SIDESBAR WINTER 2021 - 28

MONTGOMERYBAR.ORG

BECOMING A LAWYER
IN THE AGE OF COVID-19

By Franqui-Ann Raffaele, Esq.

L

ike many before me, I have always
dreamed about being a lawyer. I
paved a path for my life completely
untraveled by any member of my family.
I never imagined the conclusion of such
a journey to end quite the way it did. I
attended Widener Commonwealth Law
School and I graduated this past May in
the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

professors would check in with their
students every class, sometimes holding
gatherings to discuss how the students were
feeling or keeping the students apprised
of any changes at the school. Student
organizations began holding events to
de-stress, like bring your pet to a Zoom
meeting or hosting a yoga class every week.
The school provided additional counseling
sessions to those who wanted them and
I still remember the day Dauphin
even adjusted their grading system to
County shut down-March 17th. It
accommodate the harsh reality many
was jarring, yet oddly uneventful. The
adjustment to a new normal came in waves. students were facing.
Several days after the shutdown began, the
My classmates lost jobs and
realization hit me that I wouldn't see most
opportunities that were in place after
of my law school friends for a long time,
graduation. It felt hopeless looking for jobs
if ever again. I didn't get to say a proper
during the shutdown. Several members
goodbye to most of them, besides sending
of faculty likened such a downturn to the
a text or a phone call. Several weeks after
one seen in the Recession of 2008. Alumni
the shutdown began, I realized I would be
attorneys who graduated during that time
missing out on the staple experiences that
began reaching out and offering words
every Widener Commonwealth graduate
of advice and optimism. Several alumni
had-attending the law ball, the Thirty
joined the fight for a diploma privilege for
Days party, a graduation ceremony in the
the soon to graduate. It was heartwarming
Forum of the Pennsylvania State Capitol
to see everyone coming together during a
building.
time where many soon to be graduates felt
alone and stuck.
The transition to online schooling
was made easy by a cohesive faculty that
worked tirelessly to ensure a seamless
shift, but it was not without its problems.
Several professors were technologically
adverse, thrust into a world they avoided
for decades. Classes were often plagued by
bad internet connections, wrong Zoom
links or some connection failure on Zoom's
end. Brian, the IT person at Widener
Commonwealth, worked the hardest out of
everyone. He attended almost every zoom
class to troubleshoot issues and provide
guidance to the professors. He'll forever be
my hero and was recognized at the end of
the semester for his hard work.
One side effect of the transition for
many students, myself included, was a
significant impact on their mental health.
The time I spent away from class was filled
with long walks with my dog, Winston,
watching Netflix, FaceTiming with my
Mom, and talking to my neighbors. I
prioritized my health and spent several
hours a day on self-care.
I witnessed many people going above
and beyond during the shutdown. Several
28 SIDEBAR

the profession backed diploma privilege
with additional requirements. But it was
to no avail. The Bar Examiners moved
the exam twice (from July to September
and then to October). They switched the
format to online-where test takers had
to remain completely silent, eyes fixed on
their computer screens and body firmly
centered in the video stream or risk being
flagged and accused of cheating. This new
format forced many graduates to scurry for
quiet, secluded spaces that often could not
be found in their homes. Some graduates
even deferred the bar for their own health.
Notably one of my classmates was asked
to turn off her glucose monitor during the
exam to avoid being flagged-she deferred.
The Bar Examiners reduced the multiplechoice questions to 100 and provided a
vague estimate of the release of results as
sometime in mid-December.
I spent my time prepping for the bar in
a careful balancing act, working part time
to gain access to healthcare, studying to
the point of exhaustion and maintaining
contact with several law school friends to
find some comradery in the insanity I felt
every day. The stress I felt during bar prep
was compounded with the stress of finding
a job post-graduation. I got lucky. As firms
began to open, I found an online posting
for my dream job. I started that job at the
end of July. But a lot of my classmates were
not quite so lucky.

When I graduated, there was no cap
and gown, no procession, no Pomp and
Circumstance. Widener held an online
ceremony, which consisted of slides that
showcased each student, their picture and
an optional quote. I thanked my family
in mine. I watched the ceremony with my
mother and brother, FaceTiming with my
My experience over the past eight
father who was stuck in Florida for work.
months is a time in my life that I will
The online ceremony was nice, but it wasn't forever be proud of (while simultaneously
the same.
hoping to never have to go through ever
again). It took perseverance, patience, and
Much of my time studying for the bar
strength, all of which have shaped me to be
was a blur. Studying for the bar during a
a better person and attorney for the future.
pandemic was a limbo more terrible than
the limbo I find myself in now, waiting for As mid-December approaches and this
roller coaster of a chapter, hopefully, comes
my bar results. I was always told studying
would be stressful. Studying would feel like to a close, I reflected on this time and I am
so appreciative for the people, and dogs,
you have plenty of time, but not nearly
in my life that made this dream possible.
enough to learn everything you need to.
Thank you.
Several days I got lost in the hopes of the
unknown - would the Pennsylvania
Supreme Court grant the 2020 graduating
class diploma privilege? Would the
Pennsylvania Bar Examiners show us any
mercy? There were glimmers of hope when
the Deans of the Pennsylvania law schools
supported the move and the entirety of

Postscript: this chapter has officially
come to a close. On December 11, 2020,
I passed the Pennsylvania Bar Exam and
became an Associate Attorney at the
Fleischmann Law Firm. I guess dreams do
come true.


http://www.montgomerybar.org

SIDESBAR WINTER 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of SIDESBAR WINTER 2021

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https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/MontgomeryBarAssociation/SIDEBARWinter2019-2020
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https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/MontgomeryBarAssociation/SIDEBARWinter2018-19
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/MontgomeryBarAssociation/SIDEBARFall2018
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https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/MontgomeryBarAssociation/SIDEBARWinter2017-18
https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/MontgomeryBarAssociation/SIDEBARSummer2017
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