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Faculty Spotlight

Adapting Field Placements Throughout Shutdown, Social Movements

By Lauren Mineau

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Albany Law School’s Field Placement and Pro Bono Scholars programs—typically immersive, hands-on experiences to supplement classroom learning—have adapted to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge, led by Professor Nancy Maurer, director of the Field Placement Clinic, wasn’t easy—but it offered signs of community, growth, and impact.

In the initial days of the coronavirus outbreak, Maurer checked in with individual students and supervisors to determine their needs. Some field placements were ended suddenly as offices closed. Some employers offered remote work, with the transition preserving security and confidentiality.

Eventually, Prof. Maurer took inventory of all the placements and their restrictions and provided support and training to many supervisors who wanted to keep law students engaged but needed some help.

“The legal profession has permanently changed because of this,” she said. “The possibilities of remote work and the technology needed is paving the way for the future. In some ways, we were all forced to deal with this.”

People within the Albany Law School community also pitched in to take on students who lost their field placements. The Government Law Center brought in several students who were left without placements to work on legal research.

Additionally, as the national conversation around systemic racism and racial justice came to the forefront, students began to show an increased interest in placements with organizations that support policy development, research, individual advocacy, or other public-service tasks related to these issues.

“Students had expressed a real desire and interest to be able to work in policy and advocacy, specifically in the areas of racial justice and racial discrimination,” she said.

Prof. Maurer also worked to organize trainings for the supervising attorneys on creating inclusive learning and working environments and understanding ethical issues in remote supervision.

“This was just a start,” she said. “We had a lot of leadership from various offices and organizations attend. Hopefully we can pick it up from there. Eventually, we would like everybody that is going to be supervising students to have received some information and training and get involved in providing a better, more inclusive education.”

Other field placement directors around the country also served as an inspiration and resource, Prof. Maurer said. 

“I gave some, I borrowed a lot. I think that gave us a better understanding of things to move forward and it gave students a chance to take on those kinds of opportunities,” she said. “It really was a lot of people stepping up and helping to put the pieces together.”

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, all of Prof. Maurer’s students completed their field placement and pro bono scholar program course requirements. She also noticed some possible areas to focus on as restrictions lift. Remote work may be a permanent option for some organizations, especially those in more rural areas that may have previously required an on-site component.

“It’s really all about how to learn from experience and learning how to learn going forward. It’s a really unique part of education that students are making their own goals based on where they are, where they need to go, and where their possible interests might be,” she said. “We’re here. We’re adaptable. There are lots of opportunities in so many different areas. There’s something for everybody.”

Maurer was recently honored with the William Pincus Award for Outstanding Service and Commitment to Clinical Legal Education awarded by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Clinical Section. She will be celebrated at the virtual awards ceremony on Tuesday, January 5.