June 16, 2021

Law School in a Pandemic: Student Perspectives on Distance Learning and Lessons for the Future

Research and Data


When COVID-19 forced colleges and universities across the United States to send their students home and transition to a distance learning model for the duration of the Spring 2020 term, many faculty and staff had only the time afforded by an extended spring break to shift their curricula to online courses.1 But even if these faculty were given a full two weeks to prepare, that window would have been just a fraction of the four to six months some universities suggest dedicating to the development of a fully online course — to say nothing of the impact the pandemic may have had on their personal and financial wellbeing.2,3

While some undergraduate and graduate faculty were likely able to consult with internal university resources experienced in delivering online education, most law schools had a scarce curricular foundation to build upon. As of the Fall 2019 term, five law schools had received variances from the ABA to offer hybrid J.D. programs, allowing them to deliver parts of their curriculum in a distance learning environment.4 Prior to the pandemic, no ABA-approved law school offered a completely online J.D. program.5

While some law faculty may have had access to existing infrastructure that could house asynchronous learning materials or facilitate live online class sessions, few would have had the preparation or experience to rapidly transition their materials and instruction to a distance learning environment.


1 Lederman, D. (2020, March 18). Will shift to remote teaching be boon or bane for online learning? Inside Higher Ed.
2 How long does it take to develop a fully online course? (n.d.). State University of New York – Broome. Retrieved May 19, 2021, from
3 What does it take to design an online course? Faculty thoughts on going online. (n.d.). Northeastern University Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research. Retrieved May 18, 2021, from https://learning.northeastern.edu/getting-started-with-online-course-design/
4 Burke, L. (2019, October 2). Faculty and Pedagogy in the Hybrid J.D. Inside Higher Ed.
5 A Guide to ABA Approved Distance Education. (n.d.). American Bar Association. Retrieved June 4, 2021,
from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/distance_education/


View a panel discussion of the report here