COVID-19 Blog Series

Finding Normalcy

By: Katherine Davis

2L at Syracuse University College of Law

Coming into my 1L year, I was advised to keep a routine schedule. This was to ensure that I stayed on top of my readings, didn’t become overwhelmed, and to generally stay organized. Quickly, I found my routine.

Wake up. Shower, brush hair and teeth, throw on clothes. Breakfast, followed by a quick drive to Dineen Hall. Class after class, studying and a lunch break stuffed in between. A few meetings, and then back home to dinner, more studying, and sleep. Wake up, repeat. 

I learned quickly to adjust my schedule to accommodate social events and some unexpected changes, like a shift in exam dates. I never thought I would have to adapt my entire schedule, my entire lifestyle. Then, COVID-19 arrived in New York. 

“Thursday, March 12 and Friday, March 13: All College of Law Classes Online; Dineen Hall Open” the beginning of the email read. I could handle online classes for the last two days before Spring Break. The rest of the email indicated that online classes would continue through March 30. An extended Spring Break, or so I thought. 

March 30 came and went, and the College of Law remained online. The entire world seemed to shut down overnight, and in New York, it did. A mandatory quarantine, no stores or restaurants open, no social gatherings, no return to campus. Nothing was normal. 

Wake up. Snooze. Wake up, roll over, open my laptop. Login, mute camera and microphone. Slowly zone out as the voice of the Professor drones on and on. Join the next lecture, struggle with my internet connection, give up as I realize I can go back and watch a recording of class later that day. Lunch, minimal studying since learning my exams would be open book. Video games, too much Netflix, asleep by 2 AM. Wake up, repeat. 

After months, I finally see my friends again, albeit six feet apart and hidden behind masks. It was nice getting out, away from the couch. I quickly learned that I was not the only one struggling with finding a routine and general motivation. That, many of my friends, were concerned with the beginning of the Fall semester and the online classes we would all struggle with without motivation. They all just wanted things to go back to normal. I don’t think it ever will. This has become our new normal.

Normal is wearing a mask everywhere you go. Normal is virtual classrooms, review sessions, and happy hours. Normal is constant emails from the university, reminding you that you can go nowhere, see no one, and do nothing that could risk exposing yourself or others. Normal is hand sanitizer. A lot of it.

With classes now returning, mostly online, I must find a new routine, new motivation, a new normal. Normal will become the routine I choose to follow. 

The Pursuit of Happiness

By: Bianca Rector 

2L at Southwestern Law School

When COVID-19 caused my law school campus to shut its doors, I did not grasp, or perhaps, fully absorb, the effects the burgeoning pandemic would have on myself, my classmates, and the others around me. As a 1L months away from completing my first year of law school, I had long ago bid farewell to my once active social life, along with any opportunity to exercise some spontaneity. The challenges of law school in addition to the trepidation of exams had already compelled me to adopt a somewhat “reclusive” lifestyle, one that mirrored much of the characteristics of mandatory quarantine procedures. This is not to say that implications and uneasiness surrounding such an unprecedented spread of illness had no impact on my psyche and personal circumstances. I missed my friends and the camaraderie we shared in working through our first year of law school and the preferred learning experience of in-person education. I also worried about my mother and brother, both of whom have been sent to the hospital over a more routine virus due to being diabetics. However, with every classmate, school, and person in general being thrust into the same exceptional crisis, I found it more constructive to “ride out the theoretical storm” and use my time at home to focus on my coursework rather than dwell on what I could not change.

That being said, by the time 1L exams were coming to an end, it was becoming increasingly clear that the spread of COVID-19, was not. Summer courses were predictably held over Zoom and the externship I had secured at a firm in Downtown Los Angeles was made remote. I was incredibly grateful to still have an externship opportunity, considering many institutions had since rescinded their offers to other students. I assumed any remote work I received from the firm, on top of the Legal Professions class I had registered for, would continue to keep me engaged until some sense of normalcy had returned to the world. Maybe I was being naïve or was simply hoping for the best in a situation that had made reliable predictions an impossibility. However, even my well-laid-out plans could not combat the mental hardships that accompanied prolonged isolation and a future rife with uncertainty. Perhaps my, and many others’ position, is best voiced by the Atlanta hip-hop duo, Outkast, who prophetically crooned that “you can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.”

Summer, a single class, and restricted courtroom activity offered more free time, but quarantine guidelines limited any activities or outlets to devote this time to. However, motivation had made itself scarce, despite my best efforts to stay focused on course work, externship assignments, and be productive in my downtime. While I spent much of my 1L year longing for more “me-time,” when this wish ultimately came to be, it instead resulted in increased alcohol consumption and mindless scrolling of social media. It became obvious to me “something had to give” to combat my worsening mental health and to ensure this decline in my productivity would not carry over into my 2L year.

