By Michael Fisch
While COVID-19 has created widespread hardship, it is also driving rapid innovation—including at Suffolk Law School, says Professor Gabe Teninbaum JD’05.
As the recently appointed assistant dean of innovation, strategic initiatives, and distance education, Teninbaum knew that the fundamentals of a Suffolk legal education would remain the same whether faculty and students were miles apart on a Zoom call or six feet away in a Sargent Hall classroom.
But because the two experiences can feel very different, he’s made it a priority to get faculty the resources they need to make their remote classes more intimate and interactive, as well as rich in content.
Law librarians now serve as “tech guides” or, more formally, library distance education liaisons, assisting faculty with the finer details of remote teaching. Faculty tech facilitators (FTFs), hired students, are the virtual world’s new teaching assistants, serving as an extra set of eyes to help professors.
Faculty, in turn, are gaining a sense of the new medium’s unique rhythm and how to incorporate digital tools—from instant polling of students to building in commentary from experts around the world.
“So far,” says Teninbaum, “it’s gone terrifically, because we have a staff and faculty working together to put students’ needs first.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the traditional face-to-face interactions of Suffolk Law’s 11 clinical programs, students have found creative ways to help their clients.
- The Legal Innovation & Technology Lab created cell phone-guided interviews that walk pro se litigants through complex court forms. The team’s effort drew media attention, including a television segment on NBC Boston.
- Students in the newly created Transactional Clinic are working on legal documents that set out the governance and financial structure of Puntada, an immigrant women’s worker cooperative that produces face masks and other personal protective equipment.
- In April, the Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples Clinic learned that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had referred their case against the government of Guatemala, addressing persistent government raids of indigenous community radio stations, to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Clinic’s student attorneys drafted and submitted a lengthy merits brief to the Court in October. Expert witnesses will include UN Special Rapporteurs and Suffolk Law Professor Lorie Graham.
- As the Massachusetts District Attorney’s Offices faced court closures, the Prosecutors Clinic has jumped in to assist. Working in 17 courts with five Massachusetts District Attorney’s Offices, students have created COVID-specific templated motions, flowcharts, and analyses to help criminal cases proceed without undue delay as litigation resumes.
- The Accelerator Practice represented a mother with a housing voucher who faced discrimination for over a year as she sought in vain to rent an apartment for herself and her two disabled children. The Accelerator Practice and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office negotiated settlements for the family with several of the offending housing providers.