By Nana Osei
When I first learned of the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, the last thing I anticipated was how significantly the coronavirus would impact society, my legal education, and my personal life. Shortly after spring break, I received an email from Dean Renee Hutchins informing me that my law courses would be conducted remotely for the remainder of my spring semester at the University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law. Although I was concerned, I knew I could rely upon “the process.”
“The process,” for me, evolved long before I began law school. It started when I played football as a scholarship athlete at Temple University from 2012-2015, and then at Villanova University from 2015-2017. To me, the game of football has always been a microcosm of life’s broader challenges, and the lessons that I learned as a student athlete remain a substantial part of my current success. You might be asking yourself, what is “the process?” Essentially, “the process” is a strategic method for achieving your goals, regardless of how detrimental or unfavorable the circumstances.
Establishing a defined process with explicit and realistic goals is imperative for athletes and law students alike. Both groups are routinely asked to strive for success in high-stress and fast-paced environments. My process? Well, during law school, I have committed myself to waking up every day at 6:30 AM to eat breakfast, walk my dog, review course materials and complete course readings before heading to class. If I have extra time, I also outline the material for that day’s class before leaving the house. Once in class, I always sit in the front row. In fact, to this day, I can still hear my college football coach screaming in my ear that it is unacceptable to sit anywhere else. After class, I eat lunch while reviewing the material for my next class or work on my clinical assignments. When classes are done for the day, I head to the gym for a break, and then return to school where I study until 10:00 PM.
Despite how lackluster and monotonous it may seem, my process is responsible for my academic and career success. My process survived 1L year, and most of 2L too. However, the one hurdle that my coveted process could not survive was COVID-19. I have always had trouble paying attention, but the circumstances created by the COVID-19 global pandemic has exacerbated that problem in ways I could have never anticipated. The first issue I encountered was staying engaged during my online classes.
One of the best qualities of UDC Law is the faculty. They are passionate about a wide range of social justice issues and, as a student you can readily see this passion exhibited in the way they teach. This outbreak has transformed the processes of my professors, and despite their best efforts, the transition to an online learning environment has noticeably affected teaching styles and content delivery. After quarantine began, I noticed a diminished excitement in my professors’ voices as online classes progressed. Not only do they have to deal with the technical challenges of teaching online, they also have to navigate student participation through screenshare monitoring and voice muting.
The pandemic is a trying time for everyone. On top of this, professors, like their students, also must deal with the effects of the pandemic on their children, loved ones at home, and professional careers. Further, professors and students alike face the anxieties caused by an unpredictable government response to COVID-19, characterized by inconsistent social distancing rules and treatment guidelines. As a result, not only was the traditional classroom dynamic eviscerated, the free flow of conversation typical of our in-person class sessions was now bogged down by slow Wi-Fi and clunky online classroom interfaces. It became increasingly difficult for me to stay engaged in class.
To make matters worse, the spread of the coronavirus came weeks before our final exam reading period. COVID-19’s greatest impact on my law school experience has been altering my “depth” of studying. Before COVID-19, I would immerse myself in my course materials for hours, so much so, that I often forget to eat. I have enjoyed the learning process. I enjoy making connections between my Constitutional Law class and my Property class, and then applying what I have learned in Evidence to my Criminal Procedure class.
However, after the emergence of COVID-19, these periods of immersive study came promptly to an end, largely due to the environment where I am now forced to study. Unlike the law school library or classrooms where I can spread out my books and use white boards, I am now restricted to a cramped 3-bedroom apartment with 2 roommates and a dog while trying to maintain the same level of productivity. I never realized how important my learning environment – a quiet space with minimal outside stimulus – is to my studying routine. Every bark, every excited scream from a roommate on the phone, every police siren, and a multitude of other noises have made it increasingly difficult to focus. My academic process was designed, curated, and nearly perfected for law school success. It had not, up until now, been curated for a global pandemic.
Instead of faltering, I’ve kept in mind the words of my college coach, “nobody cares, work harder.” So, after transitioning to online learning, I began to shorten my periods of study, focusing on one concept for 30 minutes before taking a break. Although this made my study sessions three times as long as they were prior to COVID-19, with the extra time acquired from not having to travel to campus or prepare to physically “go” to class, I was able to adjust. Nonetheless, I have not been able to internalize the material in the same way that I did prior to the coronavirus. My closed book final exams were converted to open book exams for all but one of my professors. I firmly believe that if I had been required to take closed book exams, my grades would have suffered to an even greater extent than they have already during this challenging time. For law students who attend smaller and lower-ranked law schools, a pass-fail grade is not always an attractive offer to potential employers. In my experience, a high GPA has been an important way for me to set myself apart from my peers in the eyes of law firms, government agencies, and public-interest organizations.
As I look back on a completed spring semester, online law school, for me, has not been an effective way to learn the complex material presented to us. It not only diminished my ability to study and engage in the classroom, my process was drastically altered, and I had to become creative to adjust. However, by forcing me to go through the process, COVID-19 also instilled in me a lesson of adaptability. I have come to truly understand the suddenness in which everything can change, and I’ve become familiar with my own my ability to respond to change appropriately. I believe these lessons will undoubtedly make me a better attorney in an increasingly complex world. But, if I had the choice, I would absolutely choose in-person classroom instruction over the Zoom University School of Law.
Nana Osei is a rising 3L at the UDC David A. Clark School Law. He plans on pursuing a career as a civil rights attorney, focusing on police accountability and community and legal education within the Black community. When he is not studying law, Nana enjoys volunteering as a Judge at local high school debate competitions as well as coaching their football and wrestling teams.