As the world learns to navigate and adjust to life during a pandemic, the University of Arizona Law community is quickly adapting and beginning to settle in to what law school looks like in the time of COVID-19.
So how does law school work in the midst of a world turned upside down? Here are just a few of the ways we’re responding.
As all university classes moved online in March the week after Spring Break, events and social activities did, too. Organizers for the clinic and externship fair, scheduled for the first day of online classes, pivoted to a digital event, with virtual information booths and dedicated video chat rooms for students to connect with clinic and externship faculty and staff. Special events like Associate Professor of Legal Writing Sylvia Lett’s popular Short Story Club and a guest lecture on juror bias from attorney David Wenner moved to Zoom.
For the first time ever, Admitted Students Weekend was offered entirely online. The Admissions and Financial Aid team moved quickly to completely rebuild a full day of programming to be available virtually. Admitted students were able to hear from faculty, administrators, current students and alumni, and the sessions were recorded so that future admits can access the content.
Click here for Arizona Law’s event calendar, which continues to list virtual events through the end of the semester.
Prioritizing Support for Students
The Student Bar Association has begun publishing "The Socially Distant Bulletin" newsletter for students, filled with encouragement and ways to stay connected with classmates. Topics have included fitness challenges, recipes, virtual game nights and a Taylor Swift song bracket competition.
“We want to continue the culture of connection and involvement at Arizona Law,” says SBA president and 3L, Karen Donderewicz. “It is important to keep students engaged and interested during this period where it is all too easy to tune out and lose interest in the things that make our law school a real community. The Socially Distant Bulletin is designed to inspire creativity, to hopefully create some dialogue and humor during this tough time.”
Faculty and staff continue to provide students with full support by reaching out through email, phone and video to answer questions and will remain available throughout the semester.
Mental health and wellness services have been made available to students, such as no-cost confidential counseling services, where students can schedule telephone or online appointments. Click here for more information on available student support.
Every faculty member set up virtual office hours for their students, and Dean Marc Miller established a weekly online session open to any student to speak with him in a group video setting.
“Our sense of community has always been one of our greatest strengths at University of Arizona Law, and we’re doing everything we can to keep that going now,” Miller says. “Even though we’re physically separated, we want students to know they still have whatever access to faculty and to each other they need.”
As students are adjusting to online classes and activities, they are also navigating a rapidly changing professional landscape, with the July bar exam already postponed in some states and shifting employment and externship opportunities.
Assistant Dean for Career Development Shannon Trebbe reports that the Career Development Office, which rescheduled fall 2020 on-campus interviews for early 2021, is conducting individual and class meetings with students via Zoom to discuss how to adapt to the evolving job market. They also have regular check-ins with employers to stay on top of emerging trends.
Amanda Bynum, director of bar and academic success set up virtual office hours for students to talk about the bar exam, academic success, the prepare to practice course, upper level bar classes or simply the transition to online education.
“In unprecedented times, it is important to let students know that we are in this together and that both faculty and students are having to adapt and manage anxiety and stress,” says Bynum. “It is important to let students know they are not alone and that there are ways to use technology to connect. I am encouraging students to utilize their self-regulated learning skills to adjust and reflect on how this might make them better practitioners in the future.”
Legal Responses to COVID-19
Across many different University of Arizona Law programs, faculty and students are also shifting their focus to adapting legal services in response to COVID-19.
Shefali Milczarek-Desai, assistant clinical professor and director of the Workers’ Rights Clinic, created a factsheet for Arizona workers regarding leave and benefit rights under COVID-19.
Innovation for Justice director and professor of practice Stacy Butler is recruiting volunteers to work with her students on supporting legal systems that are grappling with the sudden need to operate remotely and online. “As one of 10 legal innovation labs in the country, we are starting to hear from courts and legal service providers from across the U.S. who want our help,” Butler says. “Court forms and processes need to be automated, low-income community members need remote assistance, and creative thinkers and doers are in high demand. So we're forming Team i4J for students, faculty and staff who want to contribute their time and talent now and in the months to come.”
The Health Law Club is organizing students to provide pro bono research and writing support to attorneys working on matters relating to COVID-19, including research around companies’ paid leave and work from home policies; drafting bail motions for those at risk of contracting COVID-19 in custody; and supporting efforts to respond to collection or eviction proceedings against those impacted by COVID-19.
Socially Distanced, but Still Together
The Arizona Law community is now dispersed like never before. But our students, faculty, staff, alumni, employers and friends have continued to stay connected, adapt, learn and offer support.
In his first community-wide message after the move to online was first announced, Dean Miller put it this way: “As I see each member of our community face the world with determination, grace, and selfless leadership, I am confident that we will carry forward. Together.”