The class of 2020 graduated law school in the midst of a pandemic that, as of May 2020, had infected 1,716,078 and killed 101,567 in the United States alone.Of those impacted, Black Americans experienced one of the highest death rates, with a mortality rate twice that of whites.At the same time, “police killings continue[d] unabated, at 2.5 times the rate for Black men as for white men.”Nationwide protests for racial justice and against police brutality gained urgency and momentum after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were murdered by police,even as demonstrators themselves were subjected to violence from law enforcement.Meanwhile, the United States economy posted its worst drop on record, leaving many people unemployed.
With these crises unfolding, Black law graduates in the class of 2020 were told to study for the bar exam—the culmination of their years of effort and the gatekeeper of entry to the legal profession. Then the exam was postponed, changed to an online format, or remained in person with new restrictions.The software used to proctor remote exams relied on facial recognition technology that did not reliably acknowledge darker skin.In states where the exam was postponed, graduates exhausted the money meant to support them during bar study. Job start dates were delayed. Some Black law school graduates felt anger, fear, and guilt as they were forced to choose between studying for the bar to secure professional success and financial stability or joining their communities in protest.
While most 2020 law school graduates faced challenges, many of these stressors were particularly acute for Black graduates. The summer of 2020 exacerbated and highlighted long-standing biases in legal education and in the bar exam. We are only beginning to understand effects of the events of the year on Black law students’ and attorneys’ health and well-being, career prospects, and financial stability. The first step in comprehending the ramifications is to listen to the experiences of the 2020 graduating class of Black law students. This Article includes the results of a pilot survey designed to determine the predominant themes in the experiences of Black law school graduates in 2020, with a particular focus on the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic and race.
Sarah J. Schendel,
Listen!: Amplifying the Experiences of Black Law School Graduates in 2020,
100 Neb. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol100/iss1/3