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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A call for a virtual summit on online legal education

This CNN report detailing the Harvard study about social distancing paints a scary picture of social distancing on an continuing basis through 2022.  Not continuing shutdowns, but periodic restrictions and, in any event, responsible restrictions on medium to large-group setting business as usual. 

Bottom line, our universities and law schools may not be able to function as they did pre-March 2020.  Here is another report along these lines.  We can push against this predicament; we can surrender to it. My tentative prediction is that we might be somewhere in between, and maybe for three or four semesters worth.

I am not here to debate the public health and regulatory aspects of this, but let us suppose there is something to this ominous situation. Let us suppose that cannot deliver residential legal education for all of the fall and spring semesters for the next academic year. 

We are going to need to develop some fundamentally creative and responsible strategies to deal with this temporary new normal.  The ABA is not going to rescue us from this, as it will, at most, say something like this:  Law schools can put their academic programs entirely online for XX period of time.  They will not and cannot make them do so.  State bars, as folks have pointed out to me privately, might push back hard against this brave new online world.  Just because the ABA gives law schools its blessing for all-online education does not mean that the states are obliged to license graduates who have taken, say, half of their academic credits online.  And our faculties are going to rebel even more actively against major adjustments to pedagogical adaptations, especially those that come from the top down. I could go on and on about the problems, but the point, I hope, has been made.

What I want to suggest is that we would do well to convene a big summit, in a virtual form, to discuss comprehensively, tactically, and in a data-driven way, how we might deliver excellent legal education in an online format (entirely, partially, to some of our vulnerable students).  Clearly these conversations are well underway in many law schools (I won't hazard a guess at how many).  But we need the wisdom of the crowds and collective conversation.

Frankly, I don't really care who convenes this summit.  AALS? Sure.  ABA Section on Legal Education? OK.  I and others can conjure up a list of folks who should have a virtual seat of this table.  Folks from within and outside legal education; innovators and skeptics. Educators and entrepreneurs.

We need to do something big.  Fingers crossed that the fall will bring relief is not the answer.  This strategic endeavor for how to maintain educational quality with fundamentally different pedagogy is a massive undertaking, one that falls squarely under the rubric of worst-casescenario contingency planning.  But if are not intentional and inclusive about this conversation, we could find our proud system of legal education imperiled, or at least knocked seriously back on its heels.

An early summer summit.  Please. 

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on April 14, 2020 at 09:51 PM in Daniel Rodriguez | Permalink


Would this be open to European faculties as well? We're still adjusting here in Bucharest...

Posted by: Ștefan Bogrea | Apr 23, 2020 11:11:21 AM

Agreed. Happy to help in any way I can and share insights along with others from early days in distance learning in legal education through and including important work being done nationwide. This would serve as an vitally necessary continuation of decades of work in the field, and a summit would build on the movement launched during September 2019, inaugural “Online & Hybrid Learning Pedagogy: Toward Defining Best Practices in Legal Education” conference —schedule with videos of panels and presentations at https://www.law.du.edu/online-learning-conference/conference-schedule. Of particular importance will be empirical studies that result in findings to assist us all in best serving law students in the uncertain years ahead. Thank you Dean Rodriguez, and thank you to all who are dedicated to this mission.

Posted by: Sara Berman | Apr 22, 2020 8:37:10 AM

This conversation is already starting at Pandemic Pedagogy: Law Teaching in a Time of COVID-19, which is a FB group I administer that includes 750+ law professors from all 50 states, all but about 20 American law schools represented (along with 6 foreign countries). Having a brief event 4/22 with John Mayer of CALI to begin to talk about the difference between remote emergency teaching (what's happening now) and actual online legal education. Hope folks can join! Join the group and see the Zoom event!

Posted by: Diane Klein | Apr 22, 2020 2:51:33 AM

Thanks, Jack, for this suggestion. I agree that AALS would be an excellent convenor. I urge you and others to make this suggestion to them, as I have. And thanks for your kind offer. I should have made it clear that I don't need/want to be the impresario of this. Others, especially those who have a continuing formal leadership role in legal education, would be best suited to take the reins of this (or any related) initiative.

Posted by: dan rodriguez | Apr 21, 2020 4:25:09 PM


It seems AALS would be best positioned to host this. But if not, The National Jurist is more than happy to organize and host a Zoom conference with up to 500 attendees. We just did one yesterday for a different industry.

Call me if you want to discuss.

Jack Crittenden

Posted by: Jack Crittenden | Apr 21, 2020 3:40:26 PM

I agree. As creator and director of 4 online programs at Tulane Law School I’m in.

Posted by: JOEL WM FRIEDMAN | Apr 21, 2020 2:09:08 PM

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