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Tales from the Trenches: COVID-19's Impact on Colorado Law Students

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

If you are, were, or know a law student, you’ve likely heard the law school adage: “1L – they scare you to death; 2L – they work you to death; 3L – they bore you to death.” As 1Ls, we can’t validate the truth of the phrase for 2Ls and 3Ls, but we can tell you that we were “scared to death,” and then some. This year, our fear was amplified by the complications introduced by the global pandemic — COVID‑19. No amount of warnings or advice could have prepared us for a spring semester interrupted by the virus. We hope to shine some light on our experiences with COVID‑19 and its contribution to scaring us to death. We also had the opportunity to speak with a former 3L, and we think it is safe to say that they were far from bored to death.

Those who have attended law school can attest to the competitive nature of the ranking system. Regardless of a student’s achievements in student groups or outside of school, students are assigned a rank based entirely on their grades. A law student’s GPA can dictate the difference between no job offers and a highly paid position at an envied firm. When law schools decided to go remote due to COVID‑19, we were not told what would happen to the grading system. With most schools effectively closed, we all knew at least one person who did not have a reliable internet connection or access to a quiet environment suitable for studying. This inequality compelled several students to pressure their respective institutions to implement a pass/fail or credit/no credit system. Law schools across the country, including the University of Colorado, agreed with this sentiment. Without the pressure of grades, we could focus on our health, the health of our families, and methods to cope with the state of the world.

While the credit/no credit option reduced stress, no law student has ever been stress‑free. We all still faced the intimidating process of job hunting. Spring semester typically introduces the stresses of polishing application materials, scheduling interviews, and weighing offers. But employers, advisors, and students were not prepared to navigate the realities of a COVID‑19 economy. Some employers rescinded offers or cancelled summer programs entirely. Sarah accepted a summer position in February but had to start her job search over after the firm cancelled its summer program in March. No amount of career office presentations could have prepared her, or any other law student, for this new world. Several classmates went through similar struggles, and many were unable to find positions at all.

Students who were fortunate enough to secure summer positions then encountered the real challenge of learning their new jobs remotely. There is a steep learning curve when starting a new position, especially in a new field. The first hurdle was trying to learn how to draft a contract through a WebEx meeting — something that we both had to do in our internship at the State Court Administrator’s Office. Instant messaging and weekly team check‑ins helped, but the first few weeks were daunting. We have now been in our positions for about a month and things feel more normal. We’re comfortable messaging our supervisors to ask questions, we work through major problems on the phone, and the entire team is willing to help us out. Even though remote work is awkward at times, the research, writing, and drafting skills we are learning will be huge assets as we continue our law school journey.

While we both hope that this pandemic resolves before we graduate, we now have some experience with virtual work and school life. Unfortunately, recent graduates did not have this practice. In addition to navigating online coursework, externships, and clinics, they now face preparation for the bar exam. Recent CU Law graduate, Blaire Bayliss, expressed that “there’s so much going on in the world right now that demands my attention, it’s hard to set it all down and focus on the bar.” Not only are students worried about COVID‑19 and its impacts, but the Black Lives Matter movement is in full swing, and SCOTUS is making paramount decisions regarding LGBTQ and reproductive rights this term. Blaire continued, “I know that as long as I study hard and do my best on the exam, everything will work out eventually. I don’t have that same sense about anything else going on in the world right now.” Law students are already at an increased risk of mental health problems like depression, severe stress, and anxiety compared to non‑law students. And these rates are climbing in response to current events. Yet recent graduates are expected to put that all aside and focus on the rule against perpetuities and quasi in rem jurisdiction.

Bar prep is even more difficult without the finality of a graduation ceremony and other year‑end celebrations for 3Ls. While these misfortunes may seem minor compared to the current situation, ending a law school career in isolation is understandably disappointing. When we asked Blaire about these cancellations, she told us that “those were the celebrations and banquets that I thought would give me some closure on law school and give me the opportunity to say goodbye to all the friends I’ve made over the past three years.” The University of Colorado did hold a virtual graduation ceremony for its graduates, which Blaire said was a lot of fun. But, like Zoom happy hours, virtual get togethers are simply not the same.

For us former 1Ls, uncertainty and fear still exist concerning the upcoming fall semester, externships, and on-campus interviews. In addition to anxiety about the workload, we will need to manage online classes, changes in our schedules, and unpredictability in next summer’s job market. The past few months, however, have taught us important skills for the future. We have acclimated to changes that seemed impossible in January. We have gained valuable work experience and made connections in the Colorado legal community in a virtual environment. Despite the promise of being “worked to death” next year, we look forward to adapting to the challenges of 2L — both traditional and COVID‑19 related.


Sarah Thomas is a rising 2L at the University of Colorado Law School. She is from Denver, Colorado and received her B.A. in Economics and Political Science from Case Western Reserve University in 2019. As a member of the CU chapter of the Women’s Law Caucus Board, Sarah is passionate about promoting women in the legal profession. Sarah is spending her summer as an intern at the State Court Administrator’s Office and as an intern to the Honorable Michael J. Vallejos in the Second Judicial District Court.

Jennifer (Jen) Richie is a rising second-year law student at the University of Colorado Law School. Prior to law school she worked as a biochemist for a medical device startup after receiving her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Minnesota. She is interested in transactional law and is pursuing a legal career in the intellectual property field. Jen is spending her 2020 summer interning for the State Court Administrator’s Office and studying for the Patent Bar Exam.

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