If you’ve decided to move forward with your decision to attend law school in the fall, you will most likely experience something a bit different than the 1Ls of years past (if you are having trouble deciding whether you should defer your start, we’ve recently done a podcast discussing things you might want to consider). While there is a possibility that some schools will open for in-person learning, it seems unlikely that social distancing will be completely relaxed to allow for pre-COVID-19 levels of “normal.” Further, some law schools may choose to take precautions and stay virtual, or at least offer a virtual option. Regardless of which school you’re attending, business as usual seems unlikely. Circumstances are continuing to change rapidly, and there are some things you should keep in mind to be as adaptable as possible your first semester.
Consider how you might handle online learning
Given that most (if not all) law schools moved to an online course of study to manage the COVID-19 crisis this spring, it seems likely that they will do so again if the public health situation requires it. Therefore, you should think through how you might adapt if your classes are moved online. This might be easier to manage for students who are coming straight from undergrad and adapted to online classes this spring. If this is the case, and you have a system that works for you, prepare to implement it again if necessary. If you’re coming back to school after taking a gap in your education, you will definitely want to get an idea of how you’d manage. Try to make sure you have basic technology, and a space at home to work and attend class from.
Take steps to position yourself for a precarious job market
With the uncertainty of how grading in another (potentially) virtual or partially virtual semester would be administered, you should prepare yourself to deal with a job market that functions differently than it usually does. When moving to virtual coursework in the spring, most schools adopted some iteration of pass/fail grading along with it. Until public health risks are better understood, you may want to consider ways to maximize your appeal to potential employers in ways besides grades. While this is always a good thing to work towards, it will likely be even more important in these coming years. Consider working towards an active role in student organizations, working towards being on a law journal or moot court, or getting involved with pro bono work, to the extent these things are possible. In addition, it never hurts to put some extra time into networking, especially in a tighter job market.
Include flexibility in your plans, wherever possible
Of course, deciding to attend law school can require a series of fairly large commitments up front such as choosing a school, finding a place to live and moving, buying books, or quitting a job. However, given the current uncertainty of how a fall semester will look, try to build flexibility into your plans wherever possible. The most difficult piece to manage might be living arrangements, as many law students live off-campus where a lengthy lease is the norm and a penalty for breaking it is common. While you may need to mentally prepare yourself for financial losses no matter how careful you are, try to ask about things like month-to-month leases, or a reduced penalty for breaking a lease in the event of an emergency. If the landlord is used to renting to students, perhaps an agreement can be reached to alleviate your risk.
Take the time to look for outside scholarships
Now more than ever, you should consider ways to alleviate your financial burden. A good step to take in reducing law school debt is looking for outside scholarships. The law school you’re attending may be able to provide you with some resources to help you find scholarships, and let you know if there are local organizations that provide opportunities for scholarship funding. Other places you should look for private scholarship opportunities are bar associations, LSAC, and private law firms. It may seem like a lot of extra work, but reducing your debt load in the current economic climate will be well-worth it for peace of mind.
Have a support system in place
Finally, one of the most important things you can do to set yourself up for first-year success during this tumultuous time is to have a support system in place before you begin. 1L is stressful enough as it is, and will inevitably be more stressful with the changes and unknowns that the fall of 2020 will bring. Whether it’s your family, a group of friends, other relatives, or even a therapist, be sure to know where you can turn for support when you need it.
While beginning law school is an exciting time, it seems unlikely that the fall of 2020 will be exactly what you pictured your first semester to be. Fortunately, preparing for the uncertainty ahead of time can help you navigate these unprecedented times more easily.
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