• Meredith E. Milton

OPINION: Law School CANNOT Continue Completely Online.

When thinking of the typical law school experience, one might visualize a cold yet stuffy classroom, wreaking of anxiety and stress. Inside the classroom, students are tired, beyond brain dead, and struggling to pay attention to the professor lecturing about the statute of frauds for the one hundredth time. The students are most likely sitting in class wishing they were anywhere but that room, with that professor, learning that material, on that day.

In retrospect, this is exactly what my fall semester of my first year of law school was like. In the moment, I didn't think much of it. I didn't realize how lucky I was to be sitting in the classroom, nor did I realize how lucky I was to sit in seats right next to my best friends each and every day. I wasn't able to see how great it was to have the opportunity to leave my house and go onto campus to learn the law.

That said, all of those feelings quickly changed mid-March when COVID-19 came into our lives and turned the world upside down. On the evening of March 13, I got an email from my law school alerting us that beginning on March 23 classes would go online for the remainder of the semester. In this moment, I felt a rush of emotions: frightened, disappointed, and yet slightly excited.

I was frightened for how not only my professors would adjust to the new method of teaching, but also how I would adjust to online learning. I was disappointed in the fact that I didn't know when I would get to see my friends again. And I was slightly excited to have a little more leeway in my schedule.

Fast forward to the second week of April. At this time, law school had been online for two weeks and those two weeks were absolutely terrible. As a first year class, we were in some of the densest material of the semester- abortion in constitutional law, estates and future interests in property law, and defenses in criminal law- and it was a true struggle to deal with these via online learning.

When it came time for exams we had had a little over five weeks of class online. When I sat down to study and prepare for my exams, I was at first confused as to why I felt I knew the material up to March 23 so well, yet once my notes hit March 23, I felt as if I knew nothing. I brought this up to my friend during one of our virtual study groups and she reminded me that on March 23 was when we went online and essentially began self teaching. In this moment, I cannot even explain what I felt. I immediately began thinking of what law school would look like if we had to be online going into my second year, and even my third year. I had a massive amount of anxiety for my success not only in the remainder of my time in law school, but also my ability to succeed on the BAR exam post graduation if classes were to continue virtually.

Law school CANNOT continue into the fall semester completely online. Not only for my personal sanity, but all those who are on this wild ride that is law school. I fear predominantly for the incoming 1L class, who would have to learn first year material (which is BAR exam material) online. The 1L's would have even higher levels of anxiety and stress than we had this past spring semester. I fear also for the rising 3L's who are about the enter into their last chapter of law school and prepare for the BAR exam. As a 2L I feel like I am in the middle area where I wouldn't be too impacted, but for the sake of incoming 1L's and rising 3L's-- law school cannot transition to online course lessons.

I understand the fear of a second wave of COVID-19 is real. There is no getting around that. However, in order to ensure that educated and prepared lawyers are entering the world over the next 1-3 years, classes need to resume somewhat in person. In order to make that happen, social distancing will have to occur (in and out of the classroom). With that said, I think there is a happy medium that can be found if the following situation were to happen:

For M/W and T/H classes-- Students are divided up into groups A and B (no, not based on grades). On Mondays and Thursdays the A group students come to class on campus, and on Tuesday and Wednesday, the A group students Zoom into class from their homes. To the contrary, on Monday and Thursdays, the B group watch the class via Zoom, and then on Tuesday and Wednesday the B group students come to class on campus. Or vice versa.

Regardless of how the days and groups are planned out, I feel as if the above situation is a good mix of class time (to keep our personal sanity) combined with at home learning to help stop the spread of COVID-19. And of course, when on campus, masks should always be worn.

The proposed situation is just my own personal idea of how to make everyone happy and allow for some normalcy into our lives. Law school is already stressful enough, and being in the classroom even two days a week, would help alleviate some of that added stress. Granted, not everyone would be pleased with the above situation-- but isn't that idea better than at home learning Monday-Friday? I sure think so. The bottom line is this: Law School shouldn't continue into the fall semester completely online or else there will be graduating law students going out into the world unprepared and not properly educated to advocate for their clients.

A hybrid of in class and at home learning would make a world of difference.

Meredith E. Milton is an Opinion Contributor for The National Times.