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We're already seeing some of the short-term impacts of the coronavirus pandemic for law students and new grads. The schools are finishing the spring semester online, graduation ceremonies have been canceled, and some states are allowing graduates with postponed bar exam dates to practice without a license. But when the worst of the outbreak subsides, will it be back to business as usual for legal education?
Our guess is: Probably not.
In the past, legal has generally lagged behind other industries when it comes to adopting new technology. But when left with no other choice, it seems that law schools have risen to the challenge of distance learning. The public health crisis has forced those practicing law to adapt as well - finding new ways to consult with clients and interact with the courts.
Clients were expecting more technology-based legal services even before COVID-19. Now, an emphasis on technology could be even more critical, especially for those looking to run their own practice. Grads who can flexibly conduct business stand a better chance of successfully navigating whatever comes next for the legal field.
Implementing change in a law school setting is often like turning a cruise ship - nothing happens all that quickly. But, law schools across the country responded to COVID-19 concerns with surprising urgency. The ABA issued a memo in February telling law schools they could take reasonable steps necessary to keep classes going during the pandemic without requesting a variance. Which, for many, meant moving their entire curriculum online.
Although J.D. courses conducted entirely online will likely continue to be scarce, adjustments made during the pandemic could have a lasting impact. Now that law schools know they can conduct productive classes online, we might see more flexible program options in the future. Who knows, online programs could be the thing that begins pushing the cost of law school back down. And as the legal field adapts to what will undoubtedly be a changed market, students may also look for opportunities outside a J.D. program.
It's hard to say what legal education, or the world, will look like when the novel coronavirus pandemic subsides. But we're pretty sure there's no turning back now.
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