Why Start Law School During a Pandemic?

May 21, 2020 | by Dean Margaret Sova McCabe

Many students – undergraduate and graduate alike – are thinking about how campuses will look in the fall of 2020. From freshmen to first year law students, there’s a legitimate concern about the continuation of remote learning and the transition to new learning environments. This raises an important question: Why should students start law school during a pandemic? As a dean, I’m glad students are asking this question because it helps prepare them for the rigors of legal education. It is an incredibly rewarding field that requires commitment, critical thinking, and hard work, pandemic or not.

Students have probably seen that our University’s hope is residential learning in the fall. Whether we’re remote, residential, or both, excellent teaching and learning are possible. Our law faculty in Fayetteville are preparing for any setting by focusing on what they always have: student learning. That means faculty are planning carefully the cases students will be reading, the legal rules they want to probe during class discussions, and how they’ll choose to assess students’ understanding of course concepts.

Starting law school in the fall means students will be starting their careers: reading cases carefully, learning the analytical and reasoning methods so essential to our common law system, and the oral and written communication skills that are the hallmark of effective lawyers. We know these core components of the legal profession are essential no matter the practice setting. We also know that all practice settings will demand that lawyers are adaptable and resilient. So whether the pandemic has instruction happening remotely, residentially, or both, here are the things that will still happen in 1L classes everywhere this fall:

  • Students learning the language of the law by immersing themselves in the reading of cases and in-depth discussions of those readings with professors and classmates
  • Faculty challenging students with sometimes seemingly unsolvable hypotheticals until they “get it”
  • Legal memos written by 1Ls and carefully marked-up by faculty to guide students in becoming effective “legal writers”
  • Office hours with faculty to discuss questions that turn into discussions about career goals and aspirations
  • Exposure to different practice areas, programs, and professionals through “lunch and learns” or evening gatherings
  • Opportunities to organize into study groups that support attaining mastery of coursework
  • Connections to the community through pro bono, community service, and student government
  • Those memorable moments that happen during the 1L year that the class will reminisce about during commencement celebrations in 2023 (and beyond. . .)
  • Joyful and hard-earned discovery of the rule of law and what it means to be a lawyer.

For our readers who are planning on attending law school here this fall, we can’t wait to see you. If you’re not sure about where to go or whether to go at all, continue to ask the hard questions about what you want from your education and whether you’ll gain by delaying entry – in some cases, it is the right choice.

We think our program will be rewarding for our students and we’re preparing to make the Class of 2023 our best yet. We’re here to talk you through this important decision so feel free to reach out.

Margaret Sova McCabe is Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law.