For law schools weighing their options during the public health crisis, the American Bar Association (ABA) has offered some guidance to ensure students seeking a law degree are afforded the highest quality academic experience permissible under the circumstances. The ABA Section for Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar issued a recent memo dealing with emergency and disaster scenarios.
“In these situations, the Council, like law schools, seeks to avoid disruption to schools’ academic programs to the extent possible while safeguarding the health and safety of students, staff, faculty, and their families,” it reads. “In some cases, the disruption caused by a disaster or emergency cannot be reasonably accommodated without extraordinary action, such as the temporary closing of the school or altering the academic calendar.” A number of law schools have already made alterations to their academic calendar as the public and private sectors scramble to curb the transmission of the virus.
According to the ABA, Standard 107(a)(1) is the operative regulation with respect to academic requirement variances. The ABA calls for variances, though, only “in extraordinary circumstances in which compliance …would create or constitute extreme hardship for the law school and/or its students.”
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“Distance learning often may be a good solution to emergencies or disasters that make the law school facilities unavailable or make it difficult or impossible for students to get to the law school,” according to the guidance from the ABA.
Schools considering remote learning should factor in the course’s adaptability, the instructor, and the school’s and students’ technological capacity, it states. “Simply moving a classroom-based course to a video conference call or to a school’s learning management system that supports other courses may be relatively easy, but unless factors such as those set out above have been considered, may not be an appropriate accommodation compared to, for example, adding extra days to the term when a regular schedule can be resumed,” it continues. According to the ABA, a minimum of 83 credit-hours is required for a J.D. degree.
Law schools react to COVID-19 pandemic
- Yale Law School: Per the school's website, all classes will be conducted online starting March 23, including final exams, through the end of the year. All events are also cancelled through the end of the academic year. An announcement regarding Commencement is forthcoming.
- Harvard Law School: Per the school’s website, “Harvard University and Harvard Law School will shift to remote teaching and learning beginning Monday, March 23. For more information and the latest updates, please visit the HLS coronavirus information page.”
- New York Law School: Per the school’s website, after a student tested positive for the COVID 19 virus on Tuesday, March 3, the school closed for three days. All courses have moved online as students return from spring break.