In the wake of the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus (or COVID-19), many law schools made the difficult choice to close their physical campus and transition exclusively to online course instruction. As of the date of this post, some law schools have yet to determine how to administer final exams and whether graduation ceremonies will be held for the class of 2020. This is an unprecedented set of circumstances that is understandably causing a lot of stress and anxiety for law students at a critical point in the spring semester.
If you’re a law student facing an unexpected transition to online courses, there are a number of steps to take to ensure you finish this academic year strong. This post outlines some strategies you can put in place to succeed in the face of a campus shutdown.
1. Stick To Your Routine As Much As Possible
By this point in the semester, you’ve likely established a weekly routine based on your class schedule, reading and writing assignments, extracurricular activities, and work commitments (if any). To the extent possible, try to adhere to this routine even if you are forced to participate in lectures and classes remotely. You should also stay in touch with your classmates and your study group if you have one. This will help you maintain a sense of normalcy in the face of unusual circumstances.
It can be tempting to think that you’ll have a lot of extra time as a result of a campus closure, but for most students this is not the case. Unless you were spending extensive amounts of time commuting to and from campus before the shutdown, your lecture schedule and reading assignments will probably remain the same. And although the format of final exams might change (for example, from an in-person exam to a take-home exam), you still need to dedicate ample time to studying for and preparing for final exams. Do not treat this as an extended spring break or assume that you can take it easy. Even in light of these extraordinary circumstances, your professors may not relax their high expectations for students.
2. Dedicate a Space in Your Home Exclusively To Studying
As a result of a campus closure, you might have lost access to your go-to study spots. With health officials currently recommending that people stay home to the maximum extent possible (and residents in some cities on lockdown for everything other than for essential errands), you need to have a plan for where to study and participate in online lectures.
If you can, create a dedicated study area that you can keep organized with your textbooks, supplements, syllabi, and other materials. If you’ll be streaming live lectures, you may want to make space for a “two-screen” setup that will allow you to watch the lecture on one screen and type your notes on the other. Many streaming platforms that schools are using for online lectures can be accessed by a smartphone or tablet.
3. During Online Lectures, Turn Off Distractions
During in-person lectures, most professors expect their students to be actively engaged and ready to participate in the lecture if they are “on call.” With a transition to online courses, the Socratic method formula applied by many professors may not be possible and lectures may become a more passive activity during which students merely listen (rather than participating in the lecture dialogue). Nevertheless, you need to turn off distractions and pay attention as if you are in a lecture hall. Turn off any background noise such as TV or music, silence your phone, and log out of any social media or online chat applications. Take notes as you normally would and make sure to review your notes after the lecture to assess your understanding of the material.
4. Follow Instructions About Online Courses and Assignments Carefully
As a result of a campus shutdown, your professors may have adjusted your syllabi (for example, by pushing back reading assignments or lecture topics to account for disruptions to classes) or retooled assignments to enable distance learning. It is critical that you follow all directions precisely and calendar any new or revised deadlines for work that must be turned in. Be sure to carefully review all directions from your law school and your professors about the campus closure. You will be expected to comply with deadlines. Since there are just a few weeks left until most law schools begin their final exam periods, you’ll need to adapt to your new schedule and assignments quickly.
5. Build Regular Breaks Into Your Schedule and Practice Self-Care
When you are learning from home, it can feel like you’re eating and sleeping in a lecture hall. It is more critical than ever for you to set boundaries around your time and take regular study breaks. Although it may seem counterintuitive, breaks from your studies are critical to maintaining focus and retaining material. If you need to, add breaks to your calendar so that you get a reminder to shift your focus to something other than law school. You may also want to consider downloading a meditation app and building mindfulness into your law school routine.
An unexpected stressor like a law school closure underscores the need for self-care. Try to eat as healthy as you can and engage in some form of regular physical activity. Many fitness apps are offering free trial periods to new users during this unprecedented time. You should also focus on getting quality sleep and taking care of your mental health.
Adapting to a New Era
Although it may feel scary now, adapting to a campus shut-down can be a valuable learning experience. As a lawyer, you may be called to adjust quickly to breaking developments and stay calm in the face of an emergency. And as more and more employers allow for remote and/or flexible work, this is great practice for working from home in the future.
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