Externships: Earn Credit, Gain Practical, Hands-On Experience

By Staff, William & Mary Law School

William & Mary law students are externing for academic credit in record numbers.  Externs earn academic credit by assisting judges, government agencies, law firms, public defenders, in-house counsel, legal aid offices, public interest organizations, and prosecutors. During 2011-12, 206 students externed, a 53 percent increase when compared to program enrollment in 2006-07. Ninety-four students - 22 percent of the 2L and 3L classes - externed during fall 2012. The growth in the externship program is not surprising, given the professional development benefits of externing. Consider, for example, this representative sample of challenging work performed by externs in a recent semester:

• Writing a brief to the Fourth Circuit involving identity theft
• Analyzing evidence in a capital murder prosecution
• Drafting an order for a new trial due to ineffective assistance of counsel
• Assessing allegations of trademark and copyright infringement
• Researching U.S. obligations under multilateral arms control treaties
• Interviewing witnesses for a divorce case
• Trying a misdemeanor prosecution
• Writing a memo involving government approval of housing developments
• Revising a complex federal register release dealing with financial industry regulations
• Representing a client seeking unemployment compensation
• Preparing applications for refugees seeking asylum
• Handling discovery involving veterans benefits claims
• Helping implement reforms to a telecommunications compensation system
• Writing bench memoranda for probate court judges
• Drafting and presenting a proposed ordinance to a county board of supervisors

"Externships are a win-win for our students and the organizations they serve," said Associate Dean Rob Kaplan, who directs the externship program. "Externs gain hands-on experience to complement their classroom learning, enhance their practical skills, and develop contacts and references for their job searches. Host organizations get first-rate help and are able to evaluate students for job openings with their offices."

Students often describe externships as among the best educational experiences of law school, Kaplan noted. They appreciate the opportunity to draw on their classroom learning to resolve legal issues in the field, to serve clients, and to work closely with lawyers and judges.

Third-year law student Naomi Harralson began her legal studies with the goal of working in the field of higher education law. "William & Mary helped me to achieve that dream," she said.  Harralson took advantage of two externships - one on campus during the school year with William & Mary's legal counsel and the other during the summer in the U.S. Department of Education's Office of the General Counsel in Washington, D.C. Those opportunities provided in-depth exposure to substantive areas of higher education law as well as a chance to experience working in both university and government settings. Harralson credits the program with giving her the best possible preparation for the next chapter in her life.  After she graduates, she will join the higher education practice group at a law firm in Washington, D.C.

Field supervisors uniformly praise externs' skills, initiative, professionalism, and enthusiasm. As one federal judge recently commented, "You sent us a truly outstanding extern for this semester. The student has been nothing short of incredible. Her writing abilities are A+, and she has a great work ethic. For example, she sat in during two settlement conferences that we conducted; the second lasted to midnight. Even though she could have left at her normal time, she stayed to the bitter end and was a tremendous help. Her great work speaks well of William & Mary."

Externships have staying power beyond law school. According to recent studies by The Association for Legal Career Professionals and the NALP Foundation, more than 72 percent of former externs practicing with government agencies and nonprofit organizations and more than 60 percent of former externs practicing with law firms rated their externship experiences as "very useful" in preparing them for practice.

Many William & Mary alumni arrange externships in their offices or serve as field supervisors. "As with all aspects of the Law School, our graduates play a key role in the success of the externship program," Kaplan emphasized. 

Editor's Note: If you work for a legal or law-related organization and are interested in sponsoring a student intern, please visit this website and contact Associate Dean Rob Kaplan at [[w|rekapl]] or (757)221-3804.