March 31, 2020

Law Student Emergency Relief

Sara J. Berman, Director of Academic and Bar Success, AccessLex Institute Center for Legal Education Excellence
Academic and Bar Success


Last week, AccessLex Institute announced, “the creation of a $5 million Law Student Emergency Relief Program to provide direct resources to law students in need of emergency funds during this unique period. Upon request by any AccessLex Member law school, AccessLex will donate $25,000 to each such school’s designated emergency fund for law students. Schools may administer the funding consistent with their established criteria for emergency relief”.

Law students, like those in the general population, will face extraordinary challenges in the weeks and months to come. The nation’s law students have already, in the last weeks, adapted valiantly to online learning – with new technology, new ways of communicating with professors and classmates, and a newfound call for greater self-driven mastery of the critically important material they are studying. And, let us be clear, the work of the nation’s law schools – “empowering the next generation of lawyers” the very mission of AccessLex – is vital to maintaining our great nation, one governed by the rule of law.

1Ls were just getting used to the building, feeling that second semester familiarity in the spaces where months earlier they felt like the proverbial strangers in a strange land. 2Ls who had job worries prior to the pandemic are facing great doubt as to whether summer internships will be cancelled or whether they will convert to remote opportunities. (See Heidi Brown’s The Virtual Summer Intern). 3Ls (and 4Ls in part-time programs) face uncertainty about when the bar exam will take place. (See NCBE updates, and check individual jurisdiction’s websites for their bar exam updates.) The NCBE and others have made unprecedented changes to adapt to the needs of students, including announcing a Fall bar exam.

With all the good intentions of everyone in the legal education, licensure, and the practicing lawyer communities adapting as best they can, (which they are, and hats off to everyone) many law students will face a ripple effect of crushing economic blows. Many law students work while in law school, many in jobs that laid off workers this past month. Some law students depend on support from family members who have been or will soon be laid off. This Wednesday, when rent payments are due, how many law students will face choices between eating and paying rent? How many will not have sufficient funds for either?

It goes without saying that these economic challenges come at a time when many also have or will have relatives and friends who fall ill. And, a certain number of law students will be sick themselves. There have already been deaths in our legal education community; others are, as I write, in hospitals desperately fighting the virus.

While emergency funds do not make sick people well, they help enormously. Many law schools have such funds in place and use them for law students and graduates preparing for the bar exam who suddenly experience illness (themselves or of a close relative), unexpectedly lose jobs or childcare, suffer automobile accidents, are evicted from their housing, and more. Emergency funds are life savers.

It was with genuine pride (and, quite honestly more than a few tears of joy) that I applaud the great leadership of AccessLex Institute for this timely and critically important support of the nation’s future lawyers through significant and vital contributions to law school emergency relief funds. We will depend on future lawyers not only for all that lawyers have and continue to contribute to our world, but for what will inevitably be increased work as a result of the pandemic in areas such as unemployment, evictions, bankruptcies, and business closings and mergers of entities that can no longer survive in their present forms. Helping our law students today is not only the morally right thing to do, but it is an investment in all our futures.

So, thank you. Thank you to AccessLex Institute, where I and my colleagues are proud to serve the nation’s law students and law schools. And, thank you to everyone in our interconnected legal world; we are all in this fight together to support the next generation of lawyers –from prospective law students to retired lawyers, from janitors in law schools to the most senior-tenured faculty member, from bar examiners to chief justices, and to everyone who committed to the rule of law.