Law School Responds to Challenges During Covid-19 Crisis

May 26, 2020 - Kenn Rodriguez


When New Mexico Governor and UNM Law alumna Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency in the state due to the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic on March 12, the University of New Mexico was already addressing the crisis. One day later, UNM extended spring break by two weeks, until April 5 and the University’s schools and departments were faced with the arduous task of going online for students and staff.

Photo of Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Camille Carey

UNM School of Law Vice Dean and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Camille Carey said recently the School was ready for that challenge.

“The transition was really smooth,” Carey said, recalling the school’s changeover to both distance learning and remote work for staff and faculty, which was done by the Monday after Spring Break.

“(Dean Sergio Pareja), in consultation with me, had to make a lot of decisions about what was going to happen in terms of grading policies, given that students might be at home with challenges like limited access to the internet, sudden child care responsibilities, caring for relatives, and other situations that are not ideal situations for learning,” she said.

Carey said the process, which took about a week-and-a-half, was greatly aided by the Law School’s in-house IT and media services teams – something many schools don’t have as an asset.

“We were very lucky to have them and they are very high-performing professionals,” she said. “They have been great about helping faculty and students with getting online and really aided a lot of faculty in learning the technology.”

Transition to Summer session

No sooner than plans for the completion of the Spring semester had been put in place, planning had to be done for the impending Summer session, said Vice Dean Carey.

After determining that all summer classes met the criteria set forth by the University in April, the Law School moved all planned Summer classes online. The School also added additional classes to help students who lost summer externships and jobs because of the change in the economy.

Dean Pareja also helped place many of those students into research assistant positions, she added. The Law School’s Madrid Summer Law Institute in Madrid, Spain was also cancelled due to COVID-19. The Law School is still offering those classes to students who were planning to participate in the institute and other UNM law students this summer but online.  

The School of Law also had to make plans for its summer Clinical Program, the year-round program continues full steam in the summer. Because the Clinic usually works like “large law office,” there were challenges due to COVID-19 contact limitations, Carey explained.

“We needed to make plans around how students could represent clients and work with faculty supervisors in a way that was safe,” she said. “IT set it up so all students and faculty can electronically log in to our system.”

Carey said all representation of clients is being done remotely and meeting to sign documents or do pleadings in-person is on a case-to-case basis, as well as other law work that requires that kind of contact.

Most recently, the Law School has also formed a COVID-19 Task Force, which is currently working on recommendations and the School is currently taking steps to move forward with planning for the Fall semester.

‘We’re going to have to be responsive to the Governor’s directives and whatever directives we get from University leadership,” Vice Dean Carey said. “At any point, we might have to abandon our aspirational modalities and go to online learning. But we are planning to have some in-person learning in the fall.”