Study Outside of the Classroom

Student standing in front of door to Public Defender Service for DCThe externship program allows students to earn academic credit for legal experience during the spring and summer semesters. Students enroll in a highly structured class that helps them develop their professional identities while immersed working at a legal externship. Students must complete 200 hours at the placement to earn four credits or 400 hours to earn eight credits.

Before enrolling in either the four-credit or eight-credit option, full-time students must have completed three semesters of law school and part-time students must have completed six semesters. The externship cannot be taken simultaneously with a clinic. The externship program accepts visiting students from other law schools. Please contact the Office of Admission for information on how to become a visiting student.

The externship program provides opportunities for students to:

  • Develop and improve their legal skills;
  • Hone their problem-solving and professional management skills;
  • Engage in critical reflection on the profession and their role as practitioners;
  • Explore career areas of particular interest; and
  • Develop a life-long model of professional development.

Eligible placements can be with members of the judiciary, governmental agencies, or non-profit legal organizations. Students may not receive credit for work with private law firms or for-profit groups, or for paid positions. Students may find their own site (subject to approval) or request placement assistance. Positions are posted in UDC Law CareerNet (Symplicity). Recent placements include the District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General, the US House of Representatives, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, members of the judiciary, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Maryland Office of the State Attorney. The director works closely with field placement supervisors to ensure that students receive substantive experience, effective supervision, and appropriate evaluation. Field supervisors prepare extensive written mid-term and final evaluations of the student’s work.

Students must keep a weekly journal reflecting on issues and problems that arise during the placement, and share those reflections with the director. The journal helps students develop a systematic way to reflect on and analyze their experience, enabling their growth as a professional.

The academic component is delivered through a weekly tutorial. During the tutorial, students examine the broader social, political, economic, and policy-related ramifications of their fieldwork as well as a variety of issues connected with the practice of law, including the role of lawyers in shaping public policy, the practice of public interest law, and the diversity of legal careers. Tutorials include reading assignments, and student and guest presentations.

Externship Program FAQs

Following are answers to some frequently asked questions about the School of Law’s externship course. Click on the question to view the answer.

Q. May I extern for a private law firm or private business?

A. No, even if the assignments are for pro bono cases. Qualifying sites are limited to non-profit public interest organizations, government and the judiciary. Students must be performing legal work under supervision of an attorney. Nor may students receive academic credit for paid externships.

Q. I plan to return to my home state after I graduate. May I earn credit for a placement outside the region?

A. No, externship placements must be in the metropolitan Washington DC area. Students with placement opportunities outside the region may wish to apply for the Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program.

Q. Do I find my own placement or will I be placed?

A. Students find their own placements through UDC Law CareerNet (Symplicity), prior volunteer opportunities and networking, the Office of Career and Professional Development, and other sources. We encourage students who are interested in the course to plan ahead as early as possible. You will still need to go through the organization’s application process.

Q. When may I take the course?

A. The externship course is offered in the spring and summer semesters only. Full-time students must have completed at least three semesters of law school, and part-time students must have completed six semesters before taking the class. The course may not be taken concurrently with a law school clinic. See the UDC Law Student Handbook, Volume I, Section 3.3.

Q. May I take the externship course more than once?

A. No. See the UDC Law Student Handbook, Volume I, Section 3.3.

Q. Should I take the externship course in the summer or spring?

A. That depends on a number of factors. Students who want to extern full-time, and earn eight credits for their work, can do so in the summer. Some students are not sure of their longer-term career goals, and choose to spend the summer in the externship course to help sharpen their goals and to plan for their last year in school. Other students want to use the spring semester as a “launching pad” for a post-graduate position and find that the spring semester is a better time to take the course.

One note: For students who want a judicial clerkship after graduation, it is advisable to take the externship course in the summer before their third year. Most judges will make decisions about judicial clerkships by the fall or early winter, and students who have spent the summer working for that judge will be in a stronger position to apply for the clerkship than students who wait until the spring semester.