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Virtual law school in the middle of a pandemic: Challenges and hopes | Ridhey Gill

Monday, August 31, 2020 @ 2:56 PM | By Ridhey Gill

Ridhey Gill %>
Ridhey Gill
A lot has happened in the last five months since quarantine was first enforced back in early March due to COVID-19. I couldn’t have possibly imagined that I would receive my law school acceptance just a few weeks after the world shut down, that my orientation would be done via Zoom throughout the summer, or that I would be here now just a week away from starting my first year of law school — virtually.

This year has been filled with unknowns. While we don’t really know how virtual law school will be in execution, there are already so many things that are both exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. As an incoming 1L student, I am nervous about coping with an online learning environment and how that will impact myself as well as other students.

Learning from home can very easily become difficult for a lot of students. Many students require human interaction between fellow peers and professors in order to learn best. Especially in the case of 1Ls, who are already facing all of the challenges that come with starting law school. Adapting to a whole different kind of education than what they have known prior to adapting to all of this in an online setting is definitely not ideal.

For some, the difficulty may be an issue of not having access to the best work environment when forced to learn from home. Students may be in various circumstances — taking care of family or having young kids, struggling financially, working a job or multiple jobs to make ends meet, dealing with the direct impact of such circumstances and virtual learning on mental health, and the list goes on.

Even without any of these extenuating circumstances, “Zoom fatigue” is real! It is hard for professors to find a way to engage students in numerous online lectures, just as it is hard for students to remain engaged, motivated and actually retain information.

We should be empathetic and understanding of the different struggles that both professors and students will be facing throughout the upcoming school year. Law school is already hard; let’s not make it any harder.

I’d like to point out a silver lining in all of this. While there are many challenges that come with going to law school in the middle of a pandemic and doing so virtually, there are also a number of skills that students can take away from this experience that will directly contribute towards modernizing the legal sector.

Just as law firms have had to adapt over the past five months and learn how to serve their clients in a new way, students will get a head start on this as legal education will be altered. We will learn how to leverage technology to make the experience work for us so that we can learn to the best of our ability; in the same way, in the future we will use technology to improve our practice as lawyers.  

At the core of everything, we must keep health and safety a top priority. There are three things that I hope for as the beginning of September creeps around the corner.

I hope professors will keep in mind that students are trying to learn “lawyer language” and complete assignments and tests while juggling other priorities, such as trying to make ends meet financially or taking care of family. That being said, it should be the same vice versa.

I hope there is more of an effort at all law schools to create a strong sense of community where everyone, faculty and students alike, will support one another and lift each other up during these difficult times. We need this now more than ever.

And finally, I hope that we students will make the most of this situation. Let us all consider how going to law school in the middle of a global pandemic can give us new skills that we couldn’t even have imagined. Resilience will be tested, but we didn’t get to law school without overcoming obstacles. I’m wishing my fellow law schoolmates a successful, healthy and happy upcoming school year. We got this!

Ridhey Gill is a member of Ryerson Laws inaugural class and was formerly the startup experience associate at the Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ). She documents her journey towards becoming an atypical lawyer on her website and centres her work around creating a more diverse, inclusive and accessible legal industry.

Illustration by Chris Yates/Law360

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