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Your law school went online – now what? Here’s how to adapt to remote learning

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Woman studying at home with her dog
With law schools and other institutions moving online due to the coronavirus outbreak, you might get to spend some quality studying time with your furry friends. Here's how to adapt to the switch to online coursework. (Photo by Ilia Kalinkin, Shutterstock)

With the threat of COVID-19 becoming more and more real, an increasing number of U.S. law schools are announcing a sudden switch to online classes. Here’s how you, as a law student, can make the change, and maximize your work, in this environment:

Figure out how your prof will stay in touch. Your course probably has a page on your LMS (Canvas, Blackboard or similar)—your prof might post anything from announcements to pre-taped lectures and assignments there. Perhaps she will switch your class to a live Zoom meeting (in which case you need the Zoom link to join). Or, he may use some other technology. Your professors are scrambling to adapt to this new reality as well. Watch your email for announcements, and be ready to adapt.

Stay current with the reading. Odds are that you already have a casebook and a syllabus that lays out the assigned readings for the class. Don’t take this interruption as an excuse to procrastinate. It is easy to fall so far behind that you can’t catch up, and, even if class is remote, it is likely that you’ll be facing a final exam on this material in May in any case.

Engage with the course. I teach business law in both traditional and partially-online formats, and one of the main differences as a student is that you have to take real initiative to succeed: log in often, figure out the material, and be accountable to yourself for completing the work on time. It is easy to slip through the cracks. In this situation, it is even easier, as both you and your prof are dealing with being sick or caring for others, perhaps having kids underfoot, being trapped at home, etc.

My advice is: Demonstrate that you are doing your best to engage with the class. If you meet on Zoom, be present on audio and video. If there are discussion boards, post something thoughtful on them. If you are confused about what you are supposed to do, email your professor. If you are having trouble accessing or need accommodation, or if you are really struggling, let the prof or school know.

Maximize your learning environment. Prepare for some quality time in your home. If you don’t usually study at home, think about what you can do to make it more conducive to do so. It might be a lighting or seating change, a frank conversation with the people you live with, or noise-cancelling headphones.  

A couple of other thoughts

The above is all advice for quickly adapting to remote learning being used a stopgap measure. In my experience, remote learning can absolutely succeed in law school, though ideally you have a trained prof and an instructional design team who take the time and care to do it well. In fact, remote learning can have real advantages, including:

Being able to work on your own schedule and at your own pace. “Synchronous” learning is the term for being together in real time, whether in a classroom or a Zoom meeting. “Asynchronous” learning, on the other hand, would be taped lectures that you can watch at your convenience. Most courses are a combination.

Asynchronous learning is easier to do in the context of working or an otherwise busy life (or, intermittent Internet access). However, without that real-time interaction, the prof has to have another way to ensure that students are paying attention and advancing in their learning. Which leads me to:

Learning through application rather than the Socratic method. In my asynchronous classes, each week my students watch a taped lecture, read from the casebook, and turn in a short assignment that applies what they have watched and read. Another common asynchronous approach is to have students respond to a class discussion post. These are additional deliverables you don’t usually have in law school, and they are a trade-off for the absence of class discussion and/or the Socratic method. They are also, in my opinion, an excellent opportunity for learning through doing and for exposing law students to real-world practice.

When we learn about Limited Liability Companies, for example, students work through problems raised by a hypothetical client and have to read and apply an Operating Agreement – something a first-year associate should know how to do but is not necessarily taught in law school. Creating good exercises is hard and time-consuming, so don’t expect your profs to have this ready to go this spring, but in my opinion it is a lasting benefit of remote learning.

Working in comfy clothes with your pets. On a lighter note: Your dog is going to be thrilled to have you home more.

Jen Randolph Reise Jen Randolph Reise teaches business law as a visiting professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, the first U.S. law school to launch an ABA-approved blended learning J.D. program. She is a securities and corporate governance attorney by training, and has worked both in private practice at a large Minneapolis firm and in-house at a public company. She has also founded tech-ed startup JD Navigator, with advice for people considering law school.