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 extemship 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 specific legal skills students should  put to use in their extemship settings, other than to require that students be assigned the same types of work entry-level lawyers  in the office  typically  perform. 

Instead, all externship students are required to develop a list of their goals (learning outcomes) for the specific placement and to discuss these with their site supervisors in the first few weeks of the semester.  These outcomes can include learning substantive and procedural law specific to the field placement, as well as more general legal skills such as legal research and writing, problem solving, communication and other professional skills.  Students review their progress toward these goals during a mid-semester meeting with their supervisor and will be evaluated on these and other goals at the end of the semester in a written evaluation.  Throughout the semester, students will be asked to consider their progress, or any barriers to progress in their reflective journals and class discussions.  Employers are informed that students must have multiple opportunities for performance and will discuss these opportunities during their initial “goals” discussion.  The faculty supervisor stays abreast of the externs’ progress throughout the semester through journals and class discussion and offers substantial guidance but the students are ultimately responsible for improving their skills and making the most of the externship experience.

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 Supervised Extemship 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).