Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Karen Sloan (Law.com), Law Schools, Students, and Bar Examiners Face a Brave New Online World:
It’s fair to say that change comes slowly in the traditionally staid universe of legal education, where progress tends to be measured in increments. Not this year.
Over the past 12 months, law schools have figured out how to train new lawyers from behind a computer screen—a delivery method the legal academy has largely resisted for the past two decades. (The American Bar Association suspended its rules that limit the number of credits J.D. students may take online, and it might roll back such rules permanently.) They’ve experimented with new ways to connect with law students when an in-person office visit isn’t in the cards, or a brown-bag lunch session is off the table, and even simulated law firm summer associate programs for students who were left hanging by canceled summer programs. They’ve successfully transitioned moot court and trial advocacy competitions online by harnessing sophisticated virtual meeting platforms. And they’ve figured out how to safely hold graduation ceremonies, both virtual and in person.
Those changes aren’t without their costs and challenges. Women law faculty, for example, are facing more burdens than ever before, and some schools that had returned to campus in the fall had to abruptly shift back to virtual learning due to COVID-19 outbreaks among students. Meanwhile, some law students were unhappy about the quality of their newly online classes, and took to social media—and, in some instances, the courts—to vent their frustrations.
But it’s clear that law schools are meeting the moment and that potential students are not turned off by the prospect of a very different law school experience. The number of people applying to law school for the 2021-22 academic year is up 20%—which would be the largest single year-over-year increase should it hold steady through the remainder of this application cycle.