As this unprecedented semester comes to a close, students are hunkering down to prepare for finals, just as they would any other semester. However, many things about the law school experience look very different this year with most law schools implementing a hybrid or fully remote approach to instruction.
From law students’ perspectives, remote law school comes with a myriad of technical and logistical considerations, including frequency of tests, class sizes, and modifications of class structure. As with any educational institution, remote learning comes with both opportunities and immense challenge for law students.
Isolation and lack of access continue to pose clear challenges for law students.
Many students share that they feel remote learning poses both social and academic challenges. As with many academic experiences, a component of the student experience is campus life—those opportunities to bond over similar interests, interact on personal levels, and bounce ideas off of each other in-person. Remote learning has made it extremely challenging to build, maintain, and foster personal relationships—be it with fellow students or with professors and lecturers.
From a purely academic standpoint, the remote structure has also made learning and performance considerably more difficult. Daniel Moreno, a 3L at West Virginia University College of Law, shares how this has had a tangible impact on himself and his classmates. “We have more work to complete in less overall class time and increased difficulty gaining access to resources. It seems to have accelerated burnout in a lot of law students.”
Additionally, law school clinics occupy a unique place in this new equation of remote learning of legal education. Unlike traditional classroom instruction, clinics give students exposure to the more practical and applied aspects of the law and require participation from those outside of the school. Erika Melanson, a 3L at the University of Idaho College of Law, shared that many of the most valuable elements of the clinic experience are absent.
As a 3L, I think that it has been challenging to not be able to go to our internships and clinics in person. There is normally so much we learn from other attorneys and clients during these experiences that we are missing out on. I miss being able to run ideas off of other people and being able to ask questions in a less formal setting.
Law school by Zoom gives some students much needed flexibility and rare opportunities to unplug from high-stress environments.
Virtual learning does offer a central benefit for many: flexibility. From an academic perspective, law schools are now more likely to offer access to recorded lectures and class slides. Historically, the lack of flexibility and attendance requirements were known to be common barriers for “non-traditional,” first generation, and/or some differently-abled students.
For Erika, remote law school also provided an opportunity to spend some time away from the typically high-stress environment of a law school. This has meant less anxiety and more freedom to select extracurricular activities that she feels personally passionate about, without the influence of on-campus pressures.
Additionally, the flexibility of working remotely has created possibilities for students to gain invaluable, resume-building internships and work experiences that may have been previously out of reach (geographically).
How they’re making it work.
Spending all day in front of a laptop, jumping from one Zoom lecture to the next can be exhausting, especially considering the reading and class prep required for each. For Daniel, the weekends are a time to unplug and recharge. “I also find disconnecting on the weekends to go for a hike or long run has been a huge factor in staying on top of my mental health… Law school is a marathon and a sprint, we have to make sure we are healthy enough to complete it.”
Daniel also recognizes that this is a difficult situation for everyone. He sees all of the effort that his professors put in to make virtual learning work and makes a point to stay connected with both his classmates and professors virtually.
The professors also miss seeing students and interacting with us during office hours. I found that sending a small email or text message is greatly appreciated and they like hearing updates on our life. There's a few professors who I send pictures of my weekend hikes and camping trips, it's been a good way to keep investing in those relationships.
For Erika, a mother of two, the challenges of remote learning are different with two toddlers. The last eight months have been spent trying to figure out a way to balance her studies and take care of her two young kids.
“Just because you are working from home does not mean you need to be working all hours of the day. It is ok to take time to take care of yourself and whatever other responsibilities you have,” she shared.
Creating a schedule and trying to stick to it has been of immense help to her. She strongly advises to keep the communication open and try to make personal connections with fellow students and professors to support professional development.
It’s clear that this forced time apart has instilled a new appreciation for in-person connection. Battling isolation, lack of resources, and competing needs have made the traditional law school experience virtually unrecognizable. Hopefully, when things “return to normal,” we can use the lessons learned to create a more balanced and empathetic law school community.