Frequently Asked Questions

GENERAL QUESTIONS

FIELD PLACEMENTS

SEMINARS

APPLYING FOR AN EXTERNSHIP

REGISTRATION PROCESS & OTHER ADMINISTRATIVE ISSUES

INTERNATIONAL EXTERNSHIPS


GENERAL QUESTIONS


What is the difference between an externship and an internship?
Most people are familiar with "internships" - generally defined as unpaid work through which students gain experience in a given field. As defined by the law school, an "externship" is similar to an internship, but externs receive academic credit for their unpaid legal work and therefore must meet a number of requirements imposed by the ABA and the law school (see Field Placement section below). In addition, student who receive receive academic credit through externships must enroll in an externship seminar through which they reflect on their field placement experience, examining such topics as their roles as lawyers and professionals, the structure of legal institutions and hierarchies, problem-solving, setting career goals, and more.

Are externships graded?
The three credit externship seminar is graded A-F; the one credit seminar is pass-fail. All field placements are graded pass-fail. The seminar and the field placement count toward the credits needed for graduation.

I was hired for an "internship." Can I turn it into an "externship?"
If the internship meets the Externship Program requirements (see Field Placement section below), a student can turn an internship into an externship at any time before the add/drop period ends by enrolling in an externship seminar (LAW 769-XXX) and requesting approval to register for the field placement through the Externship Program website. Students cannot "change an internship into an externship" after the add/drop period is over.

Are 1Ls eligible to participate in the Externship Program?
Students (including evening students) are eligible to participate in externships after they have completed their first year of law school (beginning in the summer after their first year).

Can I get paid and get externship credit?
No. ABA Standards do not permit this. Externs may receive stipends for out of pocket expenses only.

Does the externship seminar meet WCL's professional skills requirement?
The three credit externship seminar meets the professional skills requirements; the one credit seminar does not. Field placements do not meet the professional skills requirement.

I'm here on a student visa (F1), what information do I need to know before applying for an externship?
You need to contact International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS). The ISSS office is located in Butler Pavilion 410 at 4400 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20016. You may call ISSS at 202.885.3350 or email at isss@american.edu. You should also know that as a general matter, the United States government will only hire U.S. Citizens as externs.

What if I haven't received my security clearance?
Any student that has not received their security clearance by the second week of class must contact the Externship Program.

FIELD PLACEMENTS


What qualifies as an externship field placement?
Requirements for field placements include the following:

    The field placement must be in a not-for-profit organization, government agency, court or tribunal, or pro bono project within a law firm.
    The student must be engaged in substantive law-related work.
    The student must be supervised by a licensed attorney (though day-to-day assignments may be handled by others).
    The position must be unpaid (a requirement of the ABA Standards). In addition, students may not receive stipends except to cover some limited out-of-pocket expenses.
    The student must be physically present in the legal office and in the same location as the attorney supervisor.

Can I extern at a law firm?
For-profit law firms will be approved only if the student is assigned exclusively to pro bono matters. Pro bono matters are those falling under fee-shifting statutes for which the client is not charged anything up front (except a minimal amount toward costs). This includes contingency fee cases. Firms may not charge for the students' time. All students externing with a for-profit law firm must speak to a member of the Externship Program staff prior to obtaining approval.

Are there any pre-requisites to doing an externship?
Many students find that it is helpful to have taken certain courses either before, or contemporaneous with their field placements (Criminal Procedure for externships in the field of criminal law, for example, or Business Associations for certain finance-related externships). We suggest discussing this with the field placement attorney supervisor before accepting an offer.

How many credits can I earn for my fieldwork?
Students earn one, two, or three credits for their fieldwork depending on the number of hours worked during the course of the semester. All fieldwork credits are graded pass-fail.

    Summer Semester
    140 hours = 1 Credit (Approx. 16 hrs./week for 9 weeks)
    210 hours = 2 Credits (Approx. 24 hrs./week for 9 weeks)
    280 hours = 3 Credits (Approx. 32 hrs./week for 9 weeks)

    Fall and Spring Semesters
    140 hours = 1 Credit (Approx. 10 hrs./week for 14 weeks)
    210 hours = 2 Credits (Approx. 15 hrs./week for 14 weeks)
    280 hours = 3 Credits (Approx. 20 hrs./week for 14 weeks)

Hours must be completed during the semester that the student is participating in the externship seminar.

How many hours should I work in the fall or spring?
While students may earn credit for 10, 15 or 20 hours of work per week during the fall and spring, some students find that working 10 hours a week provides them inadequate time in the workplace. Students should discuss this issue with the attorney supervisor and seek counseling from the Externship Office if they are seeking guidance. Students need to carefully consider how much time they can realistically set aside for the externship and explain their time limitations to the employer if necessary.

