Tips, tricks and advice for law students on how to succeed in online classes with your GPA (and sanity) intact
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the United States, most colleges and graduate schools have replaced in-person classes with remote-and-online learning. This transition has been particularly challenging for law students given the American Bar Association’s prior limit on the number of online credits law students can receive, the importance of the Socratic method, and the popularity of legal clinics.
Here at Enjuris, we want to see law students succeed. With that goal in mind, we’re providing some tips to help you achieve academic success and emotional wellness during this difficult time.
We’ve also answered some questions you may have about the impact of the coronavirus on your legal education and career, including whether your bar exam will be rescheduled and how your future job prospects might be impacted.
As the situation develops, we plan to update this page.
Tips for academic success
Academic success is extremely important in law school. In most cases, students who finish at the top of their class have greater opportunities, such as participating in the law review and on-campus interviews. These opportunities aren’t always available to those who don’t perform as well.
So how do you make sure that your grades don’t suffer when you transition to online classes? Here are some tips:
Tip #1: Familiarize yourself with the technology
Law students know their way around a classroom. After years of academic success, most law students know the note-taking tools they prefer, the best places to sit in a classroom, and the various methods of getting the professor’s attention.
Unfortunately, many law students have never taken an online course.
You can better adjust to this new learning curve by familiarizing yourself with the digital tools your school is using. Free tutorials exist for most digital tools, and these tutorials often include lesser-known tips that can make your online learning experience more productive and keep you out of trouble.
For example, did you know that Zoom (a popular video conferencing tool) has a feature called “attention tracking,” which allows your professor to know if you don’t have the meeting window in focus for more than 30 seconds?
Tip #2: Maintain your professionalism
It’s easy to drop your guard when you’re in the comfort of your own home, but it’s important to resist this urge. Even though you’re now attending class from home, professors and other students are still forming opinions about you. In the future, when you’re relying on a professor for a letter of recommendation or a fellow student for a referral, you’ll want them to remember you as someone who always carried themselves professionally.
How can you be professional online? Here are some tips:
- Resist the urge to speak less-formally than you would in the classroom
- Resist the urge to wear sweatpants or other items of clothing that you wouldn’t wear in the classroom
- Check your surroundings to make sure your video feed doesn’t capture something you don’t want to be captured (a political sign, empty beer bottles, an embarrassing item of clothing, etc.)
- Sit at your table or desk rather than on your couch or bed
Tip #3: Maintain communication with your professors
Communicating with your professors is normally second nature for most law students. You can sit in the front row and ask questions, come up to the professor before or after class, or meet with the professor during office hours. Communicating with your professor helps ensure that you understand the material, but it also helps you establish a relationship that may prove valuable if you need a reference letter, research opportunity, internship, or even a job down the road.
Unfortunately, you may need to work a little harder to maintain communication with your professor virtually. Nevertheless, there are some things you can do:
- Turn on your audio and video during your online classes (if this is an option)
- Take advantage of your professor’s office hours (most professors will continue to hold “virtual” office hours)
- Email your professors to ask questions or just to check in to see if there are additional opportunities available
Tip #4: Find an alternative to the Socratic method
As you’ve probably already learned, the Socratic method is a teaching tool in which a professor calls on students at random and grills them about the course material. The Socratic method is effective because it motivates students to prepare diligently for every class knowing they may be called on at length.
Many law professors will continue to use the Socratic method when teaching online. However, some professors may choose to stop using it. If this happens, you’ll want to figure out a way to ensure you still prepare diligently for every class.
One idea is to schedule a Zoom meeting with a handful of classmates before every class and use it to grill each other about the material.
Tip #5: Keep a routine
Online classes sound great, but it can be hard to stay motivated and engaged when you’re lounging in your sweatpants surrounded by countless distractions. One way to avoid this problem is to follow your normal routine as much as possible. Here’s some advice:
- Take a shower every morning, get dressed, and eat breakfast
- Take your online classes in a dedicated space
- Turn off your phone
- Avoid doing things you wouldn’t normally do during a school day (watch Netflix, go hiking, etc.)
Tip #6: Minimize distractions
It’s one thing to stay focused when you’re stuck inside a sparse classroom with nothing to look at but the professor and maybe a PowerPoint slide. It’s another thing altogether to stay focused when you’re at home with your television, computer, phone, pet, roommates, and maybe even your spouse and children nearby. If you’re having trouble focusing, there are a couple of critical things you can do.
First, try to set up a dedicated work space. Ideally, this space should be free of distractions and used only for your studies. Try setting a timer and telling yourself that you can’t leave the room (except for bathroom, food, and hand-washing breaks) until the timer goes off. If this is difficult, try rewarding yourself when you’re successful.
