This is a guest post by Patrick Hoover, a 3L at the University at Buffalo School Law.
Uncertainty is the dominant theme of life during this pandemic. We all have to make do with this new reality; schedules and calendars shift to meet these new challenges. Life for law students about to graduate is no exception; the normal chaos of any semester is just being magnified. The coronavirus crisis is creating questions that have no quick and easy answers, and this can be hard to accept when our futures are concerned.
For the Class of 2020, our final semester will be anything but ordinary. Instead of fighting undergrads for parking, I am watching my son terrorize our cat while listening to lecture notes. The pressures of letter grades have been replaced with a simple “Pass” or “Fail,” which accurately reflects the shifting priorities of life right now. Commencement celebrations will take place on YouTube rather than in person, yet a diploma sent in the mail will have the same stamp and seal as diplomas that have been awarded in traditional settings.
Since the hallmarks of a standard experience are (necessarily) changing, many of us are feeling unmoored. The end of law school is normally both momentous and torturous. We will be beyond ecstatic to get our diplomas, but the nervousness is multiplied after graduation. The effects of the pandemic are only intensifying some of those common fears.
Our final challenge – the bar exam – was postponed. Testing locations are being changed. Circumstances dictate new testing conditions, which will limit the amount of people who may sit for the exam itself. My classmates and I are encouraged when we see states like Utah, which is granting diploma privileges for qualifying graduates instead of the bar; or New Jersey, which is giving temporary privileges to new grads waiting to take the bar. These states are adapting to challenges that may help make our transition easier. What is clear, though, is that not every state is as flexible.
To its credit, my state’s highest court has been transparent with pending takers of the bar exam, but each new press release creates as many questions as it does answers. In my case, I have a young family and a hefty stack of student loans starting this summer. The uncertainties surrounding the bar exam worry me, as it is pushing back my opportunity to start practicing law.
The other lingering issue on my mind is the job market. The delayed bar exam is only one factor that is impacting our careers. For students who did not have a job lined up yet, future opportunities don’t seem as plentiful. Social distancing has also created new challenges for the legal community itself, and many employers don’t know if they can hire new attorneys in the foreseeable future. Many employers with job postings listed have frozen their hiring processes due to work slowdowns.
Plain and simple, having so much out of my control feels terrible. After all the hard work through the years, it’s been tough to accept a delay for a reward or acknowledgement of my accomplishments. What’s keeping me grounded is remembering that this is happening to not just me, but everyone else, too. All of my classmates are in the same position as I am; everyone is experiencing their own version of my story. We are all supporting each other in the best ways we can, always at a safe distance. Our manner of arrival may prove different, but the Class of 2020 will still make its mark.
Patrick Hoover is active in the Community Justice Clinic at the school, and was awarded two summer fellowships for his dedication to justice for workers. On the weekends you’ll find him slinging drinks at the Old Pink ‘til close, but up early for walks with his wife and son.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).