Post Authored by Stephanie Nikitenko
I am going to start in a seemingly unlikely place, but I think it provides an effective snapshot of how Chicago law students began facing COVID-19. On March 12, 2020, I took the MPRE in a testing center in downtown Chicago. There were students from every Chicago law school present, and this was about a week before the state-wide shut-down was instituted in Illinois. Only a few people in the waiting room were wearing face masks, but everyone was mindful of how close they were sitting to one another, how there were about thirty people in a fairly small room, and how the test administrators were adhering to a very strict sanitization process.
There was palpable tension in the room as we all buzzed about which schools had announced their decisions to go entirely virtual. Some schools had already begun to institute this change, while others followed suit just a few days behind. But there was one question on everyone’s mind that no one had a clear answer to: are we still going to be able to take the July 2020 bar exam? We will get to that shortly, but first, let us talk about law school – the virtual edition.
The Surreal Transition to Virtual School
I am sure by now everyone has either heard of or become a part of the massive migration to using Zoom for meetings, classes, work happy hours, among others. My school has been utilizing WebEx, which I have found to be very reliable even while my internet connection is consistently wobbly due to living in a very populated condominium building. Professors have been hosting office hours in their personal WebEx rooms to make sure that they are available for any students who have questions about class materials or are experiencing difficulties for any reason. Some of my classes are formatted to be synchronous live classes with the professor. Other classes are asynchronous with a PowerPoint embedded with audio of the professor giving the lecture.
As I can only speak from my own experience, I will say that it has been surreal to spend my last semester of law school in this virtual space. For law students especially, we tend to fall into a rigid rhythm for going to class, doing homework, and having specific outlets to de-stress. The absence of that formal structure can be detrimental to studying and learning effectively. This, in conjunction with other personal circumstances at home or with family, can be incredibly distracting and mentally taxing. We have all been trying to adjust and create effective study environments at home.
Many law schools have opted to switch to a different grading system for this semester in order to alleviate some of the stress. I know that some schools have adopted a blanket pass/fail grading system, and other schools, including mine, have changed their grading policies to continue to allow students to positively impact their GPAs, but also soften any negative impacts by allowing a P (pass) grade to be instituted instead.
What is Happening with Graduation?
Many live graduation ceremonies have been canceled or pushed back indefinitely. My school has offered us the opportunity to have a virtual graduation ceremony. This involves submitting information to the administration with a headshot and an optional personal message that will be compiled into a slide deck for the ceremony. The slides will be downloadable and allowed to be shared on social media. Our live ceremony is postponed until it is safe to hold in-person. I like the idea of a virtual ceremony. I think that for those of us who are first-generation J.D. recipients this graduation is incredibly exciting and noteworthy for us and our families, and it is comforting to know that we can still experience it in some form.
And the Bar Exam?
Each state, even those that administer the UBE, are deciding for themselves how they are going to proceed with the July 2020 bar exam. This is a link to a consistently updated page by the NCBE compiling announcements made by jurisdictions about the July 2020 exam: http://www.ncbex.org/ncbe-covid-19-updates/july-2020-bar-exam-jurisdiction-information/. As of Friday, May 1st, the Illinois Supreme Court announced that the Illinois bar exam has been moved to September 9-10, 2020.
Per my school’s job bulletin site, as well as LinkedIn and Law Crossing, there are still numerous firms and companies that are hiring legal positions. Conversely, there are some individuals who have been promised associate positions based on their experiences as summer associates that are now experiencing concerns about job security. There have been many articles written about how to maintain the job search during COVID-19, but the one continuous message that seems to be prevalent across all platforms is “don’t give up the search.” I think that this is excellent advice in a time when it is very easy to get discouraged about the situation. However, perseverance and a positive outlook are the names of the game right now.
With that being said, I hope everyone reading this is safe and healthy at home. Please remember that it is equally important to exercise your body as well as your mind, and don’t forget to spend time with your loved ones.
About the Author:
Stephanie Nikitenko is a recent graduate of UIC John Marshall Law School. At John Marshall, she served as the President of the Intellectual Property Law Society (IPLS) and a staff editor on the Review of Intellectual Property Law (RIPL). She focused her studies primarily in Intellectual Property, and is currently seeking employment in this area. Additionally, under the supervision of an attorney, she assists a law firm with both their trademark and patent matters.