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Externship: What Is It? How To Obtain It?

published October 22, 2021

By Author - LawCrossing
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( 28 votes, average: 4.1 out of 5)
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The workforce is crowded and competitive. So, how can law students stand out to employers before they even graduate?  

There are several resources available to law students to help them get off to a great start in their careers. An externship is one of these natural resources. Despite the internship opportunities, fewer people understand the value of externships and how they can benefit most students. Discover the other benefits of externships in this article and learn everything you need to know about them.

What Is An Externship?

Externship is a program that law students undertake to supplement their educational pursuits with paid or unpaid work experience. While it provides law students with hands-on legal work experience, it differs slightly from an internship. Externships are valuable resources for students who plan to enter the workforce immediately since they can be used on their resumes to display their practical experiences in each area.

As part of a student's education, externships offer an experiential learning environment that engages law students in real-life applications of theoretical concepts. The majority of externships are a result of existing relationships between colleges and organizations willing to offer training. Externs usually shadow employees and may work on small projects.

Externships provide students with the chance to put what they have learned in a real-work environment, as well as to figure out whether the field they are interested in is a good match for them. Typically, externships are more about gaining experience than paying. If any compensation is offered, it is negligible. As a result, an externship program is a great way to learn in a professional setting and confirm that you are on the right career path.

What Is A Legal Externship?

Law school academic credit is available for legal externships, unlike simple internships. The American Bar Association, the agency responsible for setting and enforcing law school standards, regulates the externship course since law students receive credit for the externship experience. ABA Standard 304(c) requires that such "field placement courses" engage students with work comparable to that of a junior level attorney. They must be "reasonably similar to the real-world experience of a lawyer advising or representing a client." Schools discourage sponsors from using externs for menial tasks as part of internships, such as getting coffee and filing documents.

Internship vs Externship: How Are They Different?

Both internships and externships provide experiential learning opportunities, but they differ significantly in other ways. See how to consider the following:

Program Duration

In most cases, internship programs are lengthy programs that take place over a period of weeks or months, usually during the summer or concurrently with the law school. The law externship program is different. Externships, in contrast, offer a shorter, more concentrated program in which you can experience various aspects of the business or industry within a small period of time.

It is not entirely convenient that the program is designed this way. By sitting in on a job for a few days or a week, students can get a good idea of what the job entails and decide whether it is something they want to pursue. Internships are short and concentrated, so students can take part in multiple law externship programs to apply their skills to various positions until they find the most satisfying one.

Program Design

An extern may be required to attend conferences, attend job shadowing sessions, participate in group learning, practice various operational tasks, complete small projects, and work through any specialized processes. The design of the program allows externs to experience many aspects of an occupation in a short amount of time, whereas interns perform day-to-day operations over a long period of time.

Program Depth

An externship tends to provide less in-depth training than an internship because it provides a short preview of what a typical job might entail for a prospective student. During college, you might try a few externships before completing an internship in order to determine your career path. It is possible to find out if an internship is a good fit for a student through the right externship. No matter whether you choose not to pursue a career in the field you externed in, the experience is still valuable for your resume right out of college.

Program Pay

Law Externship program is typically unpaid, but there are exceptions. Considering the program design and length, it makes sense that they would be completed for experience and not earn quick money. Internships, however, can be paid or unpaid. Nevertheless, some industries have begun paying interns since they commit so much time to learn.

See Also: For Legal Internships That Were More Than Five Years Ago, Should They Be Listed (e.g., 2011 to 2013)?

Types of Externship Program

Governmental and Public Interest Sectors

Extern placements in these areas include county, city, state, and federal government, legislative, and executive offices. Students have externed in diverse places such as the various county offices of the State’s Attorney and Public Defender, the Office of the U.S. Attorney, City of Chicago Department of Law, Cook County Public Guardian, Office of the Illinois Attorney General, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Illinois Human Rights Commission, Lurie Children’s Hospital, and Equip for Equality.

Externship credits from the Government and Public Interest Sector count toward fulfilling some of the coursework requirements for the Public Interest Law certificate program. Externships with a legal aid bureau, legal assistance program or organization, and certain governmental agencies may enable 3Ls to acquire a 711 student practice license and appear in court.

