Canadian Lawyer

December/January 2021

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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30 LEGAL REPORT THE IMAGE OF law school that many of us have in our minds is typically like the 1973 movie The Paper Chase, in which Professor Charles Kingsfield (played by John Houseman) terrorizes the incoming class with his Socratic method of teaching first- year contract law. There's fear and anxiety as students on campus try to figure out how they'll survive the next eight months. But there's also cama- raderie, study groups, note sharing and the intellectual excitement of learning something new and important and discussing that with the fellow student sitting next to you. Well, this year, for the most part, you can scratch that image. With COVID-19, law school students are facing a new reality as they deal with a shift to online learning or a hybrid model that incorporates some in-class experience but in a very limited, physically distanced way. Still, that doesn't mean there is absolutely no way to connect with professors and fellow students. Many of Canada's law schools are finding ways to provide at least some in-class learning for those who want it. They are also becoming more innovative in how they struc- ture online learning, so there is more connec- tion between students at home and instruc- 4STUDENTS Law schools adjust as COVID-19 shifts classes online Faculties try to keep it personal with some in-person teaching, but it's challenging during an epidemic, writes Zena Olijnyk tors either at home themselves or at the school in an empty or sparsely filled classroom. McGill University law school dean Robert Leckey said his faculty had origi- nally prioritized the incoming first-year class for limited in-person activities. Still, even that was scratched as the pandemic situa- tion in Montreal got worse this fall. "We are continuing to hope that, in the winter term, there can be in-personal activity and perhaps even more next September," he says. "But that will depend on the health situation." So far, Leckey adds, it has been going better than expected. "Things that we normally would have thought needed to be done in person — like cross-examining and practice pleading, we're managing to do that remotely." Erika Chamberlain, dean of law at Western University in London, Ont., says the faculty has taken a different approach. The first-year class is taught in person (except for the dozen or so students who opted for online only), while upper-year students are taking virtually all their classes, well, virtually. "We figured that since the transition to law school is difficult under any circumstances, it was important for first-year students to feel engaged and make some supportive relation- ships with professors and their classmates," she says. "It's been a lot of work, I'm not going to lie, but it's been worth it." Some classes are taught in real time, Chamberlain says, while others are taught "asynchronously," meaning students can access recorded live classes or pre-recorded classrooms. The method used depends on "It is important for first-year students to feel engaged and make some supportive relationships with professors and their classmates." Erika Chamberlain, Western University

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