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 (corporate placements can be paid under some circumstances) and therefore must meet a number of requirements imposed by the ABA and the law school (see Field Placement section below). Students who receive academic credit through externships must enroll in an externship seminar. In the externship seminar, students will reflect on their field placement experience; examine topics such as their roles as lawyers and professionals, the structure of legal institutions and hierarchies; problem-solve; set career goals; and more.

Are externships graded?

The two 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 convert an internship into an externship after the add/drop period is over.

What's the process for turning an internship into an externship?

  • Register for a Seminar:
    • After the registration period opens, register for one of the LAW 769-Externship Seminar courses via the Eagle Registration System in myau.american.edu
      • If you have externed before, you must enroll in the Advanced Supervision Seminar or for Individual Supervision (see website for details)
      • If you are externing outside of DC-VA-MD, you must register for the domestic long-distance seminar (graded A-F). If you are externing outside of the U.S., you must register for the international long-distance seminar (graded A-F). Long distance seminars are only available in the Summer.
      • If you are externing for the first time, you must enroll in the 2-credit Supervised Externship Seminar (graded A-F).
  • Register for Field Credits: Go to www.wcl.american.edu/externship. Click on Current Students, and then Registration (https://www.wcl.american.edu/academics/experientialedu/externships/students/how-to-register/). On the registration page, click on “Apply for your Fieldwork Registration” – an online application that will request your contact information, employer information, and direct supervisor information
  • Field Credit Hour Requirements*:
    • 2 Credits = 130 hours
    • 3 Credits = 195 hours
    • 4 Credits = 260 hours
    • Students have the option to register for one field credit if they choose, however the minimum hour requirement will remain 130 hours (same as 2 field credits).
  • The Externship Program will email an Employer Agreement to your supervisor to sign electronically. Once the Agreement has been signed, you will be emailed the Student Agreement to sign electronically. After signing the Student Agreement, you will be emailed an add/drop form.
  • Bring your add/drop form to the Externship Program (Y340 or Y341) and our office will then submit it to the Registrar.

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 - with the following exceptions: Externs may receive stipends for out-of-pocket expenses and may receive 3rd party stipends (not originating with the externship employer). PILOT PROGRAM: Students working for corporate placements (not law firms) may be compensated as part of a pilot program but must enroll in the Corporate Counsel Externship Seminar.

Does the externship seminar meet WCL's experiential skills requirement?

Credits from both the externship seminars and related field placements may be used to satisfy the ABA requirement that students take a minimum of six experiential course credits in a law clinic, field placement, or simulation course. Credits from Individual Externship Supervision and related field placements credits do not apply to the experiential course requirement.

I'm here on a student visa (F1), what information do I need to know before applying for an externship?

You must contact International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS). Do not begin working until you have received approval from the office! 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.

Generally, international students may not work without CPT status. Please see the ISSS office for exceptions and speak to the Externship Office about variances to the program requirements specific to international students.

What if I haven't received my security clearance?

Many government agencies particularly security agencies require security clearances which may delay your start date. When you received the security clearance package from the agency, fill it out and submit it immediately. Do not accept offers for positions requiring a security clearance less than one month before the start of the semester. Any student that has not received their security clearance by the first week of class must contact the Externship Program. Students that have not received their clearance by the 3rd week of school will be need to withdraw from the seminar and field placement credits unless they can find a temporary externship placement at which they can work while awaiting the clearance.

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 corporation.
    • Students may not extern at for-profit law firms unless exclusively assigned to pro bono matters.
  • 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 but students may receive stipends to cover out-of-pocket expenses or may receive third-party funding (e.g. an outside grant).
    • Exception: under a WCL pilot program, students externing with corporate placements may be compensated.
  • The student must be physically present in the legal office and in the same location as the attorney supervisor.
      • NOTE: the prohibition on remote externships was waived because of Covid but beginning in the summer of 2022, students will need permission of the Externship Office to extern remotely. 

When can I extern at a for-profit law firm? What is the definition of pro bono?

For-profit law firms will be approved only if the student is assigned exclusively to pro bono matters. Pro Bono generally means work undertaken at no charge for a low income client.  This includes cases falling under fee-shifting statutes.  Firms engaged in pro bono work 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.

Can I extern remotely?

