Update on Fees, Graduation, Employment, and more

We know that “normal” means something different now, but it remains our commitment to ensure that students are able to advance unimpeded through law school and into the profession.

Dear Students,

Much about the topography of the months ahead, both as Columbians and citizens, remains uncertain. The global torrent brought on by COVID-19 continues to place enormous strain on our society and institutions, and the full range of sequelae are yet to be understood.

Despite this lack of clarity about our future, all of us here at the Law School continue to press ahead. We are working every day—with employers to secure employment opportunities, with the New York Court of Appeals regarding bar admission, with the faculty to adjust academic protocols—to minimize the impacts of disruption. We know that “normal” means something different now, but it remains our commitment to ensure that you are able to advance unimpeded through law school and into the profession. Here are some updates resulting from our recent work:

  • Fee Refund: The Law School, in cooperation with the Student Senate, will be refunding students the full amount of the Spring 2020 Student Activity Fee, or $135, as well as providing a $61 printing credit. This is in addition to a prorated University Facilities Fee refund of $119, which was announced yesterday. The total amount of these refunds—$315—will be provided as a payment through the Office of Financial Aid to every Law student, regardless of whether they have an outstanding student account balance.
  • Graduation: We are committed to convening an in-person event to celebrate the Class of 2020 once it is safe to do so. While the situation remains too fluid to be able to set a date right now, we look forward to honoring our graduates in person and in the presence of family and friends. In the meantime, we can't let the end of the academic year pass without at least some festivity. The Law School will convene a virtual Class Day during Commencement Week (exact date and time to be announced) and, per President Bollinger’s recent message, University Commencement Exercises will occur virtually on May 20. More information for graduating students is forthcoming. 
  • Summer Employment and Funding: We have been working together with the public and private sector employers who are scheduled to host students over the summer. Some, including many large law firms, have indicated that they will carry ahead with their summer programs, but for a shortened duration. Others, such as international NGOs, are committed to providing virtual work if the pandemic continues to restrict students’ ability to travel over the summer. A modest number of students have seen their placements withdrawn due to COVID-19-related effects on host organizations. We are working directly with these students to find alternate placements. Also note that Guaranteed Summer Funding will continue to be available for all who qualify.
  • Post-Graduate Careers: With the New York bar examination rescheduled for early September, we are considering practical things like housing and bar preparation, as well as advocating to allow practice under the supervision of an experienced attorney prior to the administration of the exam. Overall, we have not seen many offers of permanent employment withdrawn and remain hopeful that this will continue to hold true even as the effects of the pandemic wear on. 

Finally, as I did previously in my letter of March 4, I want to speak out, both personally and on behalf of Columbia Law School, against incidents of bias and discrimination that have arisen in connection with COVID-19. Since the virus emerged early in the year, we have seen a disturbing increase in acts of bigotry and violence against Asian and Asian American people. All of us, as members of a profession that advances justice, must recognize that fear can beget malice. We, in turn, must challenge discriminatory acts when we see them.

Furthermore, while we are frequently reminded that the virus doesn’t discriminate based on identity, background, or socioeconomic class, we are quickly learning how the spread of this disease has hit especially hard among poor and vulnerable populations, including communities of color, in ways that can serve to exacerbate existing inequities. Let this be an acknowledgment and collective expression of empathy for individuals and communities most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are in need of support, I encourage you to reach out to Counseling and Psychological Services, which is continuing to serve students virtually. If you have experienced or witnessed discrimination, please contact Student Conduct and Community Standards or Student Services. A number of additional resources are detailed in Professor Goldberg’s message of March 3. Please continue to check your email and consult the University’s COVID-19 website for up-to-date information.

Thank you, as always, for the resourceful spirit you bring to our collective enterprise.

Best regards,

Gillian Lester
Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law