If I work more than 280 hours in a semester, can I earn more than three credits?
No. Students may earn a maximum of three credits for fieldwork in any given semester.

What is the deadline for submitting my fieldwork approval request?
Students who are seeking approval of placements that are new to the Externship Program must be sure to provide the Program staff with enough time to determine whether the placement meets Program requirements. Do not wait until after the semester has started to request approval or you risk having the request denied after you have already started working and the add/drop period has ended.

Can I participate in more than one externship?
Yes. Students are permitted to participate in externships in subsequent semesters up to a maximum of six credits for fieldwork while they are in school. Additional field placements are typically taken in conjunction with the Advanced Supervision one-credit, pass/fail seminar.

Can I earn credit for hours worked either before the semester begins or after the semester concludes?
Students can begin counting the hours they work towards their semester externship hours one week before the start of the first day of classes. Students can continue to count the hours worked one week after the last day of classes towards the externship hours requirement.

Can I extern at more than one organization during the same semester?
Yes. Students can split their time between two placements during the summer semester as long as there is no conflict between the two placements. We discourage this during the fall and spring semesters because the 20 hour total severely limits the number of hours at each placement. We also strongly discourage students from participating in Clinic at the same time as participating in an externship.

Can I earn externship credit for working for a WCL professor?
No. Students may not extern for professors working on research projects or even litigation unless they are working for a legal organization outside of school.

Can I extern at the same field placement for more than one semester?
Typically, no. Students may not extern at the same field placement twice unless they can demonstrate (in the form of a written memorandum to the Externship Office) that they will be assigned matters that are substantially different or more advanced than in the previous semester. Repeat field placements must be approved by the Externship Office.

Do I have to make up the hours lost due to inclement weather or federal holiday?
Students are responsible for taking into account federal holidays when calculating the number of hours for which they will receive credit. Students may only deduct hours when the field placement office is closed due to unforeseen circumstances such as inclement weather or power outage. If the field placement is not closed but inclement weather prevents student from getting to the office, then the student should contact the Externship Program to determine whether those hours can be deducted.

SEMINARS


How is the three-credit seminar structured?
The 3-credit externship seminar is graded (A-F). Some of the requirements include a class that meets once a week, small group meetings every other week, reflective journals, reading assignments, a 10-15 page written product, and additional assignments or presentations.

If I enroll in more than one externship, can I take another 3-credit externship seminar?
No. A student can only receive credit for the graded three-credit LAW-769 course once. The only exception is for students who have completed a three-credit seminar and subsequently enroll in the long distance program.

Is there a one credit externship seminar available in the fall or spring?
No. The one credit seminar is only offered in the summer. In this weekly seminar, students receive one pass/fail credit.

Who qualifies to take the Advanced Externship Seminar?
Students who have already taken the 3-credit externship seminar. The Advanced Externship Seminar is one-credit pass/fail. It meets eight times over the course of the semester.

APPLYING FOR AN EXTERNSHIP


How do I go about seeking an externship? Do you place me?
No. Students are responsible for applying to the externship directly as they would for a job. If the field placement is in the Externship Database, students should send a cover letter and resume to the contact listed in the Database. Students can send a transcript and references or inform the employer that they are available upon request. It is recommended students also check the organization's website for additional information about the application process. If there is a different process described on the website, students may want to apply through both processes. It is always a good idea to send a resume and cover letter directly to the contact listed in the Externship Database, regardless of whether there is another process available as well.

We also recommend the use of USAJOBS as a source for finding externships as many government employers use this site to advertise positions and process applications.

How can the Externship Office assist me in finding an externship?
The Externship Office provides assistance through an extensive database of employers, an annual Externship Fair, evaluations of organizations where students have externed in the past, counseling with individual students and more. If you need assistance or have questions, review the Externship website, MyWCL, and the online Externship Database and then make an appointment to meet with the Externship Program staff. To set up an appointment, call (202) 274-4200 or email externship@wcl.american.edu. For more information on finding an externship, go to the Extership page on MyWCL or http://www.wcl.american.edu/externship/place_find.cfm

Can I get counseling from the Externship Office to decide where to apply?
Yes. To set up an appointment, call (202) 274-4200 or email externship@wcl.american.edu.

How do I know which field placements regularly hire WCL students?
The externship program provides a list of organizations that have hired students over the past two years. It is available on the Externship Page of MyWCL.

