Spell Check Doesn’t Believe in ‘Externships,’ but I Do

Externships are my favorite thing about 3L year! I have had the opportunity to enroll in two great externships (for the uninitiated, externship = internship done for class credit), so I can authoritatively say that they are worth the time and energy you put  into them, and the rewards are far greater than any risks you take by embarking on a ‘nontraditional’ educational path.

Part of what makes them so great is that they are entirely customizable to your career interests. I knew after a year in the civil litigation clinic and summer placements at CPCS’ Children and Family Law Division and GBLS’ Family Law Unit-Divorce Work Group that I wanted a civil litigation career with a focus on families and young people. These opportunities have cemented those interests and expanded on them.

My first externship was a judicial placement at the Middlesex Probate and Family Court. There, I got to know several members of the bench, but nearly all of my time with one specific associate justice. She imparted her wisdom gained from years on the bench and as a family law attorney, guided me through challenging writing assignments, and allowed me to observe her busy — even chaotic — courtroom.

The value of this experience was in understanding what actually goes on in family court. I learned all about the gritty procedural stuff that varies so much from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. I interacted regularly with behind-the-scenes folks whose expertise and acquaintance is invaluable to any attorney. I saw what litigation strategies work — and what definitely doesn’t. I read many, many filings from all sorts of lawyers and self-represented parties. It was a quiet experience much of the time, typing in an empty chamber while the judges sat in the courtrooms below, and I needed to be focused, driven, and attentive to detail.

I would recommend this experience to anyone who knows specifically which court they would like to practice in after graduation. More broadly, it is worthwhile for anyone considering clerking. (Though judicial externs aren’t clerks, the role is as close as you can get before graduation.) Even if you cannot extern in the court where you aim to practice, if you’re thinking of becoming a litigator, the observation experience alone is worth the time.

This semester, I am an extern at the Victim Rights Law Center. I chose this placement because I wanted to do something a little different in my final semester of law school. I sought experience in a small, collaborative office, working on issues I am genuinely passionate about (with colleagues who are, too). This office works on a wide range of sexual assault-related civil cases in Massachusetts, representing victims.

So far (just three days in), I have done three research projects, none the least bit like the others. Soon, I anticipate observing and participating in client meetings, working on filings related to restraining orders and other cases, and doing a lot more research. I can already tell that this will be a completely different experience from my past experiential education. I am sure there will be more news to come soon, so keep reading!

Legal extern: Like an old-timey smith’s apprentice, but tidier

So, aside from my personal externship anecdotes, what else is great about these for-credit internships with the funny name?

First, the course options! You can enroll in an externship at a nonprofit, government agency, or for-profit firm, or with a judge. Each option has different benefits, and a few different courses are offered to complement different types of externships. They teach you about ethics and practical issues like writing or communication. And, if you’re like me and you’ve already done an externship class (or you don’t want to bother), you can do an independent study, and meet with a professor-supervisor on your schedule, while writing regular journal entries to keep the program up-to-date with your progress.

Next, the schedule options! You can extern for three or more credit hours per semester; each additional credit hour requires about 50 more hours of work spread across the semester. I went with a lower per-semester option because I suspected I wanted to do two different externships, and BU does limit the number of ‘ungraded’ credits you can get. I really like spending about half my time working on school, and half on work.

Finally, no matter where you are placed, you are putting yourself out there in a positive way. The externship selection process is great interview practice. The work you do mirrors what you will do as a “real” attorney. Or, in the case of a judicial externship, if it’s not the same exact work, it certainly can’t hurt. You might not love your externship, but you won’t be there forever. Or, maybe you will be — who knows!

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