4 Things Incoming Law Freshmen Should Know Amid COVID-19
By: Kevin Moore
There was a surge of law school applications around 2018 and 2019, specifically throughout President Trump’s administration. This unexpected surge has been dubbed as the “Trump Bump,” based on the idea that politics had pushed young people to pursue legal careers.
However, it seemed like this Trump-inspired burst in incoming first-year law students admissions was no match for the COVID-19. In fact, the global pandemic had easily ended the two-year resurgence that the legal schools had wished would become a sustained recovery from years of decline since 2008.
The American Bar Association (ABA), Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and student affairs professionals from various law schools have been assessing the challenges in the global pandemic legal academics. Here are four things incoming law first-year students should take note of:
Interactivity is Critical
The majority of the classes in law school are now entirely online, while others might be a hybrid between online and in-person learning. However, most law schools wish to offer students a flexible and realistic quality of education, likewise with on-campus learning.
When it comes to legal education, high-standard fundamental interactivities are deemed necessary, particularly for the incoming first-year law students. By far, the only way to accomplish this is through traditional classroom experience.
Of course, the health and well-being of everyone will be top priority. The challenge now is to deliver a class that’s both adequately interactive and safe for the students, faculty, and staff.
There’s no exact plan of how the fall semester of law schools will unfold yet. Currently, law schools are waiting for further guidance and decisions from both the ABA, state bars, and local governments.
Safety in Live Classes
Each school has its own kind of safety plan. Having said that, most schools should implement standard precautionary measures against the COVID-19, which includes the following:
Face Masks or Cloth Face Covering
Sanitizing and Disinfecting
Some students might refuse to follow any of these safety measures due to their political beliefs and ideologies. In this case, a law school’s legal counsel should generate a risk mitigation plan. The plan should be processed in place and clearly communicated to students ahead of time.
The “Limited Practice of Law”
The COVID-19 crisis had urged the ABA to adopt an emergency rule immediately. This resolution authorizes current and upcoming law school graduates to participate in a limited practice of law under the supervision of a licensed lawyer, despite being unable to take the bar exam.
Here are the highlights of the resolution:
All law graduates of batch 2019, 2020, and prior years (i.e., those who’ve been serving as judicial law clerks since their graduation) can engage in limited practice of law. They will be called “applicants.”
Applicants can engage only if the bar exam in their state has been either put off or canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Applicants should be under the supervision of a licensed lawyer with good standing.
Applicants can’t entirely do what their supervising lawyer can do. For example, if their supervisor is a New York car accident lawyer and is currently handling a criminal case, applicants can’t handle the trial phase yet. Nonetheless, the scope of limited practice will depend on an applicant’s state.
All factors that impact limited practice graduates will be under the control of specific provisions of the jurisdiction’s rule. These include the graduates' qualifications, the scope of practice, supervising lawyer’s responsibilities, and others.
The resolution offers law graduates opportunities to serve potential employers and clients directly.
Graduates can also access resources and may bring “new unprecedented skills” while engaging in this limited practice of law.
All applicants should take the bar exam before 2021 ends.
If applicants failed their bar exam, their limited authorization would be terminated.
While this is mainly intended for law graduates, first-year students should be enlightened on this new emergency rule. It’ll let them realize the current uncertain job market, as well as how they could be affected by it in their future legal career.
The New Orientations
Law schools might likely break law freshmen orientations into more manageable sessions and start them at an earlier time. These orientations usually are a week long. If they have to be done over the Internet, it’s hard to tell whether students can sit for a week of Zoom meetings.
Moreover, since COVID-19 has turned the law school application cycle on end, law schools might have to set up arduous tracking mechanisms for students who might experience the so-called last-minute “melt” from online orientations. Melt takes place when a potential student pledges to attend one school, but decides to attend another school over the course of the vacation.
All departments in a law school are expected to work hand in hand to overcome the new challenges in admissions. Together, they’re expected to educate law students about inclusion and diversity in an era of online learning amid the global pandemic.