by Kay Will, Staff Writer
For students currently in the latter half of law school or those who have recently earned their degree, it is likely that virtual learning shaped at least part of their experience. News articles in the past two years have portrayed a mainly negative narrative about the impact of virtual learning on children and adolescents. However, this may not necessarily be true for all law students.
The notion that law students are impacted by virtual learning in the same ways as other students has a fair amount of support. In Spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced students into virtual learning. However, the infrastructure of some schools did not allow for a smooth transition for law students. Even in schools where infrastructure proved to be sufficient, faculty were forced to scramble to make the rapid transition to teaching remotely, a task that not all were well equipped to do.
This shift lasted over a semester in most schools, with nine out of ten law students taking at least half of their fall 2020 and spring 2021 courses online, with nearly eight out of ten taking classes “mostly” or “completely” online during those semesters. This was as much as a shift for students as it was for schools and faculty, as only two percent of second-year and third-year law students reported taking any law school courses online prior to the pandemic. These same students tended to dislike the format of online learning, with 39 percent stating they found remote learning to be difficult and challenging. Only 48 percent of students learning mostly or completely online in Spring 2021, rated their J.D. program “good” or “excellent.” By contrast, 73 percent of students learning mostly or completely in-person rated their programs this way.
However, evidence shows that opinions of law students on virtual learning have been colored by their past law school experiences. For example, first-year law students with no prior in-person law school time showed 64 percent satisfaction with their J.D. program by the end of their first year.
Another study found the greatest challenge for students was staying engaged with online classes, followed by feeling as though they were unable to influence administrators’ decision making. However, law professors pointed out a different issue as the greatest challenge for law students—professors reported that the biggest challenge they saw for students was the major economic disparity among them. While some students attended class from second-story bedrooms with beach views, said one professor, others attended from closets or cars to try to find a quiet space with dodgy internet connection. This professor described the fact that these students were still graded against one another as horrific.
On the other hand, some students have reported finding benefits from remote learning during the pandemic. To start, students were largely optimistic about their schools’ handling of matters related to the pandemic and virtual learning.59 percent of law students said that their school successfully responded to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that they trust their school is acting in the best interest of students. While the majority of students tended to disfavor virtual learning, this was not the case for everyone; 21 percent of students who took their law school classes online for most or all of the 2020-2021 academic year said they preferred online learning to in-person learning. Additionally, 25 percent of students reported an improvement in their academic performance while solely taking virtual classes. Overall, online students tended to perform similarly to in-person students during this period. Thus, despite the perception that online courses do not deliver an effective education, online students were not more likely to report diminished academic performance than their in-person peers.Law students reported varying opinions about their experiences with virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like with any change, virtual learning came with both benefits and detriments for students, depending on a variety of circumstances. However, with this understanding of how virtual learning impacted law students during the pandemic, law schools can now strive to implement policy and infrastructure updates that will better allow students to complete their legal education, even in
 https://www.contemporarypediatrics.com/view/how-did-virtual-learning-impact-youth-; https://elearningindustry.com/side-effects-of-online-education; https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/online-learnings-impact-student-performance
 https://news.gallup.com/poll/350351/law-schools-forced-shift-online-offers-insights-future.aspx; https://www.lawyersmutualnc.com/blog/law-students-are-struggling-with-remote-learning