Change started slowly, and somewhat painstakingly, with devoting a period of time out of my day to explore hobbies that made me feel personally fulfilled. Friends both inside and outside of law school assisted in inspiring me to tackle pursuits I no longer felt I had the bandwidth to accomplish. To name a few, Jacob, my partner in school-run negotiation competitions, spoke with me about his experimentation with sourdough bread, while one of my cousins dedicated her extra time to cultivating and selling succulent plants. For me, hobbies consisted of rekindling my passion for a small side-business I conducted prior to law school, which consisted of baking and intricately decorated sugar cookies. Additionally, I also developed an interest in jewelry making. It may sound comical, but something as simple as organizing the beads by color and type has done more to quell my anxiety than any prescription pill or breathing technique. I further discovered over time, that committing more of myself to personal pursuits not only improved my mental health but served to revive my enthusiasm for advancing my legal education. In the end, establishing a healthy balance between both individual and scholarly pursuits during the whirlwind of the COVID-19 pandemic was the most effective therapy for the uncertainty that has blanketed almost every level of our society.

I am not a mental health professional, and the sharing of my individual experience is not to claim that a hobby or personal pursuit will remedy every student’s academic and psychological woes that have resulted from quarantine. Nevertheless, I strongly encourage fellow law students to put their textbooks, commercial outlines, and law review writing aside, even if just for a moment, to find an outlet that they find personally satisfying. No one knows when the world we were familiar with prior to quarantine will return, but it would serve all of us well to attempt to find ways to be our best selves amongst the chaos.

A New Normal: An Interview With Judge Stewart Aaron

By: Chandler Jacobs

3L at Syracuse University College of Law

Westchester, NY, it’s 7’o clock in the morning and Southern District of New York Magistrate Judge Aaron has begun his daily 2-hour commute to the Courthouse. Just a few months ago, this was Judge Aaron’s normal daily routine. Now, in the current state of the pandemic, the Judge is adjusting to his new normal. Sitting in his home office, I had the chance to interview Syracuse Law alum Judge Stewart Aaron who explains how he has been personally impacted by COVID-19, his thoughts on how this will affect the future of court proceedings, and the legal field as a whole.

Judge Aaron is a Magistrate Judge, so the majority of his work is pretrial conferences and settlement conferences, which is generally done in-person. The new normal is now conducting these conferences either via Zoom or by phone as the Judge has not done face to face court proceedings since Mid-March. The Judge explained that although he prefers face-to-face, he soon came to realize that a lot of what he was doing could be done over the phone. Further, the Judge added that the future of civil court proceedings might not be necessary and would help avoid complex issues and scheduling. Getting rid of in-person civil proceedings that do not require juries would save clients’ money and alleviate lawyers of traveling costs. This would be a step towards the new normal for courthouse proceedings. The Judge did explain that there could be issues with this. However, this issue could be eliminated if both the parties in a bench trial consented to remote proceedings. With the exception of jury trials, remote proceedings are possible and would be a better way to save people time and money.  

The Judge believes that this will affect the entire legal field and it will be unnecessary for lawyers to be in court as much as they were pre-pandemic. Therefore, geographically speaking, there will be an incentive to appear from home, ultimately saving rent for law firms and money for lawyers. Although in-person settlement conferences are ideal and preferable, as it is easier to pick up on non-verbal cues and to read the parties’ strengths/weaknesses, Judge Aaron says he is adjusting well this new normal. He believes that the future of settlement conferences will be remote because it saves time and money, but the downfall of remote courthouse proceedings is the loss of human interaction, which Judge Aaron explained he misses the most.

When asked about how the pandemic has affected his life, Judge Aaron said that the “largest effect on [his] life is that the pandemic has given [him] more time, [to catch up on work].” “In addition to having more time for work, [he] also ha[s] more time [to] exercise and relax.” When the Judge is not — well being a Judge, he enjoys cooking, mastering different variations of rice and beans, which he calls a “nutritious and healthy dietary option.” He also loves to read and has been “binge-watching some TV series, such as Dead to Me and House.”

In the final moments of our interview, I asked him whether he had any advice for law students who are still seeking employment. His advice should resonate with all law students who are currently concerned about future employment.

My advice is to be patient, but also to network as much as possible. You never know where your first job will come from. You should put yourself out in the legal and greater community so that you can learn of opportunities that you may no[t] even have thought about.

Safe Abortion Access: A Matter of Life or Death

By: Sarah Coniglio

3L at Fordham University School of Law 

This summer I interned at the Global Justice Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to international gender justice advocacy. During my internship, I was asked to research the lack of abortion services in areas experiencing conflict. In doing so, I realized that while the lack of abortion services in humanitarian settings is an issue that predates COVID-19, the pandemic has created a higher demand for safe abortion care.

