Perspectives on virtual J.D. courses vary between 1Ls, upper division students

First-year law students who did more online classes have a different perspective about virtual schooling during the pandemic than their more senior classmates, according to a study presented by AccessLex Institute and Gallup.

The study, “Law School in a Pandemic: Student Perspectives on Distance Learning and Lessons for the Future,” was conducted between February and March 2021 and surveyed a sample of 1,739 American law students.

While only a handful of law schools offered ABA-approved hybrid J.D. programs to their students before the COVID-19 pandemic, the study found that at least 75% of law students took all online courses during the fall 2020 semester and 79% during the spring 2021 semester.

Only 43% of those students rated their online education as “excellent” or “good,” although 59% reported that their schools successfully responded to challenges of the pandemic.

The study found that only 51% of respondents attending classes online reported that the Socratic method was used in all or most of their courses. Comparatively, 66% of the respondents who attended in-person classes said professors included the back-and-forth dialogue in lectures.

First-year students rated the quality of their education as “excellent” or “good” at 64%, but only 43% of 2L and 3L students gave the same ratings. When asked to rate their legal education before the pandemic, 88% of 2L and 3L students rated it as “excellent” or “good.”

Less than half of the upper-division students agreed that online J.D. courses met their learning needs.

Further, the study found that among 2L and 3L students who attended all their classes online during the pandemic, 36% reported that their academic performance had declined. For upper-division students who had some in-person classes during the same time period, 35% reported a decline in academic performance.

Additionally, first-year law students who completed most or all of their J.D. courses online during the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters were found to be significantly more confident in their future success and bar exam passage than their upper-division peers.

The full study is available online. 

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