The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the traditional academic model of gathering people into physical classes into a high-risk activity. Legal education is a Critical Infrastructure sector that supports democratic access to the legal system and trains students to become ethical members of the legal profession and society. Debates about whether legal education should be delivered in person, online, or through a hybrid model highlight the safety culture gap in American legal education. This Article proposes an ethical framework that values safety, recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, and centers diversity and inclusion as the foundation for effective educational dialogue, to recommend online legal education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This Article’s interdisciplinary team analyzes scientific studies on COVID-19 available to date, the virus’s mutation which promotes infection, and the limits of mitigation measures in indoor classrooms where people gather for more than an hour at a time to discuss educational material and develop legal skills. It examines the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinx Americans, older Americans, and those with certain underlying health conditions that would foreseeably lead members of those groups to participate in class online. Those participating in person in a hybrid educational model are likely to be younger and less diverse. The hybrid classroom model cleaves students and faculty by race, ethnicity, tribe, age, and health, undermining commitments to diversity and inclusion that support educational dialogue and first amendment values. In person classes may drive viral mutation and endanger health and safety as people under 45, the largest age cohort for American law students, lead the surge in COVID-19 infection. The Internet’s development creates the opportunity to deliver effective, synchronous, inclusive, ethical legal education. This Article concludes that legal education should be conducted online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Citation: Sandoval, Catherine J.K. and Cain, Patricia A. and Diamond, Stephen F. and Hammond, Allen and Love, Jean C. and Smith, Stephen and Nabipour, Solmaz, Legal Education in the Era of COVID-19: Putting Health, Safety and Equity First (July 24, 2020). Santa Clara Univ. Legal Studies Research Paper , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3660221 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3660221