Externships Everywhere You Are
WMU-Cooley’s externship program furthers the school’s mission of practical legal scholarship by placing students with practicing lawyers throughout the United States and in various countries around the globe. Externships are learning opportunities for students placed with nearly 3,000 lawyers and judges who have agreed to provide a mentored learning environment. Student externs receive classroom training from faculty members in addition to supervision and evaluation by their attorney mentors.
The program is a partnership between students, practicing attorneys, and WMU-Cooley faculty. In our externships, students may earn up to 10 academic credits for work that they perform under a licensed attorney who has been practicing for at least three years. Each supervising attorney agrees to assign an extern legal work and to act as a teacher and mentor. The supervising attorney is also expected to give the externs regular feedback about their job performance and provide insight into the professional obligations of being an attorney. Externs are required to keep a reflective journal of their experiences and to meet regularly with a WMU-Cooley faculty member to reinforce the lawyering skills necessary to perform as an attorney and to help externs begin the life-long process of "reflective lawyering." The close relationship between student, attorney, and professor helps externs to bridge the gap between law school and real world practice.
What does WMU-Cooley’s mission of practical scholarship mean? Experience. More than 900 students a year choose to gain their required practice experience by working as unpaid externs. The heart of the WMU-Cooley externship is what students learn as they work closely with an experienced lawyer. One extern said of his field supervisor, "He cared about me and let me learn as much as I wanted to learn. He gave me projects that most law students will never do. I filed a brief in federal court and accompanied my clients as they became U.S. citizens."
Each extern has two supervisors: the field supervisor and a faculty supervisor. The field supervisor is an attorney with a minimum of three years of experience, a clean disciplinary history, and a willingness to mentor a third-year law student. The faculty supervisor is a WMU-Cooley full-time faculty member who works to help achieve the school’s and student’s educational goals. An extern works at an approved field placement site for a minimum of four hours a week for every hour of credit given for the entire term. Placements range from 12 hours a week to 40 hours a week for the 14-week term.
Work with a field supervisor varies with the placement and the jurisdiction’s student practice rules, but all student work must be supervised. Prosecutor and defender externs appear regularly in court, argue motions, negotiate pleas, and conduct bench and jury trials. Judicial externs may research and draft opinions. Work with a private practitioner generally includes accompanying the supervisor to his or her meetings, client conferences, and court appearances; assuming responsibility for case files; and completing written memoranda and briefs.
The WMU-Cooley faculty supervisor is responsible for monitoring the placement, may visit the site, and facilitates the extern's learning by meeting regularly with the student. In local placements, meetings will be at regularly scheduled classes. Externs in remote placements conduct class sessions electronically. Whether remote or local, students are encouraged to explore common issues and examine possible solutions without revealing confidential client information. In addition, students examine skills needed at the placement.
In her extern journal, WMU-Cooley student Jill Mittelstadt described how her externship experience capped three rigorous years of law school: "I made a difference for the first time ... Roger (my field supervisor) asked me to write one last letter to the insurance company ... he's actually already sent letters but he wanted one more ... Well, today Roger presented me was a small vase of flowers and a thank you note ... The insurance adjuster called and reluctantly informed him they'd be sending payment: $3,000. I'm starting to realize that WMU-Cooley is like a strict teacher everyone resents at the time, but eventually everyone realizes that the strict teacher cared more about us than all the other teachers, and that there was a reason for their sternness. By refusing to sell out their students for momentary popularity, they did us the favor of a lifetime."
Becoming an Extern
The externship program is open to students in good academic standing who have completed 57 credit hours. Priority for placements is generally given to students with no prior clinical experience. Students may earn up to 10 credit hours toward their degree through externship placements.
Becoming a Field Supervisor
The externship program invites experienced attorneys to serve as externship field supervisors. Supervisors agree to provide legal assignments and feedback on the work for the educational benefit of the student. The extern may not receive any payment for work performed for credit.
Students have the opportunity to initiate their own externship placements by seeking approval from the WMU-Cooley Curriculum Committee. Generally, students interested in working with an attorney will contact the attorney directly, then submit a request to the WMU-Cooley externship office for review and approval. The externship office will contact the site, discuss the program, and answer any questions, then submit recommendations to the Curriculum Committee. To find out more, contact [email protected].
The Fair Labor Standards Act and Externs
This is an educational program designed to extend the students’ academic experiences and allow them to exercise the skills they have learned. ABA rules currently prohibit a student from receiving credit for any paid work. Supervisors should recognize that the student will be shadowing, and will require more supervision than a regular employee. Click here to see the U.S. Department of Labor, Wages and Hours Division, Fact Sheet #71, April 2010.