25 Aug The isolation story of a law student
I asked three law students about their experience studying during COVID-19 and what they have felt have been the greatest challenges. Along with my own views as a law student studying in Sydney, I asked UK law graduate Amber Herron (First Class LLB, University of Southampton), Melbourne law student Ewan Rozdal (Monash University) and Canberra law student Shannon Reynolds (Australian National University) to share their thoughts.
These four walls
Unquestionably, one of the greatest challenges of today’s COVID era is the growing suffocation of the four walls of the home study. For law students, this space is a lecture hall, tutorial room, library, a place to sit exams and a home office for work. The lack of environmental diversity can be tolling for law students, who are already spending countless hours meeting the demands of their studies. Without a library or café to escape to for a day’s study, and without a “study buddy” to offset the FOMO over weekends, studying law during COVID can be a claustrophobic experience.
UK law graduate Amber Herron struggled with this separation, saying that “to have to go home and complete my dissertation outside of a library environment was one of the biggest challenges, because I had completely disassociated my home environment with Uni work.”
The myth of online study is that workload will be easier to manage. Wake up, log into Zoom and voilà – you’re in class and participating! All lectures recorded, no time wasted on travel, and seminar duration is minimised. In reality, what law students are seeing is an increased workload and higher expectations for exam performance. And without the ease of asking questions in class, students are finding it difficult to wholly understand key concepts, as Shannon concedes: “Understanding assessments and course content is challenging because you don’t have many discussions with peers or tutors in online classes.”
Regarding performance expectations, Amber recalls her experience with take-home exams: “I was unsure what was expected from us as we had never had to undertake such an exam, and I did not do as well as I had done in my other modules because I did not go into perhaps as much detail as they expected, despite me completing the exam to the standard I would have done if I was in an exam hall.”
Likewise, Ewan found his university lacked compassion in their transition to online learning as he shares: “At Monash, the biggest impact on learning has been the remote exams. I think most people were able to adapt to the online learning requirements, but the lack of compassion and consideration when it came to exams was baffling. Requiring students to have access to 2 (sometimes 3) devices to sit an open book exam was ridiculously classist and was certainly the biggest challenge.”
As dire as studying during COVID is, graduating in COVID is much grimmer. No ceremony, travel plans out the window, scarce job opportunities and many graduate programs postponed indefinitely. Having graduated this year, Amber shares: “I was planning on doing some travelling as soon as I left Uni, which is naturally not possible right now. Instead, I have been tackling a difficult job market”. Australian graduates are facing the same challenge. Data from the Reserve Bank of Australia shows that the chance of finding a full-time job after graduating University has fallen to levels similarly seen during the 1990s recession.
On the bright side
Despite all of the new challenges law students are facing, unprecedented times encourage the development of unique skills. All of our interviewees found they developed the ability to work completely independently due to studying in isolation. The ability to work autonomously is hugely beneficial to a career in the legal industry, as Amber notes: “It means you can take on challenges and completely immerse yourself within them without constant guidance. ”
Another benefit of lockdown is that it has forced the ‘over-achieving-over-committed’ law student to slow down and prioritise study. Most volunteer and internship programs are on hold, legal support roles are limited, social sport is postponed in some jurisdictions and University club events have either moved online or have been cancelled. Although losing extra-curriculars was disappointing for most, it has taken the pressure off of law students to fill and diversify their resumes. Despite losing her job due to COVID, Shannon found she was able to spend more time focusing on her law subjects than she has ever had before. In fact, many of our interviewees found they were getting better grades than ever before.
At the end of the day, COVID is just another challenge. These are hard times and we should have empathy for those balancing study with COVID looming. However, overcoming a challenge is not unfamiliar territory for law students; and the multitude of skills law students are learning in these times will only benefit their career in the long term. Future employers will instantly recognise resilience, adaptability and compassion in those who studied during 2020. So to my fellow law students, and in the wise words of Dory, just keep swimming. You will soon miss the four walls of your home study and the (almost) stress-free life that is studying in a pandemic.