Am I limited to applying to field placements in the database?
No; not at all. A list of externship opportunities is available through the Externship Database - but it is not exclusive. Students are welcome to find placements on their own. They must meet the program requirements and the employer must be willing to comply with the requirements described in the employer contract.

I am a 1L. When do I apply for summer externships? How far in advance should I apply for fall and spring externships?
Generally, first year students should work on their resumes and cover letters over the winter break and start the application process when they return to school. Most employers expect to receive applications for summer externships in January, February and March. Some employers are starting to hire students in December. The Externship Program will attempt to inform students via MyWCL when it learns of early deadlines. Many government agencies require a security clearance which can take a number of months after the student has received an offer. This is particularly true for all security agencies, the Department of Justice, and some international agencies.

For fall and spring externships: if possible, students should generally apply for fall externships in the second half of the spring semester and during the fall semester for spring externship. However, students continue to apply for fall externships (with much success) throughout the summer.

I am a 2L. When do I apply for summer externships?
In some circumstances, 2Ls should apply for summer externships much earlier - they are often qualified for "honors" programs or paid summer programs (not actually externships). Federal agencies recruit for these programs in the fall of the previous year. Contact OCPD for more information.

What is the Externship Fair and when is it held?
Each January, the Externship Program holds its annual Externship Fair, attended by representatives from over 125 area organizations and agencies. This Fair is a tremendous opportunity to meet attorneys who work in a wide variety of practice areas. Most employers accept resumes at the Fair and will use the opportunity to engage in informal interviews. Many students end up securing internships and externships through the Fair. All students should plan on attending.

What other resources are available at WCL to assist me with finding an externship and helping me develop my resume?
Through the Office of Career and Professional Development (OCPD), career counselors are available for students who want to consider how to most effectively take advantage of an externship to assist them in meeting their long-term career goals. Resume review services are provided and specialists in public interest law, government law, international relations, and judicial clerkships are available to meet with students. An excellent sample resume is available on the OCPD website under "Resources," then "Job Application Documents" http://www.wcl.american.edu/career/resumeguide.cfm. OCPD also has excellent software available for formatting legal resumes. It is available at https://wcl.optimalresume.com/. For individual counseling, contact the OCPD [Suite 122 (202) 274-4090].

How is Externship Database different from OCPD Database?
The Externship Database and the OCPD database are two separate databases. The Externship Database specifically includes all organizations that have hired externship students in past years as well as organizations that have specifically requested externs. The Externship Database is static: once an employer posts a listing, it remains on the database. The OCPD database has current opportunities for students including paid positions, internships, and possibly some externships. Students should familiarize themselves with both databases.

I saw on the database that evaluations are available for an organization to which I'm interested in applying; where can I access the evaluation?
The field placement evaluations are available online and in binders only in the Externship Office. These evaluations, written by WCL students, can be helpful in providing additional information about the field placements and supervisors. Please drop by the Externship Office during business hours or schedule and appointment to come in and view the evaluations.

REGISTRATION PROCESS & OTHER ADMINISTRATIVE ISSUES


I've secured my externship. What steps to I need to take to enroll in the credits?
It is important to note that you will need to register for two separate "classes." The first is the seminar (LAW-769). You will register for the seminar on my.american.edu as you would any other class. To register for the field component, LAW-899, you need to follow the instructions provided on the externship website.

    Register for an Externship Seminar (LAW-769)

    Register for the seminar class online as you would for any other class. Externships are listed on the course schedule page with the prefix LAW-769. You may register for a seminar as soon as they are posted, and do not need to wait until your externship has been finalized. Regardless of the course title, unless they explicitly say otherwise in the course description, all externship seminars are open to students in any placement.

    Register for Externship Field Credits (LAW-899)

    After you have enrolled in a seminar:
    Log into Fieldwork Registration Site: http://www.wcl.american.edu/externship/registration. Enter the requested personal, seminar, and fieldwork information (note: you will need to know the name, title, email, and phone number of your attorney supervisor in order to complete this process). After your application is approved and the student and employer contracts are signed electronically, you will receive an email with your add/drop form. Print the form, sign it, and bring that form to the Externship Office for final signature. Once the Externship Office has signed your add/drop form, you will need to submit the form to the Registrar's Office in order to formally enroll in LAW-899.

All externships must be approved by the Externship Program Office. It is the responsibility of the student to request approval in a timely fashion. Particularly when students have secured placements on their own and not through the Fair or the Database, it is important to submit the field placement request before classes begin to ensure there are no issues with approval after the semester has already started.

