Columbia Law School dean Gillian Lester. Courtesy photo

 

Law students in New York who are worried that their new online classes won’t count toward their J.D. or LL.M. credit requirements due to state limits can rest assured.

The New York Court of Appeals on Tuesday granted both Columbia Law School and New York University School of Law waivers suspending its restrictions on credit hours students may take online for the spring 2020 semester. All of New York’s 15 law schools have canceled in-person instruction and shifted classes online amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Some schools are already delivering classes online, while others will begin to do so in the coming weeks.

The schools with waivers will not have to maintain strict compliance with those rules, which limit J.D. students to taking no more than 15 credits online—out of a minimum 83—and prohibit them from taking online courses until they have earned at least 28 credits, which effectively prohibits online first-year classes. The New York rules do not permit LL.M. students to take any courses via distance education. Those rules determine who is eligible to sit for the New York bar exam.

The waivers apply only to Columbia and NYU students, but it signals that New York’s other law schools should have a clear path to obtaining their own waivers amid the coronavirus crisis.

“I am sure this comes as good news, especially to our graduating 3L and LL.M. students, and will help to relieve some of the uncertainty caused by the suspension of in-person classes due to COVID-19,” Columbia Law dean Gillian Lester wrote in an email to students Tuesday.

Some bar exam and admission eligibility issues remain unaddressed, Lester noted. For instance, the court has not yet weighed in on the requirement that graduates complete at least 50 hours of pro bono work, which could impact third-year students who have not yet met that threshold. Lester wrote that the school will continue to seek clarity on that matter and others, but noted that the pro bono work is a requirement for admission to the bar and would not prevent any graduates from taking the bar exam.

New York has stricter distance education limits than the American Bar Association, which allows J.D. students to take up to a third of their credits online, which at many school amounts to 28 to 30 credits. The ABA has already issued guidance to law schools that they have flexibility to exceed those limits amid the coronavirus response.