Sarah J. Schendel (Suffolk; Google Scholar), Listen!: Amplifying the Experiences of Black Law School Graduates in 2020, 100 Neb. L. Rev. 73 (2021):
Law students graduating in 2020 faced a number of unusual challenges. However, perhaps no students faced more emotional, psychological, logistical, and financial challenges than Black law school graduates in 2020. In addition to changes in the administration of the bar exam (including the use of technology that struggled to recognize Black faces) and delays in the administration of the exam that led to anxiety and increased financial instability, Black communities were concurrently being disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic led to increased care-taking responsibilities for many, concerns over the health of family members, and a lack of quiet and reliable space to study. Black law school graduates already struggling to juggle these challenges were also confronted with a rise in anti-Black police brutality, and the racist words and actions of politicians. As a result of this unprecedented series of stressors, many Black law gradates struggled to focus on studying for the bar, with some choosing to delay or abandon sitting for the bar altogether. Many expressed anger, disappointment, and betrayal at the profession they have worked so hard to enter. This Article summarizes the survey responses of over 120 Black law students who graduated in 2020 and were asked how the COVID pandemic and increased anti-Black violence impacted their health, education, and career aspirations. It seems likely that the impact of 2020 on the presence and wellbeing of Black lawyers in the legal profession will be felt for years to come. As professors, deans, lawyers, and policymakers reexamine the function of the bar exam and confront inequalities in legal education, we need to listen to these graduates’ experiences.
At the time of writing, the United States remains in the midst of both the pandemic and a national reckoning with racism. The two also remain inextricable, as “the pandemic is exposing and exacerbating the deep inequities that have long shaped American public education.” This survey is but one small collection of the experiences endured by Black law school graduates in 2020. These graduates represent a new generation of law students who may have different expectations and demands of legal education and of the profession. These graduates experienced a lack of support that impacted not only their own health and careers but also will continue to impact a public that desperately needs more qualified, hard-working, and diverse attorneys. The Author intends to follow this community of graduates through the coming years to learn more about the ways their health, families, and career paths were impacted by 2020.
It is the Author’s hope that the discussions, wounds, failures, and passions unearthed in 2020 continue to contribute to change in the years to come. For too long, “[l]egal education has failed . . . minorities. This shouldn’t be surprising, since the entire American system of restricting admission to the practice of law has long been designed, explicitly or implicitly, to exclude minorities.” While facing our own pandemic-related challenges, many of us in legal education may have failed to adequately protect or advocate on behalf of the Black law school graduates of 2020. It is too late to change their experiences. But we must listen to the challenges they faced, work to help them recover from these wounds, and pledge to invest in the safety, success, and futures of Black law students and lawyers. If we undertake this challenging work and heed the call for change ringing clearly in the voices of these survey respondents, we have the potential create a stronger, more vibrant, engaged, and powerful legal community—one that our country desperately needs.