Externships: Learning Through Experience

Lewis & Clark Law School offers students externships as a way to acquire vital practical skills and by undertaking work experiences for which they earn credit.

Lewis & Clark Law School offers students externships as a way to acquire vital practical skills and by undertaking work experiences for which they earn credit.

Emily Christiansen (center) with fellow summer 2011 India externs Lorraine Ater ?12, Matthew Blyt... Emily Christiansen (center) with fellow summer 2011 India externs Lorraine Ater ’12, Matthew Blythe ’13, Dustin Combs ’12, and Nolan Shutler ’12.

Most students gain some type of practical experience during their time in law school. Through clinics, clerking, and volunteering, they hone several of the skills necessary to move from student to attorney. Lewis & Clark Law School has also offered students another way to acquire those vital practical skills: by undertaking work experiences for which they earn credit.

Libby Davis ’93, associate dean for Career Services and Alumni Relations, oversees the Law School’s Externship Program. She explains to students that the difference between most traditional paid or volunteer clerking experiences and an externship is the clear-cut focus on student learning. “The intention is that an extern will have an enhanced experience and, to the degree possible, they will be treated as if they were a lawyer,” says Davis. “While it is completely appropriate for paid and volunteer law clerks to be given a variety of tasks, including more administrative tasks, we require our externship supervisors to ensure that the assignments focus on learning about areas of the law and on honing strong research and writing skills. While many paid or volunteer clerks also have these types of experiences, when a student is earning credit for working, we really stress the need for complex assignments, careful feedback, and involvement in as many difference aspects of the employer’s work as possible.”

Most externship placements are in nonprofit, corporate, government, or judicial settings. Lewis & Clark students may extern anywhere in the world, leading to an endless possibility of potential placements.

Students interested in externships work closely with Davis, who provides guidance on selecting a placement and faculty advisor, as well as ensuring that students qualify and have completed all the application requirements for an externship. Whether a student is allowed to do an externship depends on approval from the Faculty Curriculum Committee, which reviews each application with an eye to the learning potential it will provide.

A Summer or a Semester

Lewis & Clark offers two externship options: an academic semester externship and a summer externship. The academic semester externship offers students one semester’s worth of academic credits for full-time legal employment during the semester. Students may participate in the externship as early as spring of their second year, as did Nathan Sramek ’12, who just completed an academic semester externship with Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Nathan Scramek ?12 with Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain. Nathan Scramek ’12 with Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain.“As a student who hopes to pursue a judicial clerkship, I saw an externship with a state or federal judge as an invaluable preparatory experience. One of the highlights of my externship was the wide variety of activities available for me to observe, many of which were unique to the Ninth Circuit proceedings, such as the oral screening panels (by which the court disposes of its most straightforward appeals) and daily observation of the judge and his law clerks as they responded to different types of legal arguments. I was assigned a great deal of writing responsibilities, ranging from internal memoranda for the judge and his law clerks to first drafts of memorandum dispositions in pending cases. I also had the invaluable experience of receiving direct feedback on my writing from the judge. My externship hammered home the importance of clear and succinct legal writing. Going forward, I believe this will help me sift through legal arguments, discarding those that are unnecessary and focusing on those that will best serve my clients’ interests.”

As a student who hopes to pursue a judicial clerkship, I saw an externship with a state or federal judge as an invaluable preparatory experience. Nathan Sramek ’12

All semester externs select a faculty advisor, who completes an on-site visit during semester and supervises the extern on the mandatory paper, which can fulfill the student’s capstone writing requirement. Externs also have an on-site attorney mentor, who is responsible for providing substantial oversight and supervision of the extern’s work during the placement.

Students also have the option of participating in a summer externship, which earns three credit hours and requires full-time work for a minimum of eight weeks. Summer externs are not required to write a substantive legal paper, although they have the option of writing an independent research paper on a topic that flows from the externship experience. Students are eligible for a summer externship as early as the summer following their first year of law school.


Unlike many other law schools, Lewis & Clark has no preselected externship placements. Students are responsible for researching and choosing their own externship placements. The Law School has developed good working relationships with employers who have had Lewis & Clark externs in the past and who regularly post externship positions through the Career Services Office. One such employer is the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental and Natural Resources Division Environmental Enforcement Section (EES). EES is one of the largest ligation sections at the main headquarters of the Department of Justice, located in Washington, D.C., and has hosted numerous Lewis & Clark students. Joe Hurley, senior attorney at the EES and regular on-site mentor for Lewis & Clark externs, believes students who extern with the EES are afforded a well-rounded learning experience. “In addition to legal research, our externs assist with drafting complaints, motions, briefs in support, and consent decrees. Most law clerks work with a number of different trial attorneys during their externship and thus are exposed to many different styles and approaches to practicing complex civil litigation. Our attorneys are also encouraged to provide feedback to students on their assignments. All in all, we believe the structure of our externship makes it a very positive learning experience for the student.” Hurley also believes a student who externs with EES gains valuable take-aways from the experience—ones not available to typical law clerks. “In enforcing our federal civil environmental laws, EES attorneys often go up against the country’s best attorneys in the private bar. Externs are able to witness up close how our DOJ attorneys put a complex civil case together and manage that case through the different civil litigation stages.”

