On 18 June 2020, Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) published its report on the impact of COVID-19 on law students. Students make up a sizeable proportion of YLAL’s membership and one of YLAL’s main focus areas is to encourage individuals to consider a career in legal aid. The report considers survey responses collected between 20 April and 5 May 2020. We received 138 responses from YLAL members who are students.
The report highlights the key issues facing students undertaking legal studies at universities and commercial course providers across England, Wales and Scotland. Universities, course providers and teaching staff have been placed under huge pressure to ensure that courses continue during the pandemic, with teaching and assessment formats being dramatically altered to adapt to new restrictions on social interaction and gatherings. This has led to academic programmes which bear little resemblance to those which our members originally signed up to and paid fees for.
Whilst we do not underestimate the challenge faced by legal education providers, YLAL is concerned by the disruption caused to our members through poor communication and planning. Much has been lost through moving classes to online platforms, with students expressing feeling social isolation and missing the social and interactive aspects of traditional learning environments.
Key findings of YLAL’s student report include:
- 17.2% of respondents said that their studies had been ‘severely’ disrupted by COVID-19.
- 12.5% reported that no arrangements had been made to facilitate their exams remotely, and there was a substantial lack of communication around plans.
- 2.2% of respondents described measures put in place by their university or course provider to adapt to the COVID-19 restrictions as ‘fair’.
- Many respondents expressed deep concern about the response by the Bar Standards Board to COVID-19 and the lack of confirmation around BSB exams, which have been postponed until August 2020.High levels of concern were expressed around the impact of COVID-19 upon students’ personal finances, caring responsibilities, mental health and employability
The report makes a number of recommendations to course providers and the Bar Standards Board (BSB)
- Course providers should take steps to ensure that, where learning is to take place remotely either during or following the COVID-19 pandemic, it is as interactive as possible;
- Course providers should promptly and effectively communicate with their students to allay any concerns that may arise as a result of uncertainty;
- Course providers should explore and/or generate remote work experience placements to enhance students’ employability during COVID-19
- The BSB should consider changing the format of the BSB exams in August 2020 to open book conditions with provision for breaks and/or ensure the proposed proctoring service accommodates breaks.
YLAL recognises that this is a hugely trying situation for the whole of the academic community. However, it is important that legal course providers listen proactively to students’ concerns and communicate transparently with them so as to reduce uncertainty.
YLAL is greatly concerned about the impact of COVID-19 upon social mobility in the legal aid sector, and the likelihood that many of those who previously considered a career as a legal aid lawyer will rethink their plans in light of the pandemic. Despite this, we remain inspired by our student members, their significant contribution they have made and continue to make to YLAL’s activities during the pandemic, and the ongoing commitment, expressed in the report, to careers as legal aid lawyers.
The full report can be found here.
For questions about the report or media enquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Young Legal Aid Lawyers
18 June 2020