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What is a Law School Externship?

You’ve probably heard of an internship–where a student performs entry-level tasks at a workplace outside of school. Internships may be paid or unpaid. But generally, they’re very desirable for the work experience and potential to lead to real employment. But when you arrive at law school, you might hear about something different–a law school externship. So what is it?

Law School Internship vs. Law School Externship

As opposed to an internship, externships are typically for a short period of time. Students might only have to shadow professionals and they might not have a heavy workload. Finally, externships are also only for academic credit, not for pay.

But, some schools describe externships differently. They might expect students to do more work and not simply shadow. At Stanford Law, for example, students in externships “may do legal research and writing…do client interviews…may make court appearances under the supervision of an agency attorney.” Along with this unpaid work, students take the Externship Companion class or a supervised tutorial “which allows them to reflect and learn from their experience.”

How Do You Get an Externship?

At Stanford Law, it’s up to the student to find and arrange an externship site. Finding an externship location definitely comes easier with networking.

At the University of North Carolina School of Law, students can go through the Externship Program. There, they can do three or six-credit programs and/or the summer program. There are limited spots for each program–55 for both fall and spring, and 50 for the summer program. Selected students can then apply to four sites and ultimately choose one. Then, faculty supervisors look over the students, and they have on-site supervisors like judges and lawyers with at least five years experience.

In sum, it looks like it’s best to do your research early and figure out what your law school expects. But for sure, you’ll want to take advantage of any externship opportunity.

What Should Your Goals Be?

Once you’ve made your networking connections and gotten your externship approved, what should you do? How will you make the most of it? Keep these tips in mind:

  • Expand on your coursework
  • Grow your network
  • Learn practical lawyering skills
  • Observe attorneys in the real world and learn from their successes/mistakes
  • Build a path from the present to long-term employment
  • Figure out where your skills can be best applied

By just reading this article, you’ve taken a great first step. With these tips, you’re on your way to a great law school externship and career!

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