The day before spring break, my contracts professor assured us that, if a virus required us to conduct the rest of our semester online, she had protocols in place to resume our learning. I recall looking at my other classmates and shrugging off the announcement. It was unlikely that a faraway virus would disrupt business as usual, let alone law school.
Skipping ahead to the completion of final exams, the last time I fumbled a cold call in the same room as a professor was the day before spring break. I completed my 1L year under unprecedented circumstances. Quickly, the “normal” law school routine of class-to-library-class-to-library vanished. The law school administrators cancelled extracurricular activities, law library use was limited to “appointment only” status, and we all added Zoom to our Mac docks.
Zoom reminded me that professors are human. Some professors had never used a video conferencing platform before. My inbox was buried with expired Zoom links mixed in-between the workable ones. Professors’ pets were distracting. I found my mind wander during Property, curious about the type of fish swimming around in the aquarium visible behind my professor’s head. Another had a restless black cat that could never quite find a comfortable spot on the couch. I learned my Con Law professor’s dog’s name Lucy and about Lucy’s enthusiasm for barking at bicycles.
One professor rejected Zoom altogether and attempted live text chats to go over our midterms through a program that resembled AOL instant messenger. A student would ask a question and after a noticeable lag, our professor responded with an informative, but delayed response. This proved to be an unworkable solution; by the end of the year, this professor, who was strongly anti-Zoom, and anti-PowerPoint, reluctantly embraced both programs. Generally, I can’t tell who disliked online classes more—students or professors—but this professor clearly hated it most.
Lurking in the back of all our minds were grades. The quintessential stress of 1L grades only intensified. Considering that 1L grades typically determine the first several years of any young lawyers’ trajectory, the grading response to the COVID-19 pandemic felt more urgent than a vaccine delivery. Would schools alleviate the worry of competing for letter grades and carrying the stress of deciding whether to “opt in” on top of the fear of getting sick? Some schools, like Harvard Law School, adopted a mandatory “Credit-Fail” grading policy. Other schools, like mine, adopted an “All-or-Nothing” system where, upon receipt of all grades, students have the choice to accept all letter grades or convert all grades into Pass/Fail status.
Apartment-based final exams added to the pressure. All of our finals were open book, and with the exception of one class, the objective portion of exams was eliminated. The explanation given was to preserve professors’ multiple-choice problems and lessen the chance for cheating. Exams were administered in 3 – 4.5-hour blocks on specific days. The typical stress of time-pressured finals was compounded by the requirement to self-time and upload our Word documents to an online portal within the allotted time. My heart froze when I realized that I forgot to start my iPhone timer during my civil procedure exam. I had to estimate how much time I had left from when I started and was frankly lucky to be within the time. Of course, time is crucial for a law school exam; even 5 minutes can make a half-a-letter-grade difference. I really missed having a proctor.
As a rising 2L in a tenuous labor market and in a pandemic, many things are uncertain. How will employers respond to the unprecedented challenges of COVID for law students? What will it mean for students who opt for Pass/Fail grades? What does this all mean for On-Campus Interviewing? What if my professors get sick? Are there accommodations for students who get sick? If we remain online, will tuition be reduced?
One thing is for certain—I’ll never forget completing my first year of law school during a pandemic.
On behalf of the class of 2022: It was 1L of a year!