Externships up 45% in last 10 years

Law schools have increased the number of externship opportunities by 45 percent over the past ten years, according to a study by National Jurist magazine.

The magazine, which used data from the 2002 and 2012 editions of the “Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools,” will publish a list of the 20 20 law schools with the highest percent of externships to enrollment in the Fall issue of preLaw magazine.

Over the past ten years, 48 percent of law schools have made significant increases in the number of externships offered. These schools have almost tripled the number of opportunities — increasing from a combined 5,274 to 14,394 positions. Opportunities have been flat at the remaining 52 percent of law schools.

The University of Utah saw the greatest growth, increasing from 0 to 278 field placements. Michigan State grew from 18 to 352, and University of Illinois ramped up from 56 to 257.

“I am a big believer in clinical education and giving students as much experience as possible while they are in law school,” said Hiram Chodosh, dean at the University of Utah’s law school. “We have a heavy emphasis on teaching through leadership and teaching practice through experience.”

He credits the school’s rise in externships to the growth in its diverse set of clinical programs, including clinics for innocence, victims’ rights, civil rights, the environment, new ventures and appellate practice.

The 400-student law school prides itself on completing 45,000 hours of public service per year, a bulk of which is spent on its clinical programs.

Chodosh said that the school’s presence in Salt Lake City, a growing hub for technology, keeps those externship numbers up.

“It helps to be within or on the edge of a major city,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to develop rich clinical program in a community where you have population and commercial types of activity.”

University of Illinois says its externship program has skyrocketed due to both student demand and the sense that it offers something unique to students at the right time in their education.

“Most law students want to begin to work in the legal field as soon as possible,” said Jennifer Pahre, director of externships at UI, where most of its students complete an externship following their first year of law school.  

Externships are popular because they allow students to try different areas of law on for size before committing to a certain field.

“They can see what prosecutors do, how city attorneys practice, and what is involved in public interest law,” Pahre said. “The concepts that students learn from their professors become vivid in the courtroom.”

Externships also help law students develop practical skills, such as research and writing.

But proof of how effective they really are is in the pudding.

“We have found that nearly all externship students subsequently report that their summer externships were critical to their professional development,” she said.