June 16, 2021

New Study from Gallup and AccessLex Institute Examines Law Students’ Perceptions of Distant Learning during COVID-19

Research and Data


Washington, DC (June 16, 2021) - Prior to March 2020, fewer than ten law schools offered online hybrid J.D. programs that had been approved by the ABA, and no ABA-accredited law school offered a completely online program. Then, during the spring of 2020, almost every school did. The COVID-19 pandemic forced education systems at all levels to suddenly switch to online learning – and J.D. programs were no exception.

To help better understand how well law schools and law students adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic-related changes in their instruction – and how those changes affected the perceived quality – Gallup and leading legal education nonprofit AccessLex Institute joined forces for a study that asked students about several aspects of their law school experience, including course delivery and interaction with faculty and peers, participation in co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and questions around personal wellbeing, among others.

According to the research, less than half of all students agreed strongly (13%) or somewhat (29%) that their online J.D. experience during the pandemic met their learning needs. But, 1L students (who have not had a prior law school experience) were much more positive about the online learning environment, suggesting perhaps that they are suffering less from a feeling that something they once had in their experience is now “missing.” This may make them the best analog for future online law students, many of whom would likely be opting into the online experience from the start, as opposed to having it forced on them in lieu of what they thought they were signing up for.

“The COVID-19 pandemic provided higher education an unexpected natural experiment that we can learn from as we continue to examine new ways to integrate online learning into historically in-person programs,” said Stephanie Marken, Executive Director for Education Research at Gallup. “Although many law students were frustrated by their online experiences, the research identifies successes that can inform a post-pandemic evolution for law schools nationally.”

It wasn’t the majority for any category of students, but those enrolled part-time were four times as likely to recommend online JD courses than full-time students, and across categories, students were much more likely to say the transition to distance learning increased the time they had to care for family members. This is very meaningful when considering parents and others with caregiving responsibilities who want to pursue a law degree.

“Online classes offer the promise of expanding access to law school,” said Aaron N. Taylor, Executive Director of the AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence. “And if law schools use intentionality in their program design, quality of online courses can improve across the board - and something important will have been gained from a year that was incredibly difficult for everyone.”

Read the report here.


About Gallup
Gallup delivers analytics and advice to help leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems. Combining more than 80 years of experience with its global reach, Gallup knows more about the attitudes and behaviors of employees, customers, students, and citizens than any other organization in the world.

About AccessLex Institute:
AccessLex Institute is a nonprofit organization committed to helping talented, purpose-driven students find their path from aspiring lawyer to fulfilled professional. In partnership with its nearly 200 Member law schools, improving access and positively influencing legal education have been at the heart of the Company’s mission since 1983. AccessLex Institute is headquartered in West Chester, PA. Learn more at AccessLex.org.