their formative struggles, deeply held values, and resolve to make the world a better place as legal practitioners. Soon after starting law school, however, law students turn their attention from core aspirations to immediate concerns. Forgotten and slowly choked by the thorns of competition, prestige, and external validation, law students’ internal sense of self and purpose begin to wither away until, at the end of three years in law school, they are just a faint shadow of what once was. Unmoored from their personal values and seeing no higher meaning behind their efforts, many law students soon “grow up” to be directionless, helpless, and hopeless lawyers in a profession marked by profound unhappiness.

The blame does not lie with the students. The curriculum prevalent in most law schools today does little to help students appreciate their personal values, nurture their well-being, and find their calling. Indeed, it actively thwarts this important work. As educators, it is our moral obligation to correct this unfortunate, long-standing, and dangerous process. In a historic time of reassessing life choices and norms after a worldwide pandemic, now more than ever it is crucial for legal educators not only to help students learn how to practice law well, but also to empower them to find and nurture their authentic answers for why they want to practice law in the first place. This interdisciplinary Article offers a blueprint for how to achieve this in a first-year legal practice class. First, the Article explores the current research on professional identity formation and argues that teaching law students to critically question their choices and to pursue meaningful work is the most effective way to combat the crisis of identity facing the legal profession. Second, it examines the philosophical and psychological underpinnings of purpose and meaning, and reviews medical data demonstrating that living a life of purpose tremendously enhances one’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Lastly, it brings tested methods from the fields of cognitive and positive psychology into the legal writing classroom and offers tangible curricular approaches to help students better direct their lives.

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