By Gwyneth K. Shaw
For the first time, Berkeley Law began a semester this week with all classes taught remotely, a safety precaution because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For faculty and returning students, it meant further adjusting to the disruption of in-person classes that began in March. For new J.D., LL.M., Ph.D. and J.S.D. students, it was a milestone day like no other.
Here are some snapshots of how the semester started for various members of the law school community: 1Ls Kimberly Valladares ’23 and Tucker Cochenour ’23, both of whom are living in the greater Berkeley area; Professor Amanda Tyler; and Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.
Kimberly Valladares ’23: I got ready for classes like I normally would in-person: I made my morning coffee, got dressed (with the exception of very comfortable pants), and played some reggaetón to get me going for the day.
Professor Amanda Tyler: Normally, before class I would head into the office and stop by Café Zeb to get my decaf latte en route to class, but today was … a little different. I had no commute and I had to make my own latte (not nearly as good!) but my excitement for diving into a course with a new set of students was the same as always.
Tucker Cochenour ’23: One of the weirdest parts for me about my first day was how it still felt kind of normal. I’m coming straight from my undergrad, so this is something along the lines of my 16th or 17th first day of school in a row. With the onset of Zoom classes I really thought that the first day of school jitters would be gone (especially since this is graduate school, after all). Yet, as I got ready to log into my first class, I still felt a bit of nerves come on. Some of the classic first day worries (What if I get called on? What if I show up to the wrong class?) were met with some new ones (How’s the lighting at my desk? What if I forget to unmute myself?).
Dean Erwin Chemerinsky: There was the excitement of teaching my first class of the semester in Federal Courts. I missed being in the classroom with the students, but thoroughly enjoyed the class. It was the 40th anniversary of my first day as a law professor (I began in August 1980), and I realized that I love teaching and am as excited about it as when I started.
Tyler, who began her Civil Procedure course: On a typical first day, I am extremely excited to meet my new students — particularly new 1Ls — and get a sense of the class. I was nervous today about how well things would go on Zoom with a brand-new class (as opposed to a class with which I had already spent half a semester in person, like last spring). But everything was fantastic today.
My students today brought an infectious energy to day one and impeccable preparation. We dove right in and one after another as I turned to my students they made spectacular contributions. This 1L class is enormously impressive and eager to dig in and learn the material. I anticipate a great semester ahead, even if we are confronting many challenges along the way.
Teaching on Zoom is of course not the same — but it is a pretty good substitute, at least when the technology does not fail us. And there is a certain camaraderie among the classes that I have taught on Zoom — after all, we truly are all in this together and we are all trying to make the best of the circumstances. I expect that this semester will be no different.
Cochenour: When I actually got into class, a lot of the nerves dissipated almost immediately, and everything began to normalize. Some things are still undoubtedly weird (in my first class, Criminal Law, we met one of the professor’s kids in the first few minutes and were later serenaded by a rendition of “Hot Cross Buns” in the background), but, as someone who’s already gone through a term of virtual learning last spring, I feel as though everyone’s adjusting well.
In the end, I really just felt a lot of gratitude for the flexibility that my classmates and professors have shown in making this start to 1L feel so normal, despite circumstances that are anything but.
Chemerinsky: There was a terrific panel on race and legal education. I was so moved by the powerful and eloquent words of the speakers. And then there were the power outages around Berkeley, which was disruptive, and I crafted a message to our instructors about that.
Valladares: My first class was with Professor Andrea Roth for Criminal Law, and I was more engaged than I thought I could be over Zoom. Quite frankly, I wished the class was longer to continue the insightful conversation with my colleagues. Time flies over Zoom. We were patient with one another as some of our mics stopped working, as this is one of the inevitable occurrences a part of this “new normal.” Despite that, we supported each other in the Zoom chat function — one of the pros that we’ve gained through virtual learning.
Afternoon and evening
Cochenour: In between my first class and my 2:10 Legal Writing class, I watched one of my roommates cook his lunch as a pseudo cooking show, and chatted with my other roommates about how everyone’s first day was going. I’m living in South Berkeley with two other 1Ls and an M.P.P./J.D. student; we took a first-day picture of our group using a timer.
I’m also doing significantly more stretching between classes than I’d be doing if classes were in person. The biggest pain of law school so far is undoubtedly my back.
Valladares: I’m a proud first-generation college student and professional from a family of Nicaraguan and Filipinx immigrants. At the end of my day, I recollected on the intentions I set for 1L, and paid homage to everyone that helped me get here: we made it. I’m excited to continue learning alongside the brightest people in the legal profession.
Chemerinsky: It was a very intense day. There were countless beginning of school issues that came up. But we made it through one day; 69 more to go in this very strange semester.