An Open Letter to the ABA

By Ryan Morrison

Earlier today, New York Law School students received an e-mail from our administration telling us that the American Bar Association has decided not to waive any required class hours after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Instead, students will be attending regular and makeup classes nearly every day for the next three weeks, including weekends. Students of all the law schools in the tri-state area surely received similar notifications.

Boo hoo, right? Any complaints about the schedule will come from entitled law students who just need to suck it up and get down to work.

Well, actually, no.

Some of those people with no homes are the law students, or their families, or friends. Over the past long and terrible week, many, many law students headed to the Rockaways, Staten Island, and Long Beach to volunteer and help however we could. And if you’ve seen the devastation in these areas, you know that help is needed, desperately.

I am the first to defend New York Law School as a great institution. Our new dean, Dean Crowell, is a good man who cares about his students. Our professors reached out to their students to make sure we were all okay while our facilities were closed (we are located in TriBeCa and our building had no power). While I don’t know any ranking members of the ABA, I doubt they have anything but our best interests at heart.

I just think the ABA’s decision was shortsighted, and a bit tone deaf to what’s happened.

It’s rather like Mayor Bloomberg’s desire earlier in the week to go ahead with the New York Marathon.  He initially believed that keeping the event on would show the resilience of our city and the spirit of its citizens, and would allow the world-class athletes, many of whom had already traveled here, to put on a performance that would make our city proud.

And normally he’d have been right. But before we can afford to make symbolic statements of how tough we are, our city had — and has — some practical matters to address.

Many people, in the hundreds of thousands, are still without food, power, heat, or running water, as temperatures dip into the 30s in the evenings. The faces of the folks living through this show a pain that I’ve never seen before up close. As my friend Christine said after dropping off another carful of donated goods to Staten Island, “This can’t be reality.”

But it is.

People who had normal lives one day have found themselves living in neighborhoods of rubble the next.  People are homeless and frightened.

If this physical and spiritual wreckage is not enough to warrant ABA exemptions, what would? Why even tease us with the possibility?

Law students are the future leaders of our nation, and those of us who live, or have friends or family who live, in the areas that were hit hardest should roll our sleeves up and help the people who need it  — now — and not be forced into a mind-numbing class schedule.

Just as Mayor Bloomberg cancelled the running of the New York Marathon, the ABA should cancel the marathon of classes it’s asking schools in areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy to run.

Restore our classes to their normal schedules– no less, but no more. Let us have the gift of time and energy to try to restore our homes.

I call on the ABA to rethink its decision not to grant class hour exemptions in the wake of this tragedy.

UPDATE, November 5:  Due to growing interest, a Facebook group has been started where you can show your support. Please “like” this story, communicate respectfully, and join the Facebook group here : https://www.facebook.com/ABARethink




23 Responses

  1. Emily says:

    Well said. This decision is shameful.

  2. Lori says:

    My brother was in law school during 9/11 and I think (I’ll have to ask him) they got exemptions then when their school was closed. But like you say, if there isn’t an exemption now, when WOULD there be one?

  3. Ryan Dorn says:

    These decisions are obviously made by people sitting in nice warm offices who have no idea what hardships others experience. Probably fired their “help” when they were late to work because of the bad commute.

  4. Margaret says:

    Wanted to share something from my life and the “effects” of Sandy in NYC. I want nothing more than to be chipping in MORE hours to help the victims of Sandy in the area, legal or otherwise, however, the ABA has informed ALL tri-state law schools that they will NOT be waiving their requirement for class hours missed last week.
    Basically, the national (and local) legal community have decided that it is more important to have law students in school for MORE hours and days (Sundays and Fridays until the end of the semester) than out helping the community in this crucial time. Think this doesnt affect the public interest sector? think again.

  5. Penny says:

    Agree with every word. It reminds me of all those bosses of investment banks and big firms who don’t understand first-year associates have a family, too, and it’s on your head to work around it when big things — like death or illness — go wrong. This really makes me angry.

  6. Alex says:

    The greatest part of this letter is you stayed respectful, but showed how grave an error this organization has made. My family is literally homeless at this point and instead of helping them cope, they want me sitting in a class room on Sundays?

  7. Steve says:

    Alex, your comment is just what I wanted to say. The letter did maintain respect, which is rare when people get mad. Like some of the earlier commenters, who didn’t maintain professionalism, so their arguments sound weaker.

    Thanks to Ryan for a strong letter, on behalf of all of us.

  8. Ricky Williams says:

    Just admit you’re mad because you’ll be missing football.

