Use Your Law School Skills During COVID-19

Use Your Law School Skills During COVID-19This week we welcome guest writer and tutor Elizabeth Knox to talk about how to give back as a law student during the pandemic.

If you ask the members of a 1L section why they chose to enter law school, you will get a solid mix of answers. Among those answers will certainly be desires to impact their communities and the world. It may feel like COVID-19 has robbed you of the ability to keep that momentum going this summer because of job and internship cancellations, but with a little bit of creativity, you can still make significant contributions.

Crisis lawyering is a real thing and the current global health pandemic is a prime opportunity to see how different lawyers are serving their communities in innovative ways. There are plenty of ways for law students and recent graduates to make a difference, while also keeping your resume sharp for future job searches.

Volunteer Your Time and Research

COVID-19 is a medical problem, but it is having global ripple effects that will endure for a very long time. Among countless other things, schools are closed, businesses have shut down, bankruptcies are increasing, and governments are dealing with countless issues as they try to put the pieces of normalcy back together. Lawyers are involved with each of these things, both in the planning and the implementation.

Take a moment to think about the different areas of law you are most curious about. Reflect on how those may be impacted by the pandemic. Search for lawyers who are doing work in those areas. Join your local bar association groups – you will find that many seasoned lawyers are thrilled to help new lawyers get oriented, especially when it comes to public service work.

Law school clinics have gone remote. Take a look at what your school has to offer. These programs are a fantastic way to work with experienced lawyers while also serving the community. If your law school does not have a clinic that interests you, look at other law schools. Some clinics are open to students from other schools on an application basis. At the very least, reach out to the professors of the clinics that interest you because they may be able to connect you with other lawyers who can use your help outside of the clinical context.

Here are some other ideas to get you started.

Elections

November may feel like a lifetime away, but election season is rapidly approaching. You do not need to be a licensed lawyer to make an impact. Campaigns and nonpartisan organizations are always looking for volunteers to protect the right to vote, and if the pandemic is still going in November, that will work will be more valuable than ever. Spend time educating your communities about their voting rights, getting them registered timely, and preparing them for what they may face on election day.

Advocacy

I don’t tend to meet lawyers who think they are poor writers. Use that writing skill – we all see those petitions that float around on social media to dubious effect. It’s good and well to sign those, but you can do more. If you care about an issue, do some research to see what it would take to get some movement going. Let’s take masks, for example. Maybe you live somewhere where masks are not required, but you think they should be. Look at your state’s laws to see who has the authority to make the decision to require them. Write to that person, cite that authority, and draft a roadmap for achieving what you’d like to see done. Make it as easy for them as possible. And then follow up, over and over. Rally your community members and advocate for your cause. Think beyond masks. What policies would make life better for your community right now?

Speak for the Voiceless

Administrators everywhere are grappling with how to run their programs in the middle of a pandemic. Though many of them attempt to connect with all of the relevant stakeholders, some get left behind. Nursing homes have made headlines as residents are hit with COVID-19 and family members are barred from entering. Students with disabilities and their parents are often not at the table as school districts decide how to proceed.

You can use your advocacy skills to ensure that the needs of vulnerable populations are taken seriously as programs reopen. You can reach out to different advocacy organizations to see how you can help.

Help Small Businesses

If your interests are more corporate in nature, consider helping your local small businesses as they reopen and rebuild. Many people may not have heard of the different relief programs that the federal, state, and local governments have put in place to help small businesses get through the pandemic. If you take the time to understand these programs and other resources, you may make all the difference in helping keep someone’s dream afloat.

Some businesses may not survive current conditions and will need help dissolving. Though you wouldn’t be able to provide direct legal advice, you can help them by pointing them in the direction of different pro bono organizations that can help. Familiarize yourself with your local bar so you can be a functional resource.


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About Elizabeth Knox

Elizabeth Knox is a graduate of Southwestern University and Harvard Law School. Elizabeth has built her career around civil and disability rights. She has spent time working and interning for the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas. While at Harvard, she was a research assistant for two professors and researched different topics related to international human and disability rights and the civil rights era. She earned the Justice John Paul Stevens Public Interest Fellowship and the James Vorenberg Equal Justice Summer Fellowship to support her summer work in civil rights. She was also a Harvard Law School Presidential Scholar.

After law school, Elizabeth clerked for the Honorable Robert Brack of the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico. She then worked in special education law before founding Access the Dream, a disability consulting practice. She continues to research and write about education and disability rights issues. Elizabeth is driven to help students of all backgrounds succeed in academic environments.

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