A key component of a law student’s legal education is the opportunity to put what they learn in the classroom into practice during a summer externship. With the global pandemic forcing remote work and markets adjusting to the ensuing economic disruption, many Villanova Law students faced uncertain externship prospects and job loss this past summer.
“As dean, I felt a responsibility to not let our students go a summer without meaningful, substantive legal experience,” said Mark C. Alexander, The Arthur J. Kania Dean of the Charles Widger School of Law. “Despite the world crisis, they need to have marketable experience to enter the legal market when they graduate. As a member of the greater world community, I felt a responsibility for Villanova Law to help with the pandemic in some way.”
With law students facing this new challenge and the Villanova community confronting the legal ramifications of the pandemic, Dean Alexander quickly pivoted law school resources to create the innovative COVID-19 Legal Research Project. Co-directed by Professors Deeya Haldar and Jane Voegele, the COVID-19 Legal Research Project provided 22 current Villanova Law students with paid summer employment to research the legal issues arising from COVID-19 and develop resources for Villanova community members seeking legal help.
Villanova Law alumni practitioners, attorneys working at several local legal services organizations and Villanova Law faculty volunteered their time to train and have ongoing consultation with the Student Research Assistants (RAs) on COVID-19 related issues. Areas included employment, unemployment, tax, family law, landlord/tenant, mortgage foreclosure, health law, insurance, small business, education, student debt, bankruptcy and wills. The RAs were then broken into teams based on their interests and assigned one of the substantive areas of law to research. Their findings were compiled into a Library Guide, which is available as a resource to all full-time staff employees and their households.
“Following the loss of my Grandmother to COVID-19, I wanted to take action,” said Bernadette Berger ’21. “When I received Dean Alexander’s email regarding the COVID-19 Legal Research Project, I took it as a sign that this was how I could use my skills to help. Being able to apply my skills developed during my time at Villanova Law to help those within my Villanova community was an extremely rewarding experience and one I will never forget.”
Throughout the summer, the Library Guide was updated by the RAs as new laws, regulations and guidance evolved in the targeted legal areas. Students also created a phone and online intake system and fielded questions from staff who had specific legal questions and needed more targeted legal information.
“It was amazing to see the students realize the difference they can make in people’s lives when they provide legal information,” said Haldar. “Being able to give back to Villanova staff and their families was important to all of us,” said Voegele.
As the pandemic progresses, student RAs will continue to work on the COVID-19 Research Project during the 2020-21 academic year, monitoring and updating the legal information in the Library Guide to reflect any new developments.