Externships also allow students to work with employers who would not otherwise routinely hire law clerks. That gives Lewis & Clark students an edge in gaining precisely the kind of experience that’s hard to come by for most law students, such as corporate legal experience. Third-year student Rohit Kapuria ’12 externed with in-house counsel at Tripwire, a Portland-based company that is a leading global provider of IT security and compliance automation solutions, during the summer following his first year in law school. “I chose Tripwire both because of my interest in technology firms as well as my interest in securities regulation,” says Kapuria. “During my externship, most of my work was geared toward research on the firm’s pending initial public offering. This included writing the firm’s Internet Privacy Policy and Terms of Use, writing charters for the governance and audit committees, and drafting research memos related to new export compliance regulations. Potential employers I met with regarding employment for my second-year summer all expressed enthusiasm over the projects I worked on at Tripwire, and have been very impressed that these projects were completed after only my first year in law school. The experience no doubt will open many doors for me in the future.” In fact, his experience at Tripwire was likely responsible in part for his second-year summer experience at a small Portland business law firm.

Location, Location, Location

Students at Lewis & Clark can extern literally almost anywhere in the world. In addition to domestic placements in locations such as Anchorage, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., Lewis & Clark students have externed in places around the globe, such as Herzogenaurach, Germany; Legon-Accra, Ghana; Geneva, Switzerland; and Budapest, Hungary.

Several students have externed at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslovia, in The Hague, Netherlands (ICTY). Most recently, fourth-year evening student Emily Christiansen ’12 completed a semester-long externship at ICTY. “I first heard about the ICTY during my college study-abroad program. It was 2004-2005 and Slobodan Milosevic was on trial. At the time I remember thinking how incredible it would be to work there. When I started at Lewis & Clark I learned that several students had externed at ICTY in the past. Doug Stringer ’83, a Lewis & Clark alum who works in the Office of the Prosecutor, visited the Law School and presented information about the opportunity. I also met with local attorney Kathleen Maloney-Dunn, who had worked at the ICTY in the past. From these conversations I knew an externship at The Hague was something I wanted to pursue.”

During Christiansen’s externship, she was assigned to work with the legal team and judges overseeing the prosecution of Radovan Karadzec, who was the president of the Bosnian Serbs during the Balkan conflict. “As an extern, I was essentially treated as a junior legal officer. I spent numerous hours in court observing the proceedings and summarizing witness testimony. I drafted numerous decisions and orders, and researched interesting issues of international criminal law. I also regularly participated in meetings with the legal team and the judges. This experience helped me know that I want to pursue a career in international law and has helped me develop some of the necessary skills and knowledge required.”

In addition to pursuing their own placements, Lewis & Clark students can take advantage of international externship programs offered by the school in China and in India. Professor Susan Mandiberg, member of the Law School’s Global Law committee, says the Lewis & Clark focused on China and India because they are two of the fastest emerging markets in the 21st century. “We believe one of the best ways for students to learn about global legal affairs in these countries is through an externship experience,” says Mandiberg. “Even students who want to focus on domestic law will understand our own legal system better having had experience in a different legal system.”

Lana Chow ?12 in China Lana Chow ’12 in China

Lewis & Clark students who participate in the China summer study-abroad program (through the Law School’s partnership with the University of Missouri at Kansas City) have the option of doing an externship in China following their study-abroad experience. Currently, there are two placements available: with Global Law Office, one of the largest full-service law firms in China, and with ZY Partners, a boutique intellectual law firm in Beijing where third-year student Lana Chow ’12 externed during her first summer. “I chose to do an externship in China because I used to do business with the high-tech companies there as an engineer, before coming to law school. I thought that some IP experience from the legal side would be very useful. I specifically chose ZY because they are one of the best IP law firms in China and have international clients, including those in the U.S. At ZY Partners I was able to take part in trademark litigation matters with international clients, work on an international loan agreement, and participate in teleconferences with our client regarding an agreement. I also had the opportunity to attend an enforcement action with a Chinese judge and attend an official Chinese hearing for a patent litigation case.” Chow believes the experience was invaluable. “Not only did I learn about the Chinese legal system, I also learned about business law transactions between China and other countries. I saw the dynamic of Chinese law in an international context. These are experiences I surely could not have had in a U.S. externship.”

During the summer of 2011, the new India externship program had 10 first- and second-year law student participants, including Emily Christiansen, who flew from the Netherlands to India for her summer externship. The Law School developed placements with a broad range of employers, including large full-service law firms, small specialty firms, and public interest organizations. “We hope to continue to expand on these offerings as the program moves forward,” says Mandiberg.

Building Confidence

Perhaps as important as the legal skills they develop, most students who extern also gain confidence in their abilities to function as an attorney. “Besides honing their writing and research skills, students witness attorneys and judges in action. They see the good and bad lawyering that occurs and hear the comments of lawyers and judges. Externs often remark that their experience has taught them that they are on the right track to being ready to practice law,” says Davis.

Check out the Law School’s Externship Program.