Private/For-Profit Firms and Corporations

Accredited students can gain experience at private law firms or corporations while earning academic credit. Private employers must be pre-approved in order to participate. If you receive an offer to extern with a private employer who has not been pre-approved and wishes to convert that into a for-credit externship, you must contact your career counselor or advisor as soon as possible to ensure sufficient time for screening and approval.

Judicial Externship Program

Judicial Externships are an exciting 4-credit hour Pass/Low Pass/Fail program open to students in their second and third year with a minimum cumulative GPA. The job involves researching legal issues, writing briefs for cases they are working on that involve these research findings as well as assisting at trials or mediation hearings where necessary; this gives them hands-on experience not only doing law but also providing valuable feedback from someone who has completed one full year of study.

Externs are the eyes and ears of a judge. They work directly with law clerks, researching issues that lawyers face in their profession as well as those faced during trial proceedings. Externs have opportunities to observe how things happen at any given moment while also being able to discuss legal problems they see on the go or help solve for future reference if needed.

In addition to working in chambers, there is also an accompanying classroom discussion component that focuses on various aspects of judicial decision-making and, where appropriate, how those aspects affect the extern’s work product. This program is offered every semester, and students may do a Judicial Externship for more than one semester.

Legal Externship Program

Access2Practice (A2P) Legal Externship programs are a 4-credit-hour program that enables 2Ls and 3Ls to gain supervision/mentoring in a wide variety of legal areas both civil and criminal.  Working as a part-time clerk can provide students with experience.  You will gain valuable exposure to an area of law that interests you and significantly broadens your employment opportunities.   These externships are offered in the Fall, Spring, and Summer semesters and are divided into two parts: fieldwork and class.

How Can You Get An Externship?

Students interested in obtaining an externship can do so in a few different ways. Some common ways include:

College or University Career Services

In most cases, externships programs are developed through a partnership between the college or university and the organization providing the learning opportunity for students. Because of this, it is a good idea to speak to your designated advisor if you are looking for an externship. Consult your college's career services office if you do not know who your advisor is or do not know who it is. Usually, they can point you toward a directory of potential externships in your field of interest.

Networking Relationships

You can find externships by networking if you decide to search for them on your own. Whether you are a law student attending a business networking event, reaching out to existing contacts, or attending conferences and educational opportunities where you meet other people in your field, building your network is a good idea. When you have an established network, you can request externship referrals.

You can also use social media to expand your network and ask for assistance finding an externship. It is a good idea to create a profile on business networking social websites while you are in college and looking for professional responsibility. You may also use your alumni connections to set up an externship opportunity.

How Long Is An externship?

An externship is typically held over the student's winter or spring semester and lasts anywhere from a few hours to eight weeks in length. In contrast, an internship is usually eight weeks long at the very least.

How Externships Benefit Students

Externships are arguably one of the most valuable aspects of any career training program. Externship opportunities have many benefits for college students, including, but not limited to:  
  • Directly working in a professional environment. 
  • Providing assistance with duties and procedures.
  • Developing skills that are in demand.
  • Building a strong work ethic and professional responsibility.
  • Receiving real-time feedback from experienced professionals 
  • Developing a network of colleagues and managers

Externship Examples

Below are few examples of extern jobs that companies have posted on their websites across different industries such as accounting, finance, and technology consulting.

Harland Clarke – Accounting and Finance Externship

This program will allow students to apply their academic experience to real-life case studies and get a better understanding of accounting and finance. The successful candidate will work closely with other externs and get exposure to executive leadership, all the while learning more about the industry. Being part of the program can increase your chances of being hired when you graduate, as externs will be considered first for summer internships and full-time working opportunities.

RSM Technology Consulting Externship

RSM offers a Pathways Program that consists of an orientation, client exposure, and program events. Law students participate in this program to learn about the firm and get a chance to meet the staff and understand the details of the program. They get an insight about the clients through job shadowing, presentations, and client visits. There will be various events throughout the program giving students the real-world experience to build relationships and learn about the firm’s culture. Events may include community projects, team-building activities, and fun events.


Utilize powerful tools such as Linkedin, asking professors for introductions to past colleagues, and watching guest speakers on campus, and meeting them after their presentations. Networking is often overlooked, so take advantage of it to land your next externship.

Ultimately, both internships and externships can be extremely beneficial for a student of any major. Proper time management is the key to knowing which is the best fit at the appropriate time.

published October 22, 2021

By Author - LawCrossing
( 28 votes, average: 4.1 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.