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Coronavirus conversion: Will online law school classes become a permanent change?

Online Classes

Almost overnight, legal education as we have always known it changed, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Universities nationwide have shut down their classrooms, dorms, libraries, dining halls and law schools are no exception.

Before coronavirus, four universities had variances from the American Bar Association rules prohibiting a purely online legal education. Now, every single law school in the United States is going remote. Dean Andrew Strauss at the University of Dayton School of Law says COVID-19 is going to bring a “total change to legal education.”

The University of Dayton School of Law is one of the four schools with a variance to the rules. Their online JD students take half of their classes “live” online and the other half asynchronously—pre-recorded classes. The asynchronous classes are recorded before the semester starts and are designed to be interactive. Dean Strauss says every three to five minutes professors ask questions that students are able to respond to via video recording or writing out answers.

While professors abruptly moving online have had no prep-time, Strauss says in some ways the live classes will be better online than in person. For instance, that student up front who you can never hear from the back? They’ll be facing you in a little box with a microphone to speak into and you will be able to hear every word they say.

“I think people will be surprised,” says Dean Strauss. “…about how effectively you can do online teaching and how much it can actually simulate the in-class experience.”

Students will still be cold-called on (sorry, kids) and professors are finding new ways of teaching rather than the traditional lecture. They’re using video clips and animations for visual learning.  Some are assigning podcasts. The University of Dayton School of Law is even providing virtual study rooms via Zoom Video Conferencing so students can have study groups.

These immediate changes will have long-term impacts.

“I think this is going to be one of the single largest changes in transformation to legal education in history. I think we’re going to be living through it right now,” says Dean Strauss.

Just before the coronavirus forced schools online, the American Bar Association sent out a proposal for comment to law schools across the country. The proposal would be to eliminate the prohibitions on a legal education for the JD.

“My guess is that it will increase the likelihood that the proposal will go through as many people see that online education is a really good way to teach,” says Strauss. “[A]nd that’s online education that people will be doing on the fly. If you have time to plan to do it well and you take it seriously, it can be an amazing platform for teaching law students.”

Strauss says this strange coincidence of the ABA proposal combined with coronavirus forcing classes online will hasten the inevitable. He says even if the ABA proposal were to be accepted, it would probably still take years for law schools to actually shift to online learning platforms.

But, now, “they’re all doing it and so how many are going to say, ‘Hey, this works. Let’s continue it.’ I think it’s going to be a total change to legal education,” he says.