I want to take the seminar, but I don't want to earn any credit for my fieldwork. Is this okay?
No. Students must earn at least one credit for the field placement.

Is it possible to just complete the fieldwork and not take a seminar?
No. Students participating in the Externship Program MUST be supervised by faculty through one of the following: a) three-credit externship seminar, b) one-credit small group supervision (summer only), c) one-credit Advanced Supervision seminar for students who have already taken the three credit seminar, or under certain circumstances, d) one-credit individual supervision (Spring and Fall only). There are a variety of seminars offered to externship students each semester. Students are free to choose which seminar interests them or has relevance to their fieldwork. Descriptions of seminars will be available online on the course schedule with the prefix LAW-769.

Can I do an externship and a study abroad program in the same summer?
No. Students cannot do the Summer Abroad Program and the Externship Program during the summer because they are limited to seven credits for the summer (it is possible to petition the Registrar for eight credits under some circumstances).

May I use my Lexis and Westlaw passwords to perform research for the benefit of the externship?
Yes. As long as you are receiving academic credit for your work.

Can I take the seminar in one semester and complete the fieldwork hours in another semester?
No. In order to earn externship credit, the fieldwork hours need to be completed in the same semester as the externship seminar.

Can participation in summer externships qualify for financial aid?
Yes, under certain circumstances. Contact the Office of Financial Aid [Suite 505; (202) 274-4107] directly for more information.

I want to extern, but I don't want to pay extra for summer credits. Is there a way to off-set the cost of externing over the summer?
Yes. Some students drop to part-time status in a future semester in order to avoid paying for summer classes in-and-above the regular WCL tuition. More information is available on MyWCL: https://my.wcl.american.edu/Departments/Externship%20Program/DeptContentManagement/Manage%20Department%20Documents/Making%20the%20Numbers%20Work%20for%20You.pdf

Is there a limit on the number of externships I can do while in law school?
Yes. During their study at WCL, students can earn a maximum of six credits for field placements and six credits for seminar/supervision. The field credits, but not seminar credits, count toward the maximum number of credits that a student is permitted to earn outside of the classroom.

Can I extern outside of Washington, D.C.?
Yes. WCL provides externship opportunities out-of-state and abroad during the summer semester through the Long-Distance Externship Seminar. During the field placement, students and supervising faculty are linked via an Internet "virtual classroom." Students submit weekly journal entries to their faculty supervisors and meet regularly on-line, or via telephone, to discuss the student's progress. Students MUST attend a three to four-day seminar held at WCL in mid-May prior to departure and another three to four-day "debriefing" seminar held at WCL in mid-August upon completion. Attendance at these seminars is mandatory. For more information on these programs, please visit MyWCL or see www.wcl.american.edu/externship/national.cfm and www.wcl.american.edu/externship/international.cfm; students can also contact the Externship Office.

I am currently enrolled in an externship and in a seminar. Is there anything else I need to do to ensure I get my credits?
Yes. Towards the end of the semester, your seminar professor will ask you to complete the following:

    Complete an online Externship Evaluation (available at wcl.american.edu/externship). The evaluations are an excellent resource for students in the future. If you indicate that your evaluation should remain confidential, it will still provide us with valuable information. You will not receive a grade until you have turned in the form. Submit your log of hours to your professor. You cannot receive a field placement grade until you have submitted an hours log. Let your field supervisor know to expect contact from your professor requesting a brief evaluation of your work. This is the second component in determining your field placement grade.

Your professor, not the Externship Office, will submit your grades to the Office of the Registrar.

INTERNATIONAL EXTERNSHIPS


How can the Externship Office help me get an international externship? International
The Externship Program has forged relationships with organizations around the globe, and many of the organizations have agreed to accept qualified WCL students as externs during the summer semester. Students interested in participating in an international externship should look at the "International Externship Program: 2010 Placement Highlights" which lists some of the organizations with which the Externship Program has developed strong ties. Additionally, you may look at the International Externship Database (a separate database from the Externship Database). The International Database contains additional information such as pre-requisites and language requirements. It also contains additional listings. Note that there is no contact information provided in the International Database or in the "International Externship Program: 2010 Placement Highlights" as this information is available only from the Externship Office directly.

Students seeking the assistance of the Externship Program in identifying international field placements that would meet their academic and career goals must submit a request to the International Externship Program. Applications will be available on MyWCL or at http://www.wcl.american.edu/externship/international.cfm. Applications are due towards the beginning of November. After you have submitted an application, the Externship Program will set up a meeting with you to discuss opportunities. Students may use their own contacts to find international externships, as long as the placements meet Externship Program requirements and meet security concerns.