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Moving beyond the pandemic: Reflections from a rising 3L | Jennifer Fahrenholt

Friday, August 27, 2021 @ 11:45 AM | By Jennifer Fahrenholt

Jennifer Fahrenholt %>
Jennifer Fahrenholt
When I did a cost-benefit analysis of going to law school in my mid-30s and following my dreams of a legal career as a second career, I certainly did not factor a global pandemic into the equation. Nobody saw that on the horizon. Despite the challenges, a full year of virtual law school was a fascinating experience and one that will be a topic of conversation for years to come.

Once I finally realized that the pandemic would last longer than the “two more weeks” we were repeatedly told in the beginning, I converted my basement into an office space. At least, I put a desk, a chair and a second computer monitor down there and called it an office. It continues to be a shared space, utilized as an office, storage area, workout area, laundry room and my elderly cat’s safe haven from my dogs. I honestly think I spent more time in my basement than the rest of my house during my second year of law school.

Study groups formed during our first year of law school quickly turned into moral support groups, trying to assist each other in navigating a new world of online learning. It was bizarre to interact with the friends I had spent almost seven months with via Brady Bunch-style boxes on a computer screen instead of in person. Cold calling became a thing of the past, except for classes with a few particularly motivated professors who believed they could still effectively utilize the Socratic method via Zoom.

There were, of course, several good things to come out of the pandemic. I can’t even imagine how many years it would have taken law schools to embrace online learning if they weren’t forced into it. There were some hiccups along the way, but overall, I think schools did an excellent job pivoting to online learning when this was unexpected and unprecedented.

In general, I prefer learning in person, but online learning opens a world of possibilities for visiting professors, guest lecturers and other situations where travel would otherwise be a necessity. The technology is now in place to make this a reality, provided law societies and bar associations allow for it to be utilized moving forward.

Also, living becomes cheaper when you are learning from home. I saved money on my caffeine addiction by brewing at home instead of buying endless cups of coffee on campus. Although gas was ridiculously cheap at the beginning of the pandemic, I still saved money by not driving my car. Those “stay at home” refund cheques from my vehicle insurance company certainly didn’t hurt either. I took up gardening and baking as pandemic hobbies, and I would like to think that the fresh vegetables and freshly baked bread were a way to save money as well. If not, at least they were delicious.

In March 2021, I accepted an offer to work part time during the school year as a law clerk and full time during the summer. The firm wanted me to work in person, and I was excited to have some human interaction beyond my immediate family.

On my first day, I told my supervisor that I, quite literally, “just emerged from my basement after a year of solitude” and to please forgive any social awkwardness. He laughed and said everyone was in the same boat, since they had been working from home.

My third and final year of law school will be a mix of in-person and online classes. Honestly, my priority in course selection for fall 2021, besides fulfilling requirements for graduation, was securing a seat in the classes offered in person.

There won’t be as much time for pandemic hobbies, but that is a sacrifice I’m willing to make. As much as I have grown to appreciate my basement, I prefer being around my classmates, and I can’t wait to see their faces once again.

Jennifer Fahrenholt is a third-year law student in the dual JD program at the University of Windsor Faculty of Law and the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. She is interested in immigration law and corporate law.

Illustration by Chris Yates/Law360

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