Law schools are beginning to reveal more specific plans for the fall semester, and they aren't all following the same game book.
The majority of law schools that have shared their preliminary fall plans are pushing ahead with a hybrid model that offers a mix of online and personal courses. However, the percentage of courses offered on campus is very different. Many schools have told students that they prioritize face-to-face tuition for freshmen, with most or all of the upper-class options available online. Still others have announced smaller seminars and clinics on campus, but all classes with more than 25 students will be online. A significant number of law schools have postponed their fall start dates to complete classes before Thanksgiving, while some plan to be completely removed after this holiday – including removed final exams. And a small but growing cohort of law schools has announced that they will stay fully online for the entire fall.
The breadth of approaches by the law faculties underscores the improvement in higher education standards through COVID-19 and uncertainty about how best to reconcile the health and safety of students and faculties, while offering a high quality legal education program. Legal deans across the country have heard of students looking to return to campus, but they are also considering a resurgence of COVID-19 infection rates, restrictions and guidelines imposed by their central university administrators and health authorities, and faculty health concerns , Employees and vulnerable students. Many law schools are still grappling with their approach to autumn, but it's clear that it won't be as usual. Even law schools that have stated that they want to be largely personal in the next semester have announced measures such as mask requirements and social distancing, as well as the option to be completely distant for any student who so wishes.
"It was a really complicated set of design challenges," said Jennifer Mnookin, dean of the University of California at the Los Angeles School of Law, in a webinar hosted by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) in late June. "We will be further away in the autumn than personally, even if things go as well as possible."
Harvard Law School caused a sensation in early June when it was the first to announce that it would remain completely isolated in the fall – a decision that Dean John Manning found would undoubtedly disappoint many students, but the administrators considered the most prudent approach. Since then, the University of California, Berkeley School of Law; the University of California Hastings College of Law; Vermont Law School; the University of Connecticut School of Law; and Western Michigan University's Cooley Law School have all announced that they will be fully online for the fall semester. (The Council of the American Bar Association of the Legal Education Section decided in May to give itself the expanded power to waive existing restrictions on distance learning in law schools to pave the way for completely removed fall semesters.)
The resurrecting pandemic was a factor in the Vermont Law School's decision to stay away because many students are from outside the state, the administrators said in a Monday announcement. This is a reversal from early May when Dean Thomas McHenry said the school was expecting to return to campus with various health protocols.
"The biggest challenge of the pandemic is uncertainty," said McHenry. "We want to give our students, faculties, and staff so much attention to plan appropriately and provide the high quality course content and faculty access that the Vermont Law School is known for."
But schools that want to stay fully online in the fall are – at least at this point – outliers. Most law schools are pushing to offer at least some courses in person, even though most of the teaching takes place on the Internet. The deans also warn that if the pandemic worsens, all courses may switch to a distant format.
The Maurer School of Law at Indiana University – Bloomington announced in June that it will switch to a block format for all freshmen, hoping to receive instruction on campus. The required judicial, civil litigation and contract classes are taught in intensive four-week sessions with a final exam at the end of each block. The new format should be flexible, said Dean Austen Parrish law. If COVID-19 cases increase at any time during the fall semester, freshmen should be able to personally complete at least one full class and final exam without having to switch online in the middle of a class. The block format also gives the law school more flexibility if a professor falls ill during the semester. It also reduces the risk of problems during the final exams, Parrish noted.
"According to the traditional approach, you have all your exams at the end of the semester," he said. “If this were a time when there was a big surge (in COVID 19 cases), it would pose many challenges. You hedge the risk with a block plan. If someone is sick of the virus in the first exam, they can do it before the end of the semester. "
The majority of the 2Ls and 3Ls classes will remain online for space reasons, Parrish added. Like many other law schools, Indiana prioritizes personal instruction for first year law students on the grounds that the one-liter year is the key to building relationships with classmates and teachers and maintaining the state of the country. This is the main reason why the University of California's Irvine School of Law hopes to be able to offer their 1Ls one or two personal classes in the fall, while all of the upper-class classes will be online.
"It's not so much about teaching," said Irvine Law's Dean Song Richardson. "It is about continuing to help them enter and feel part of our community. We hear our 1Ls express a desire to see each other. When we receive them and in this way build a community we would like to contribute. "
The Georgetown University Law Center and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law are among a small number of schools that have announced a significant reduction in their 1L grade levels to enable personal teaching while maintaining social distance. The 1L classes in Georgetown will have 40 or fewer students this fall, compared to a typical section size of around 100 as announced in June. Penn's 1L sections will be no larger than 45 students, out of about 80. The University of Dayton Law School is looking for creative ways to also minimize the number of students on campus at any given time, said Dean Andrew Strauss.
"In a typical course, one class a week will be asynchronous for all students online," he said. "For each of the other two lessons in a week, some students will be in the classroom while others will participate through Zoom."
Not everyone is a fan of the hybrid approach that most law schools follow. Northwestern University law professor Dan Rodriguez, a former dean of the Chicago school, wrote in a post on PrawfsBlawg that law schools would do better to spend the summer figuring out how to provide quality legal education online than that Overcoming many hurdles to get a small number of students to campus, as COVID-19 will likely force everyone online at some point.
"I assume that the hybrid approaches will definitely go bankrupt under circumstances beyond our control," he wrote. "So why not use July to create valuable templates and strategies for a great, if imperfect, education program? So many of us have ideas on how best to do that, because one size is clearly not for everyone. "