Just weeks ago, Anne Karen Tolbert, a third-year student at the University of Mississippi’s law school, was looking forward to graduating this spring and starting the job she’d lined up. But then the
Now Tolbert is attending online job fairs, worrying about her lack of health insurance, and wondering when she’ll be able to take the Washington, D.C., bar exam, which was supposed to take place in July but was canceled on April 10. A decision about a possible fall exam date is due by May 4. “I’m just trying to see what’s going on with that and figure out, Do I need to move home with my family?” she says. “Do I need to just try to get a temporary or part-time job in between?”
As students graduating from the nation’s medical schools prepare to
Front of mind for many is that states are postponing bar exams because of social distancing guidelines. Last July thousands of law school grads took the New York bar exam in the hangar-like space of Manhattan’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. It’s now serving as a
While New York, along with eight other states, has rescheduled bar exams for the fall, a movement is afoot to allow 2020 law grads to begin practicing without having been admitted to the bar. An April 1 letter signed by the deans of the 15 law schools in New York state warned that a delay in admission to the bar could cause students, especially those deeply in debt, “profound harm in a time already marked by suffering, intensifying financial hardship and exacerbating the unfairness of their plight.”
Molly Savage, a third-year student at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, recently helped put together a petition asking the state of Michigan to waive exam requirements. “To me, it’s my ability to use this degree that I’ve spent three years working on,” Savage says. “I can’t get a law job if I don’t have admission to the bar.”
But it’s not just the graduating class that faces potential job woes. Large law firms typically recruit law students as summer associates after their second year, with a commitment to hiring them full time after graduation. Although top firms are largely sticking to that commitment for now, several have shortened their 2020 summer programs, potentially depriving rising third-years of several weeks of pay at levels equivalent to $190,000 a year.
“My roommate will be going to
While some firms are scaling back summer associate programs, others are trying to run them online. But that could limit students’ opportunities for mentoring and networking, says James Leipold, executive director of the National Association of Law Placement (NALP).
Andrea Rivers, a second-year student at American University’s Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C., says she was recently informed by
Across the country, law students are already having to contend with the loss of informal interaction with professors and fellow students as a result of
Other students have encountered situations far beyond
As professors and students adapt to remote learning, many law schools, including the University of Mississippi’s, have switched to pass-fail marks rather than letter grades for the spring semester. Not all students are thrilled. “The policy that Ole Miss passed, I feel, is going to be detrimental to these 1Ls and 2Ls,” says Tolbert, who anticipates that classes below hers will have trouble landing jobs if they don’t have grade point averages to present to employers.
Leipold, of NALP, expects law graduates will have to wrestle with a difficult economy for years to come. Major firms laid off staff and some even closed their doors during the Great Recession. A few have already slashed compensation in response to the current crisis.
“I think people are all pretty conscious of what happened to lawyers in 2008,” says Laurel Raymond, a member of Yale Law School’s 2020 class. “We have no idea what’s going to happen this time, and no one can tell us.”
Beyond the uncertainties of grades and careers, this year’s graduating classes face more intangible losses. Fitzpatrick says she feels fortunate that the clerkship at the Alaska Supreme Court awaiting her after graduation from Harvard appears secure. Still, the thought of not donning a cap and gown to receive her degree makes her tear up. “My family was going to come for graduation, and it was going to be the first time we all saw each other in four years—and obviously, that’s not happening.”
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