Second, download one of the many free programs that allow you to block distracting websites and apps for a certain period of time. While you’re at it, download the same program for your smartphone.
Tips for emotional wellbeing
Countless studies (including this one) have found that there is a positive relationship between emotional wellbeing and academic success. So while you’re focusing on transitioning to online learning without letting your grades suffer, be sure to also take steps to maintain your emotional wellbeing.
Here are a few tips to get your started:
Tip #1: Maintain communication with family, friends, and classmates
It’s important to remember that “social distancing” is really “physical distancing.” You’re still permitted and encouraged to communicate with family, friends, and classmates while maintaining your physical distance.
Try organizing an online board game or getting together for a virtual happy hour. It’s fine to talk about law school and the coronavirus, but consider taking a break from those topics as well. You’ll likely find that after such a break you can return to your studies feeling reenergized.
Tip #2: Use a dedicated workspace
Studies show the importance of a work-life balance. When you're forced to take classes at home, the balance can easily get thrown off. Fortunately, there are things you can do to maintain your work-life balance.
For starters, try using a dedicated workspace. This space can be an entire room, a desk, or just a corner of your house. The important thing is to use this space for work and not allow your “work” to enter your “living” space.
Tip #3: Organize remote study groups
You’ve probably already witnessed how close you become with your fellow law students. There’s a foxhole mentality that occurs when all of you are thrown into the stressful 1L life. You learn a lot from your fellow law students, and you’re also able to vent from time to time and lend a sympathetic ear. This sense of comradery will take a blow when you transition to online courses, but it doesn’t have to disappear completely.
Take the time to set up virtual study groups so you can continue to connect with your fellow law students.
Tip #4: Get out
You may not be able to go to bars, concerts, or movies, but you can still go for walks or even just step outside your house or apartment for some fresh air. Take these much needed breaks often and take deep breaths.
Frequently asked questions from law students
You’ve got questions about the impact of coronavirus on your legal education and career, and we’ve got answers.
Will the coronavirus impact my final exams?
Probably yes. If your law school has moved to remote-and-online learning, your final exams will (in most cases) be administered and taken remotely. For courses that normally feature open-book exams, your final exam may not look all that different.
In other cases, professors may be forced to change the format of the exam. Some professors may even change the way they grade exams by, for example, making the exam pass/fail.
Will the bar exam be postponed?
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) will now offer 2 additional Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) test dates to jurisdictions in addition to the July 28-29 test date: September 9-10 and September 30-October 1. Each jurisdiction that has adopted the UBE will determine on which date to offer the exam.
Jurisdictions that have not adopted the UBE will make their own decisions as to whether or not to postpone the bar exam. Some states, including New York, have already decided to postpone the exam. California has decided to postpone the exam and administer it online.
Check with your state bar organization for updates.
Am I going to be able to get a job when I graduate?
Nobody fully knows the economic impact the coronavirus will have on the United States. There’s certainly a possibility that the country will face an economic downturn in light of such unprecedented disruptions. If that happens, the legal job market is likely to suffer along with other industries.
What’s more, some law firms have already begun to delay or eliminate summer associate programs, which serve as a path to full-time jobs for many law students. Talk to your career services office to see if there are steps you can take to make yourself more marketable if there’s a recession.
Is my law library closed?
Like most law schools, most law libraries are now operating remotely. In many cases, library staff remain available to help students and faculty access online resources 24/7.
How should I choose a law school if I can't visit school campuses because of COVID-19?
Tours and other on-campus events can help law students decide whether a particular school is right for them. Unfortunately, due to safety concerns posed by the novel coronavirus, most law schools have temporarily suspended all on-campus events.
While this may be disappointing, law schools are working overtime to ensure that prospective law students can get to know the schools from the comfort (and safety) of their own homes. In most cases, this includes offering virtual tours and online meet-and-greets with staff, professors, and students. Additionally, many law schools are boosting their social media presence and attempting to connect current students with prospective students.
If you’re not sure what online opportunities the law school you’re considering is offering, don’t hesitate to reach out to the school’s admissions office. If there’s something the school isn’t doing that you think would be helpful, don’t be afraid to ask. Would it be helpful for you to email questions to a current student or recent graduate? Would it be helpful to video chat with a particular professor? Is there a particular part of campus you would like to tour virtually?
Remember, the law school wants to show itself off to you!
These are uncertain times. Everyone is constantly learning more about the coronavirus, and the legal world is being forced to adapt. Be sure to check back here for up to date information on the coronavirus and your legal education.
In the meantime, we invite you to browse our For Students page for more helpful articles and scholarship opportunities.