The law school experience of today’s students is unlike any generation of lawyers before them. From the tremendous impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their learning environment to the rapidly changing professional world awaiting them after graduation, law students are seeing the scope of their education shift to better equip them for success.
Bloomberg Law spoke with top legal educators from Columbia, Georgetown, USC, and UCLA about how they are helping students thrive in a virtual setting, embrace legal technology, develop leadership skills, and prepare to practice.
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Standing Out in a Virtual Setting
Arguably the biggest change in today’s law school experience is the prevalence of remote learning. When the coronavirus pandemic forced her classes online “from one day to the next,” Columbia Law School Professor Katharina Pistor quickly developed an approach to virtual teaching centering on mutual respect, clear expectations, and interactivity. One area she found herself even more attentive to in an online environment was class participation.
“Speaking about the materials that we learn is just as important as just listening to it,” she said. “It’s a different way of learning, to articulate your own ideas.”
Pistor divided her class of more than 170 students into smaller panels that would take turns being “on call” – cameras on, introducing themselves during roll call, asking and answering questions throughout the lecture, and reporting back on breakout sessions. Not only did this allow Pistor to keep a closer eye on participation levels and bring more students into the fold, but it also added a vital human element to the virtual learning environment for both professor and students alike.
Another benefit of online classes? Hanging around afterward. Instead of rushing out the door to a faculty meeting or making room for the next class, Pistor said she would stay online for an extra 20 minutes or longer to be more accessible to students. She found that a much larger group of students took her up on these informal sessions than the few who braved deskside discussions in person, allowing her to further connect with students and clear up any confusion on topics or assignments.
“If you can clarify questions right after class, before wrong things or misunderstanding[s] settle in the minds of the students, that can be really very effective,” Pistor said.