Law students across the country have faced a variety of challenges from March onward as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The Texas Tech School of Law has seen multiple changes to ensure the education process is effective.
Throughout the United States, different universities implemented certain precautions for their law schools, which involved declaring fall 2020 classes to be all online or utilizing a hybrid method of course delivery, according to the U.S. News and World Report website. Some law school applicants will not be able to visit a campus in which they are interested.
At the Tech law school, students, faculty and staff may see a variety of changes to how they operate.
Wendy-Adele Humphrey, associate dean for academic affairs at the law school, said the transition to distance learning in March was huge for the entire law school community.
People within the law school embraced the situation the pandemic caused as much as they could, Humphrey said. Although, a plan for education delivery during this fall semester was started as soon as possible before the summer.
“We prioritized in-person experience, which is consistent with what the university did as well,” she said.
Hybrid courses and alternating-attendance courses are other options the Tech School of Law have utilized, Humphrey said.
“One thing that we thought was important for our law students was to provide them with a level of flexibility,” she said, “and so, we allowed our students to opt out of attending in-person, and so, our courses are livestreamed.”
The American Bar Association is an accrediting body Humphrey said has standards regarding class attendance, which have not been changed in light of the pandemic.
With almost all courses having a live stream option, Humphrey said students displaying COVID-19 symptoms still can participate in class.
Education delivery also may depend on different aspects, such as the size of the incoming class.
Danielle Saavedra, assistant dean of admissions at the law school, said there were a lot of conversations in March regarding Tech School of Law enrollment this fall. The staff made sure to temper expectations, as one did not know if students were going to try to defer and start next year or were going to withdraw and start again some other time.
“The class in general was determined to be here in-person,” she said.
Even with the option to opt out of in-person classes for the fall, Saavedra said only 11 students chose this option. She said she believes a majority of students were tired of isolating, and the opportunity to attend law school in-person gave a slight sense of normalcy.
“But we actually ended up with an increase in our application pool of almost 25 percent, which was huge,” she said. “Most of the nation saw their application pool about flat if not a little bit below, but we were one of four schools in Texas that saw an increase between 20 and 29 percent, so it was a great year for us and applications.”
The law school admitted about the same number of students that are typically admitted in previous years, Saavedra said. This means the school’s selectivity percentage was lower, which is great for law schools.
“Our class ended up at 156 students, which we shoot between 150 and 160, so that was perfect,” she said, “and it was especially perfect with everything going on, COVID-wise and the precautions that we were taking because that group of 156 actually split into three sections.”
Within that class of 156 students, about 35 percent were students of color, Saavedra said. Although, increasing diversity continues to be something the school works on.
In addition, Saavedra said the school’s average Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score increased from 155 to 156, which was the first time the school hit 156 since 2012. The school’s average grade point average also increased from 3.43 to a 3.56, which is the highest the school has been at since at least 2007.
There have been other shifts regarding both entrance and qualifying exams, such as the LSAT and bar exams respectively, Humphrey said.
The modality of the LSAT has shifted to an online format, Humphrey said.
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) moved LSATs to this remote and abridged three-section format, which is known as LSAT-Flex, according to the LSAC website. This format will be utilized through November. Regular updates regarding the issue also can be found on this website.
“The bigger issue is the bar exam, which is the comprehensive exam law students have to pass to be licensed in any state,” Humphrey said. “It varies from state to state with what has happened with that bar exam.”
Typically, bar exams are administered in July, Humphrey said. But because of the pandemic, there was uncertainty with how they will be administered.
In Texas, July in-person exams were canceled, and bar exams were administered on Sept. 9 and 10, according to the State Bar of Texas website. An online bar exam has been approved for Oct. 5 and 6.
Some states shifted into an all-online format and some have continued to use an in-person format with socially-distanced examinations, Humphrey said. Some states, not Texas, are allowing diploma privilege which allows graduates not to take any bar exams.
The next chapter after passing the bar exam can mean a lot for law students as they search for the new careers. Even amid the pandemic, Tech law students can utilize different resources to prepare themselves for this chapter of their lives.
Paula Smith, assistant dean for career and professional development at the law school, said the law school typically would provide in-person resources aimed at career development, such as one-on-one career counseling and workshops. That is just one aspect of career development efforts at the Tech School of Law.
“And then the other side is actually the job search process, and students can find jobs in a variety of ways,” she said. “One of those is the on-campus interview process, and we have employers who come, both in the fall and the spring, to interview our students here for jobs everywhere.”
The law school also maintains an internal job opportunity board for student and post-grad jobs, Smith said.
“Because of the timing, a lot of our students in March have already accepted summer employment, and some students did not have a job at that point in time,” she said. “The majority of the students who have already accepted employment for summer kept those jobs.”
Some summer jobs were shortened, and most of them were conducted virtually, Smith said.
This fall semester, Smith said the number of job postings for students and recent graduates is less compared to previous years.
“By this point last year, the number of jobs that we had posted for students and graduates would be running around 200 at any point in time,” she said, “and now, we are running about 100 to 125, so it’s almost cut in half for the number of active job postings that we’re seeing on our system.”
The number of on-campus interviews also is about half of where it was a year before, Smith said. Some big-city employers have decided to do on-campus interviews in February and March. A few in-person interviews have been conducted this month in a large conference room, so students and employers could social distance.
A majority of on-campus interviews are virtual along with other career development resources, Smith said.
“We’re still doing all of our regular workshops and our individual student meetings, but they are not live,” she said.
Although, for career counseling, Smith said students will have the option between in-person or remote services.
Along with staff-to-student communication, the need for distancing may impact interactions among students.
Sofia Chapman, associate dean for student life and director of diversity at the law school, said student activities were greatly affected in March amid the start of the pandemic. There are about 30 to 35 student organizations at the Tech School of Law.
Typically, during the week, organizations will host their meetings in-person, Chapman said.
“They’re only hosting virtual events, so no gatherings,” she said.
Regarding the importance of student organizations and activities amid the pandemic, Chapman said it is beneficial to have healthy outlets and to take a break from studies and stress.
“I think it’s important to keep it up, just from a student development perspective and a student support perspective,” she said, “to continue to engage our students in ways that will help them in terms of who they are and in terms of their identity.”