WHAT IS AN “EXTERNSHIP”?
Externships are a form of “experiential learning” in which students tackle the legal problems of real clients while gaining theoretical knowledge of the underpinnings of their work and learning about practice settings and skills through a combination of academic and hands-on work. Experiential classes also teach students about what interests them – issue, type of practice, work setting, etc. – by “trying it on.” Many employers (public interest, government and private sector) value experiential learning because it provides reflective real world experience under the guidance of a faculty member.
At Columbia, an externship is a two-part class that focuses on a specific area of law or a specific legal institution: a substantive seminar that meets (usually) for two hours each week; and a field experience at a public interest organization or government office, which is closely related to the seminar, for 10-15 hours per week. Externs’ assignments usually are similar to those given to summer associates. The seminars are taught by adjunct professors who are leading practicing attorneys or judges, and the field placements are usually at their workplace, where externs are supervised by the adjuncts and/or their colleagues.
HOW IS AN EXTERNSHIP DIFFERENT FROM A CLINIC?
At Columbia, clinics are taught by fulltime faculty members who both teach the seminar and supervise the practice component. Increasingly, clinic students may co-counsel with lawyers at not-for-profit organizations or do some work at another site. Clinic students generally have more responsibility for their clients and their matters while the clinical professors provide oversight and advice. Typically, clinics focus more on the students' development as a lawyer. Clinics are more controlled environments, however, and probably will be less informative about practice as it is done “in the real world.” They also provide less contact with practitioners in the field. Finally, clinics require more time and provide more credits (except for the Externship on the Federal Government in Washington, D.C.).
HOW MANY CREDITS DO EXTERNSHIPS PROVIDE?
The Externship on the Federal Government in Washington, D.C. provides 12 credits – 4 graded academic credits and 8 ungraded fieldwork credits. Most semester-long externships provide 4 credits – 2 academic credits for the seminar (which may be graded or ungraded) and 2 fieldwork credits for the field component. There is some variation – read the course descriptions for the externships that interest you.
HOW MANY EXTERNSHIPS CAN I TAKE?
CAN I TAKE A CLINIC AND AN EXTERNSHIP?
Students may take multiple externships in their upper years at the law school but are limited to one externship per semester. In rare circumstances, students may take two externships, but only if they obtain written permission from professors of both externships. If you are considering petitioning to take two externships in a single semester, you should discuss this with both sets of externship professors upon applying, and must obtain written permission from both sets of professors prior to accepting both offers.
Students are strongly discouraged from taking an externship and a clinic in the same semester and some professors prohibit it. In rare circumstances, it is possible to do both but this requires written permission from both the externship professor and the clinical professor.
For JD students, no more than 30 of the 83 points of law school credit required for graduation may represent either externship, clinical, or other courses related to legal training. All credits earned from taking an externship will count against this cap. In addition, at least 64 of the 83 credits must be for regularly scheduled class sessions. The fieldwork credits for the field placement will count against the 19 credit cap. Students who have taken clinics or other externships or who have received credit for supervised research, law review, moot court or other nonresidential classroom activities (or plan to do so following an externship) should make sure that they will have the necessary credits to graduate. It is strongly suggested that, before applying for an externship, students consult Rule 1.1.3 of the Columbia Law School Rules for the JD Degree and meet with an academic advisor in the Dean of Students Office.
Although externships do not affect whether LL.Ms will be able to graduate, LL.Ms need to earn 24 "qualifying" credits to take the bar exam (this rule generally does not apply to holders of common law degrees). The academic credits earned through the seminar portion of an externship will count toward the 24, but credits earned through the field component of the externship will not count. This means that an LL.M who wants to take an externship and who wants to take the bar exam can participate in the externship but will need to earn 2 additional "qualifying" credits. LL.Ms who have any questions or concerns about this should consult Dean Sylvia Polo.
CAN I APPLY TO MORE THAN ONE EXTERNSHIP?
Yes. You may apply to as many externships as interest you. Applications are sent separately to each professor. See the course description for each externship to learn what documents it requires.
SJI has implemented a coordinated application and selection process so that you will know all of your externship options before you have to accept one. (We also have coordinated with the clinics’ selection process.) Please be sure to decline offers from any externships that you do not wish to take.
ARE THE SAME EXTERNSHIPS OFFERED IN THE FALL AND SPRING SEMESTERS?
No. Some externships are taught both semesters but others are taught only in the spring or fall. A few externships are year-long and start in the fall semester. For specific information about an externship or a semester, click on that semester's Externships page at the left.
Contact Brian Juergens with logistical questions. For substantive questions, write to Dean Ellen Chapnick. To make an appointment to see her, contact Brian Juergens.