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Law Students Exiled to Externships

It used to be that unpaid externships were the ugly stepsister to highly paid summer associate programs.  But in this new economy, no more. According to a story in The National Law Journal (Hat tip to The Am Law Daily), externships -- unpaid, for-credit work opportunities -- are providing a path to hands on experience now that many law firms have canceled their internships. Now, law schools are encouraging students participate in externship programs to gain experience. For example, at UCLA school of law, 74 students completed externships in 2009, in contrast to just 41 in 2007.

With externships in demand, I hope that law schools are willing to be flexible in certifying externship programs. Several years back, I hoped to use a law student to work as an extern on a complex and somewhat high-profile (within the local community, anyway) civil rights case. The student would have had opportunities to observe depositions, summarize transcripts and assist with investigation and legal research.

Because the case was a long-shot, I characterized it as quasi-pro bono, meaning that my clients paid my costs with my fees recovered through a contingency agreement and/or under fee shifting statutes. However, the law school determined that I did not qualify for an externship program because the matter was not 100 percent pro bono.

I agree that if lawyers can afford to pay students, they should. But at the same time, if lawyers are willing to take the time to mentor students and provide them hands-on experience, why shouldn't the law school offer students credit for that arrangement, whether the lawyer is getting paid for the matters that the extern handles or not?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 14, 2009 at 05:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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