William E. Adams
I join the Council Chair in expressing my sadness at the very real tragedies and sacrifices being endured by people during this public health crisis. I extend my condolences to anyone experiencing personal losses at their schools and to administrators, faculty, staff, and students who have lost family members or friends to the virus.
This year’s graduates from law schools and other parts of higher education face uncertainties as they face an economy reeling from the pandemic. This year’s students were confronted with new challenges in completing classes after stay-at-home orders were put in place. Even those who previously had participated in distance education classes were now in courses not designed for distance education which were being suddenly converted with hardly any notice. Faculty and Administrators, many of whom had not previously taught or administered distance education courses, were suddenly forced to learn how to do so with very little time to learn how. I have been impressed with the speed at which law schools have made the necessary adjustments to permit students to continue to learn and complete their studies this Spring. I have watched as Deans, Associate and Assistant Deans, and faculty and staff have shared strategies and information on our listservs to help each other implement the necessary changes. Not only have schools been required to ensure that students continue to learn in a new environment, they have also provided both emotional and financial support to students facing a variety of burdens wrought by the virus.
This was not exactly how I planned to start my new responsibilities as the Managing Director, but as often happens, life does not follow our best-laid plans. I had hoped in this initial column to start to explain some of my vision and thoughts as I assumed this position at a time when legal education faces challenges. Little did I expect that those challenges would be eclipsed, at least temporarily, as this situation magnified existing problems and brought new ones. I will eventually discuss my original thoughts and vision in future columns, but this one will be devoted to what the Council and our office have been doing to deal with this crisis.
The Department of Education provided guidance to accrediting agencies to give us some discretion in permitting schools to provide distance education in excess of existing standards for this term. As noted above, we exercised that discretion to permit our law schools to continue to teach students. The Council will be considering at its May meeting how to amend our current rules so that law schools can offer expanded distance education in the fall should the Department not extend this flexibility. Along with leaders of other organizations directly or indirectly involved with legal education, I have been invited to join calls every Friday hosted by the Law School Admissions Council and Association of American Law Schools for deans and dean-designates of ABA-approved schools. On those calls, I have tried to provide updates and advice to schools as we explore ways to address their evolving needs.
As noted above, administrators and faculty have been quick to provide advice on how to deal with the challenges of the pandemic, and they have been generous in sharing tips on our listservs. I am pleased that we could provide these avenues for law schools to communicate with each other and I applaud their ingenuity and efforts to help each other.
I regret we could not hold an in-person Council meeting in May and am even more disappointed that we could not hold the round table discussions that we had planned for persons interested in the future of legal education. I promise that we will do so when we are able to do so in the future. It is part of the plans that I intended to discuss before the virus disrupted our lives. I will discuss more of that in future columns.
I am grateful to all who trusted me to take this new position and to all those who helped me manage during this unprecedented time. This includes leaders of other legal education organizations, ABA leaders, and various members of the Council. I am especially thankful to the Chair and Chair-Elect of the Council, Diane Bosse and Scott Bales, respectively, who have talked to me almost daily as we discuss the newest problems and questions posed. I also thank the great staff in our office who help in countless ways to assist schools and myself. I could not end this without expressing my gratification to my predecessor, Barry Currier, who gave me the opportunity to serve as the Deputy for these past nearly six years. I fortunately will have his wise counsel and experience to call upon as he stays with us through the summer as we seek a new Deputy Managing Director. I will have more to say about his legacy in a future column.