Externship Program Pedagogical Goals

The Externship Program at American University, Washington College of Law seeks to provide students with an opportunity to engage in critical reflection about the legal profession, their own future legal careers, and their priorities and values as lawyers, in conjunction with field experiences in nonprofits, government agencies, and other organizations students have chosen as externship placements. Students' field experiences provide the "text" for critical analysis in supervised externship seminars taught by WCL faculty.

The externship seminars are designed to provide students with the opportunity to think about the transition from school to work, by exploring such topics as the nature of law practice in various externship settings, theories of bureaucracy in relation to the lawyering process, the dynamics and politics of the workplace, legal ethics in theory and practice, how to obtain and give good feedback and supervision, and career goals and career planning.

Alternatively, externship placements may serve as the field component for seminars with a focus on particular areas of substantive law, such as local government, environmental, and administrative law. These seminars draw on students' field experiences to explore differences between "law on the books" and "law in practice," along with their substantive law focus.

Recognizing that the tasks students will be called upon to perform will vary enormously depending on the field placements they have chosen, the Externship Program does not seek to dictate which legal skills students should put to use in their externship settings, other than to require that students be assigned the same types of work entry-level lawyers in the office typically perform. Improved lawyering skills may be a beneficial by-product of students' externship experiences, but monitoring or ensuring particular types of legal skills training is not a primary, or even a secondary, objective of the WCL Externship Program.

The Externship Program seeks to assist students in finding field placements that will provide rich material for critical reflection. Accordingly, the Externship Program recognizes that the most valuable field experiences students may have are not those in which they encounter nearly ideal working conditions or artificial situations that have been engineered through WCL's intervention. Instead, the pedagogical goals of WCL's Externship Program call for students to observe the realities they are likely to face in practice and to begin to develop strategies for realizing their goals and values within these "real world" settings, with the guidance provided by supervised externship seminars. See Peter Jaszi et al., Experience as Text: The History of Externship Pedagogy at the Washington College of Law, American University, 5 Clinical L. Rev. 403 (1999).