Stetson Law Clinical & Experiential Education pandemic story

By Christine Cerniglia
Associate Professor of Law and Director, Department of Clinical and Experiential Education

Christine Cerniglia
Christine Cerniglia

In mid-March 2020 and one week before spring break, the Department of Clinical and Experiential Education began to plan for an immediate transition to an online format. With 67 students in externships and 37 students in clinics during the Spring semester, we immediately surveyed our clinic and externship professors and field placement supervisors to determine the pandemic’s impact to their offices. Each office faced challenges, with local government clinics truly at the front line of analyzing legal issues related to mask ordinances and public health mandates. Overwhelmingly, our community partners responded with commitment to see the semester through and provide remote work assignments and connections for the students.

The summer 2020 semester provided additional administrative challenges as we transformed clinics and externships and responded to the diminishing placements in courthouses. In anticipation of fewer externship placements, Stetson Law faculty worked to innovate, creating three new summer courses: Covid-19 and the Criminal System, Covid-19 and the Civil System and Judicial Practice.  Each course allowed students to engage in learning over the summer and prepare for future practice. Over 35 students were enrolled in these three courses.

As we approached the summer, the need for flexibility in administration became evident. Stetson Law’s faculty approved allowance for variable credit, which provided the students with choice for participating at their needed level of commitment. As the semester progressed, we monitored the student experiences and health issues, as well as the need to build a virtual community.  We hosted virtual coffee talks on Wednesdays and happy hours on Friday evenings where students could meet and reflect on the week.

By the Fall semester, we continued to be thankful for our community partners, who remained committed to providing clinical or externship experiences.  The incredible story this past year is the commitment by our clinic and externship faculty and supervisors to make it all happen.  This past year student enrollment in clinics and externships was up by 15-20 percent of the clinic and externship placement capacity.

Even more exciting were the moments of innovation, such as our Compassionate Release Practicum and the Advanced Compassionate Release. The mantra that necessity is the mother of all invention proved true.  As we continue to persevere through the pandemic, the innovation of the Stetson Faculty, and the dedication of our community partners has ensured the greatest benefit to our experiential community: the opportunity to watch students engage in real work relevant to the pandemic and the mounting legal issues across the country.