    But in all honesty, this is really terrible. I don’t want to belittle 9/11, but this has been even worse to our area damage wise. Entire neighborhoods are destroyed and so many people are just…lost. Now is not the time to subject ANY new yorker or new jerseyite to something like this.

  9. Art Leonard says:

    I just want to make one correction to comments above. NYLS was closed for two weeks during September 2011 as a result of the 9/11 terror attacks. (We are 8 blocks form the WTC site and the neighborhood was evacuated and closed off by the police.) When we resumed classes, we made up every missed class. I don’t recall that any request was made to the ABA at that time to waive the hours requirements. We just added time to classes or scheduled make-ups and did what we needed to do to comply with the requirements. The situation is different now, of course, and that was at the beginning of the semester so there was more time to work in the make-ups.

  10. Art Leonard says:

    Obviously I meant September 2001 in comment above.

  11. berkeleyKM says:

    A nicely worded letter. Congratulations for advocating for people who are struggling. I hope that you are able to find normalcy soon. Having said that, while I sincerely hope that the ABA changes their position, I think it is highly unlikely that they do so.

  12. Pat Wilkins says:

    I know how much you’ve done to help out Ryan, and you and others like you being stuck in a classroom is unfortunate during days like these.

  13. Ryan Morrison for President 2020 says:

    Ryan you are my hero. This was PERFCET. I say NYLS’ response to this craziness should be open note/book finals in non-core classes. Start the petition! *lol kind-of*

  14. Carly W. says:

    I don’t think we should be asking for more than we need to be — open notebook finals won’t work for profs who don’t want them. But like commenter Art said before, on 9/11 there wasn’t an exemption (if he’s right about that which I find shocking!) — but it was earlier in the semester. Class must have resumed before October. Here we are in midterm-land, we have a few weeks before Thanksgiving, then boom – finals. How are we supposed to do this and learn anything? How am I supposed to get my reading done? For the record, I go to a different school in NY. But we’re all in this together!

  15. Bored_So_On_Reddit says:

    I don’t know about you, but my law school (in the tri-state area) is giving us a lot of options.
    First off, absences won’t count against us so long as we can prove we’ve listened to the recording of the class.
    Secondly, it’s gradual in how we’re going to make it up, but it will be made up.
    Third. There is no third.
    I think we just need to suck it up and make it easier for students.

  16. Anonymous says:

    “While I don’t know any ranking members of the ABA, I doubt they have anything but our best interests at heart.”

    You’ll learn soon enough that they don’t.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Double up the assignments, not the classes. No one learns in class anyway. It’s Facebook time. Give us assignments and let us prove we learned it on the final. Logic anyone?

  18. Fred F says:

    LOL at thinking this will change anything.

  19. Anonymous Esquire says:

    @Fred F:: Even if it doesn’t change anything, you’re on record for having spoken up. That’s worth something.

  20. Michael Barnes says:

    The ABA is sitting in their warm and heated Chicago offices, and have no idea what happened here. I think the deans should band together and press the point. Together, they’re strong. Individual requests won’t make a dent.

  21. anonymous says:

    At NYLS they have been hesitant to give us any breaks on these issues, its almost like nobody thought about whether the classes should be recorded until somebody suggested it to the admin. They certainly have not committed to recording beyond this week without “request” which is is just impractical, many of us don’t even have the time to go through the “reschedule” to figure out whether we need to miss specific classes.
    Then, when an email came in about students missing classes because of ACTUAL interviews for REAL jobs or because they already have jobs, we received a second email from the admin that sort of hedged around the issues, still didn’t answer the questions and were not direct at all. But kind of implied that we will not be penalized for missing those classes. Here’s the thing about this, we may or may not feel that these classes should be made up but on another level, it would be nice to know that the law school is THINKING on our behalf about how to make these things easier. Perhaps they should have an online suggestion board????
    Stay Strong GFY. I concur, there are much more productive ways that lawyers in our community should be ENCOURAGING us to spend our time. The ABA may say otherwise but lets not all hide behind them. At least we can all agree that A point of the law, albeit a theoretical point most of the time, if not THE most important ASPECT of the LAW is to fight for social justice.
    STAY STRONG Y’ALL. Keep asking questions.

  22. T.R. says:

    So sorry you are going through this. Have always found the ABA to be quite accommodating, so I’m surprised and disappointed.

  23. Elizabeth Iliakostas says:

    Proud of you! So well written, so well put!

    Can I vote for you tomorrow?

Leave a Reply