Legal community rose to the challenge of COVID-19

Gail Prudenti, BridgeTower Media Newswires

When asked how he happened to become a war hero during World War II, John F. Kennedy famously replied: “It was involuntary. They sunk my boat.”

COVID-19 presents our entire community with a similar sink-or-swim choice, and I marvel at the way the community I know best—the legal community—has risen to that challenge. Like JFK, the heroic efforts of the legal academy, the profession and the courts were “involuntary.”

We weren’t looking for dragons to slay, but, like much of our society, we did what we had to do to advance the cause of justice. The pandemic forced us to nimbly adapt to constantly changing dynamics, not unlike the way the “greatest generation” adapted and triumphed during the war years and after. It accelerated technology’s role in legal education and the legal profession, as well as the court system.

At Hofstra Law, where I serve as dean, our vision for the future is to continue expanding our legal tech and interdisciplinary offerings so that our students graduate tech-fluent, business-savvy and highly skilled in specialty areas. Before anyone ever heard the word “COVID,” we were operating on the assumption that the lawyer of the future has to develop an area of expertise, whether it’s labor law, health law, real estate or cybersecurity, and they also need to have knowledge of other areas of law and other aspects of business, as well as technology. With COVID, that future is now, and the school as well as the students need to cross-discipline.

We partnered with Hofstra’s engineering school. We have a joint degree with our business school. We have a medical legal partnership with our medical school, training lawyers and doctors together.

We’re working toward a J.D./nurse practitioner degree program. We’re coordinating with the medical school on courses in health law for both lawyers and medical students, and hospital administrators.
We launched a new summer pre-law program to help students develop the critical skills needed to succeed in law school.

Our Office of Career Services partnered with leading legal consultants and content providers to create the Summer Skills Institute, a series of online training modules in legal technology, transactional law and litigation modeled on programs offered by leading law firms to train their summer and junior associates. Our students set up a hotline to field questions about the unemployment process, assisting over 100 claimants, and provided remote pro bono research support to the Southern Poverty Law Center on COVID-19 related projects involving the Florida schools. Our Student Affairs office did a great job of bringing students together through a series of academic and team-building events.

We did what we needed to do to ensure excellence, which has been our tradition for a half century.

Hofstra Law opened its doors as an innovative law school with the goal of making a difference, and a pioneering spirit that was embodied by its faculty and students. These foundational principles have guided us throughout our 50-year history. But in that time, the legal profession and our world have seen significant changes and new challenges, many of them in just the past year. We are absolutely steadfast in maintaining our cutting-edge reputation, and that starts with giving our students the tools to pass the bar exam on the first attempt and gain entry to the profession. Our goals and aspirations require a community-wide commitment; within a couple of weeks, Hofstra Law will launch a major fundraising campaign — only the second campaign in our history — to ensure that our students and faculty can continue to make maximum impact.

World War II was a defining moment for an entire generation, a frame of reference for everything that came before and everything that came after. Every single person in the country was impacted in one way or another. No individual, no family, no community, no profession was unaffected. COVID-19 is the defining moment for this generation, a time of uncertainly when all we know for sure is that there is no status quo any longer. This is our time to shine, not only for the present, but for posterity.


Judge Gail Prudenti, is the Dean of the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University.