Colorado Supreme Court

Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel

Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.

Professional Identity: A Standard of Professionalism that Defines Success


Deputy Director, Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program


Each October Colorado welcomes hundreds of new lawyers to the practice of law. Not only have many of these new lawyers never practiced law before, their entry to the legal profession represents their first encounter with a professional community.  When focusing on the vital competencies of legal practice and the skill and knowledge required to pass the bar exam, new lawyers may inadvertently overlook the standards of professionalism which are imperative to generating a successful legal career. Ultimately one’s success and sustainability as a lawyer depends upon one’s professional identity.

Entering the practice of law can be daunting, particularly for those who are from out of state and those who are still seeking their first legal job. Attorneys may question their career choices and feel overwhelmed when transitioning from school to the practice of law. This is why professional identity is of such crucial importance.

So what is professional identity? In its simplest form, professional identity is (1) how you as a lawyer identity the attributes that account for your professional success, and (2) how you utilize those attributes to ultimately define yourself as a professional. The importance of professional identity cannot be understated. Lawyer professional identity (or lack thereof) has been shown to correlate with burn out, professional and civil behavior, and disciplinary issues in practice.

Conducting oneself as a “professional” is of course an important component of any lawyer’s professional identity. However, professional identity is also vital to improving public perception of the legal profession, maintaining wellness, and creating practical professionals who understand who they are as lawyers and as individuals. Every Colorado lawyer should strive to develop a more holistic, positive identity which comprises all of the professional characteristics the lawyer currently embodies and wishes to embody in the future.

A broad professional identity is necessary to provide a young lawyer with the agility to experience broad professional success and overcome broad professional challenges. Everyone will have a bad day as a lawyer. Everyone will make a mistake, lose a case, lose a client, or face adversity in practice. The strength of one’s professional identity will determine which lawyers go on to thrive in practice and which lawyers succumb to the obstacle.

There is no shortage of sharp, motivated, hard-working young lawyers. The excitement these lawyers have for entering the field can be palpable and motivating. This enthusiasm is frequently backed up by phenomenal work ethic. However, it is important for all attorneys to remain cognizant of the fact that even the best and brightest attorneys need a well-developed professional identity to reach their potential as practitioners.

The Rules of Professional Conduct are at times not intuitive, particularly to new attorneys. Additionally, the concepts of professionalism and civility in practice can be surprisingly complicated when practically applied and can be implicated in what seems to be the most innocuous transaction. Young, unsophisticated attorneys can easily overlook professionalism issues.

Most young lawyers unwittingly encounter professional identity the first time they need to say “no” to a client or an employer. As a brand new lawyer, saying “no” is never easy and is often discouraged. Consequently, lawyers must find creative ways to maintain their integrity, balance their ethical obligations, and keep a good client or managing partner happy. But if a young lawyer hasn’t considered their values, ideals, and identity as a professional, the ability to navigate these difficult challenges is even more limited. When professional identity goes uncalibrated, ethical issues in practice can inadvertently go overlooked. 

It used to be that in the legal profession, experienced lawyers would hand down a “professional identity” to new lawyers. Typically, the protégé would develop a professional identity from their instructor through apprenticeship or clerkship.  In today’s legal profession, most young lawyers lack opportunities for face time with seasoned attorneys and the notion of legal apprenticeships have all but disappeared entirely.  For many lawyers, personal relationships with veteran lawyers who model professional identity may be inaccessible or unfeasible. Nevertheless, it is paramount that every attorney develop their own professional identity to serve as a compass, a refuge, and an aspiration for weathering the practice of law.

Professional identity cannot be created in a vacuum. It is through relationships, observation, and discussion with good role models that young lawyers discover more about who they are and who they want to be professionally. In addition, mentoring is a pivotal component to helping a young lawyer internalize concepts of civility towards others in the profession and a true service mentality to the public.

At CAMP, we utilize mentoring to help new lawyers separate themselves from the proverbial herd. Our role is to move young and transitioning lawyers away from the self-limiting and universal identifying traits of all lawyers and toward those unique and expansive traits that make you successful as an individual professional.

CAMP knows that to curate the next generation of Colorado attorneys into great leaders and competent attorneys who practice with professionalism, they must be exposed to great attorneys both now and later in their careers. If you are a seasoned attorney, you should consider joining CAMP as a mentor. If you are a young attorney, you should consider joining CAMP as a mentee. Learn more and join us at