Berkeley Law Follows Harvard With Fully Online Fall Semester

By Mike LaSusa
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Law360 (June 26, 2020, 6:38 PM EDT) -- The Bay Area-based U.C. Berkeley School of Law announced Friday it will follow the lead of its Bay State-based peer Harvard Law School in planning for a fall semester conducted entirely remotely in an attempt to keep students and staff safe amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Berkeley Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said in an open letter that the prestigious California law school had examined a multitude of possible arrangements that might allow for the resumption of in-person teaching in the fall after it was suspended this spring when the virus began to spread widely in the U.S.

But Chemerinsky cited a slew of concerns over lack of adequate classroom space, bathroom access, virus testing and disinfecting supplies, among other obstacles, that led law school officials to conclude that conducting the fall semester entirely online would be the best option.

"I am convinced we can provide an excellent education via remote learning this semester and frankly a better education than we can through a limited number of in-person classes taught in a hybrid fashion," Chemerinsky said. "I also believe it is the safest course for the health of our faculty, staff and students."

The move by Berkeley follows a similar decision by Harvard earlier this month. In a June 3 open letter, Dean John Manning told Harvard students that while the public health situation may improve by the fall, school officials wanted to make a decision about in-person classes early enough to allow students to adequately plan ahead.

"The Harvard Law School faculty is already hard at work adapting their teaching plans in order to offer the best online courses and clinics possible," Manning said.

Harvard took its spring semester classes fully online in March, shortly after Berkeley did the same. Other schools that also went remote included Columbia Law School, Fordham University School of Law, the University of Washington and Stanford University.

While aspiring attorneys are grappling with the challenges of completing their legal education amid a global health crisis, those who have already finished law school are also facing hurdles in terms of taking the bar exam.

Nevertheless, some jurisdictions are looking for ways to help those would-be lawyers.

The Minnesota Supreme Court announced Wednesday it may allow recent law school graduates to forgo the bar exam during the COVID-19 health emergency and said it will take public comments on the idea over the next few weeks.

Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court said it was considering pushing back the summer bar exam to October after it had already delayed it to September. Washington, D.C., also moved its October bar exam online, and Delaware delayed its July test to September.

The American Bar Association has called to extend limited practice privileges to law school graduates facing a delayed bar exam due to COVID-19, though some attorneys worry that social distancing will sabotage the very initiative it prompted, given the intense supervision required as part of the plan.

--Additional reporting by Craig Clough, Chris Villani and Jeannie O'Sullivan. Editing by Janice Carter Brown.

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