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The impact of COVID-19 on Canadian law students | Serena Eshaghurshan

Monday, August 31, 2020 @ 8:31 AM | By Serena Eshaghurshan

Serena Eshaghurshan %>
Serena Eshaghurshan
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented period of uncertainty and challenges, and law students are not exempt from facing these obstacles. In a time of so much uncertainty, many law students have grappled with remote classes, job scarcity and economic uncertainty. As many JD students prepare to enter the job market, it has become an unfortunate reality that articles are becoming fewer and harder to find. Fortunately, students and law schools are resilient and have proposed alternative learning and employment options to cope with the pandemic. While it has been challenging and overwhelming at times, students know they are not alone and can reach out for guidance and support.

As a law student at the University of Calgary, I remember sitting in class and the professor informing us there was a small chance that the university will close. Of course, everyone was excited — who wouldn’t want a few extra days off? On March 13, the university suspended classes. I remember receiving the e-mail at midnight and thinking that the closure would be brief. I don’t think anyone foresaw the true extent of the shutdown. However, as the hypothetical became reality and the days dragged into months, the novelty began to wear off and anxiety set in.

The Faculty of Law was quick to switch us to a fully remote lecture system via Zoom. Of course, learning is best done with peers in the classroom, but the streamlined integration of online lectures allowed us to resume our studies rather seamlessly. The faculty was extremely accommodating to students, such as extending deadlines, making exams 24 hours, providing the option to elect a Credit/ No Credit (CR/NCR) in lieu of a letter grade, etc. Unfortunately, a significant portion of my peers lost summer job opportunities, so the faculty created new research positions and the option of enrolling in summer classes, which helped to alleviate stress and financial hardship.

I think the most difficult challenge created by the pandemic is the job market for articling. I remember learning about “articling recruit week” before even starting law school. Essentially, on a specified day in May, an online portal opens for one week with numerous articling job applications. I remember preparing my cover letter, resumé and reference letters with optimism that the recruit would operate in its normative fashion. However, my peers and I were shocked when we saw such few positions available, and for me, that’s when full apprehension set in. As time went on, more positions became available, but still nowhere near what they had been in previous years. Although my peers and I knew that jobs would come along eventually, we were all on edge. Job interviews were now done on a fully remote basis, and it felt odd to conduct such interviews in the comfort of one’s home. Of course, the faculty and firms were accommodating and did their best to reassure us, but it was still an incredibly stressful time and truly out of anyone’s control.

Another difficulty caused by the pandemic is the lack of interaction with peers. The most valuable part of my law school experience has been the long-lasting friendships I have made, and the unshakable sense of comradery developed throughout the years. While virtual Zoom sessions and FaceTime are possible, it truly does not substitute in person interactions.

However, it’s important to remember that not everything has been so negative. This pandemic will tangibly reform and advance the practice of law. By substituting in person requirements for electronic alternatives, the legal system and legal profession will become more accessible, more affordable and more efficient in the upcoming years. A shift towards an electronic and remote system will certainty afford better access to justice outcomes. While this will benefit society as a whole, it will particularly benefit our most vulnerable populations, as they often face greater difficulty with accessing the legal system.

It is true that the pandemic will cause an incoming generation of lawyers to face a depressed and volatile legal market, and this can be extremely disheartening to students who have long dreamed of starting their legal careers. It is natural to feel overwhelmed, but in a time of so much unknown, all we can do is keep moving forward and supporting one another. If there is one piece of advice I could offer to incoming or current law students, I would tell them that they are not alone during this difficult time. Nothing lasts forever, and law students are a resilient group of individuals — whatever the future may hold, I am confident that we will adapt and prosper.

Serena Eshaghurshan is 2021 JD candidate at the University of Calgary. Prior to law school, she received a bachelor of arts in psychology at the University of Calgary.

Illustration by Chris Yates/Law360

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