Recent data indicates that the novel coronavirus outbreak has led to an increase in gender-based violence and a decrease in the availability of sexual health and reproductive services. According to the United Nations Populations Fund, 47 million women may not have access to modern contraceptives and 7 million unintended pregnancies are expected to occur if lockdowns carry on for 6 months. Now more than ever, there is a pressing need for increased access to safe abortion, particularly in developing countries.

There are approximately 56 million induced abortions each year, roughly half of which (25 million) are unsafe. Abortions are considered unsafe when “when a pregnancy is terminated either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both.” According to the World Health Organization, between 4.7% and 13.2% of maternal deaths are a result of unsafe abortions, making unsafe abortions one of the leading causes of maternal deaths worldwide.

In addition to contributing to high rates of maternal mortality, a lack of safe abortion care carries a high financial cost. Approximately 5 million women are hospitalized due to abortion complications annually, which costs upwards of $460 million. In Africa, “to provide care for the illness and disability associated with unsafe abortion, a government spends, on average, at least $114 per case,” even though government spending on healthcare totals $48 per capita per annum in the region.

There are legal, operational, and social barriers to safe abortion access. Abortion is criminalized in most countries. In addition, US foreign aid restrictions materially decrease access to safe abortion in humanitarian settings. The United States, the single largest foreign aid donor globally, is barred from providing foreign aid to provide abortions by the Helms Amendment. Further, the Trump Administration’s re-institution of the global gag rule prohibits the United States from providing foreign aid to organizations that provide abortions, even if the costs associated with abortion care are paid for by another source. The majority of unsafe abortions occur in developing countries, the same countries for whom the United States cannot provide assistance to increase safe abortion access. Both the Helms Amendment and the global gag rule should be repealed in order to decrease high rates of maternal mortality associated with unsafe abortions.

Restricting access to abortion does not decrease abortion, but rather it makes them more unsafe; “unsafe abortion and related mortality are both highest in countries with narrow grounds for abortion.” Thus, it can be deduced that women turn to unsafe abortion methods when safe abortion methods are illegal and/or inaccessible. Rates of maternal mortality (generally) are the highest in conflict and post-conflict countries, where rates of sexual violence tend to also be high. There is a dearth of data on safe abortion access in conflict areas specifically; however, high rates of maternal mortality in these countries indicate that there is inadequate access to safe abortions.

With sexual violence and unintended pregnancies on the rise, increasing safe abortion access is—quite literally, a matter of life or death.

For further information, please see:

UNFPA – Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic UNFPA Global Response Plan – Jun 2020

Susan A. Cohen – Facts and Consequences: Legality, Incidence and Safety of Abortion Worldwide – Nov. 20, 2009

David A. Grimes – Unsafe Abortion, the Preventable Pandemic

 

Innovation and Resilience

By: Tiffany M. Love

2L JDi Student at Syracuse University College of Law 

On March 16, 2020, I was sent home on indefinite telework status and my fifth-grade daughter entered the unchartered waters of virtual/homeschooling. As a military family on our third assignment overseas we were accustomed to rolling with the punches and adjusting to new normals. After all, “resilience” is one of the favorite buzzwords in the military community.

But this was different. And it was not always easy to keep a brave face in light of a threatening and invisible pandemic. We leaned on each other and found a way to juggle homeschooling and teleworking, alternatively retreating to our individual home offices or seeking out each other’s company. We celebrated birthdays (just us three), the end of elementary school, and Hamilton. And we were stronger for it.

As a civilian paralegal for the military, we had to re-think how we delivered legal services to the military community. We found ways to offer remote appointments and regularly reached the capacity of our email servers. We also found ways to be more efficient in delivering routine legal services by scheduling all services, creating new fillable forms, and conducting as much work as possible prior to any face-to-face meetings (complete with masks, of course). We conducted trainings and small group meetings via videoconference. We made sure our waiting room complied with social distancing regulations. I learned to be more efficient in my email communications with clients, many of whom are not legally savvy. We learned to innovate, and I think as a whole we are better for it. While some clients miss the convenience of “walk-in services,” many have appreciated how we have managed to continue to provide more efficient services when other offices were nearly completely shut down.

My daughter has been my best role model for resilience. She turned 11 just over two months ago. Her three best friends managed to throw a virtual surprise party on Google Hangouts, complete with party games and a special visit from her teacher. As an only child, friendships are incredibly important. And she has managed to remain in touch – not only with her friends here, but in Japan and the United States. While some days are undoubtedly difficult, she is often full of smiles and hope. And it gives me hope.

Even though we are in strange times and may often feel isolated, we can still find ways to connect. As a JDi student, I already feel confident in the ability of classes to be delivered remotely and to still remain a member of the SUCOL community. I am watching with interest the arguments for diploma privilege for new law school graduates. As a current paralegal and future attorney, I feel confident that with open minds and creative thinking, we can overcome many barriers and still provide quality legal services to those in need. I am hopeful that this current situation may be the impetus for innovation and growth in the legal field.