Remote externships will only be permitted if the attorney supervisor is not generally on-site and a substantial amount of the work of the field placement (staff meetings, client meetings, etc.) is taking place remotely. Attorney supervisors must agree to integrate remote students into the work of the office on a regular basis and must meet with remote students at least once per week via video conference. It is not sufficient for students to extern remotely simply because the field placement is outside of the metropolitan DC area.

What is "substantive legal work?"

Under ABA Standards, externs should engage in the work of a "junior attorney," which includes both opportunities to engage in and to observe others performing legal work. The kind of work each student performs and observes depends on the individual placement, and therefore there is no bright-line rule for what "substantive legal work" entails. Typical activities include: conducting legal or factual research; conducting client or witness interviews; drafting memoranda and other legal documents; reviewing and preparing transactional documents; attending a negotiation, business meeting, or court hearing; observing attorneys performing lawyering activities; or discussing an experience with a supervising attorney, judge, or colleague.

May I work for a field placement that focuses on policy or other non-litigation matters?

Yes, however, these placements have sometimes been problematic, so the Externship Office will want to ensure that students are not engaged in administrative, repetitive, or non-substantive tasks on a regular basis. Examples include updating a database, fundraising, lobbying, event planning, state by state compendiums of laws (researching the same issue repeatedly), non-law-related research, designing and updating (cut and paste) websites. 

Congressional Offices: Students working for individual representatives, as opposed to congressional committees, often find themselves engaged in low-level constituent work, which is not permissible. The supervising attorney must be able to articulate the specific type of legal work in which the student will be engaged.

What if the attorney is not "licensed" in the state in which I am extorting? Are there other requirements the supervising attorney must meet?

Students involved in litigation must always be supervised by attorneys licensed in the state in which they are externing. Students who are engaged in matters not involving litigation, such as policy or compliance issues, may be permitted to have non-licensed attorneys as supervisors but must receive approval from the Externship Office.

Day-to-day activities can be supervised by non-attorney as long as an attorney is reviewing the extern’s work, providing feedback, and ultimately responsible for student supervision. Students may not receive supervision entirely from non-attorneys. 

The attorney supervisor must be an employee of the field placement. Sometimes the attorneys are members of the board of an organization or are volunteers but are not actually employees. They may not act as supervising attorneys.

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 two, three, or four credits for their fieldwork depending on the number of hours worked during the course of the semester. (Students must work a minimum of 130 hours but may enroll in one fieldwork credit). All fieldwork credits are graded pass-fail.

Summer Semester
130 hours = 2 Credit (Approx. 15 hrs./week for 9 weeks)
195 hours = 3 Credits (Approx. 22 hrs./week for 9 weeks)
260 hours = 4 Credits (Approx. 29 hrs./week for 9 weeks)

Fall and Spring Semesters (we provide a 13-week approximation as it is not unusual for students to have to start their externships one week into the semester, particularly in the fall semester)
130 hours = 2 Credit (Approx. 10 hrs./week for 13 weeks)
195 hours = 3 Credits (Approx. 15 hrs./week for 13 weeks)
260 hours = 4 Credits (Approx. 20 hrs./week for 13 weeks)

  • Students may earn a total of six field placement credits plus six supervision/seminar credits while in law school.
  • The seminar and the field placement must be contemporaneous. 
  • The externship credits are earned from the first day of classes and must be completed prior to the Reading period and the Exam period.
  • Student may not end their externships early, even if they have completed their hours; they should work through the end of the semester
  • Students are responsible for calculating holiday and other days off when deciding how many hours they intend to work. 
  • Students may not lower the number of hours to which they have committed to the employer unless there are exigent, unexpected circumstances.

    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, many students find that working 10 hours a week provides them inadequate time in the workplace, while 20 hours per week may be difficult to fit into their schedules. 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 field placement if necessary. 

    If I work more than 260 hours in a semester, can I earn more than four credits?

    No. Students may earn a maximum of four credits for fieldwork in any given semester.

    What is the deadline for submitting my fieldwork approval request?

    Submit the request for approval as soon as possible after seminars are posted and no later than one week prior to the start of the semester. 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 may begin counting the hours they work towards their semester externship hours on the first day of the semester. Students can continue to count the hours worked until the last day of classes. Students may not extern during the reading period or the exam period.

    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, which requires permission from the Clinical Professor and the Externship Office.

    Can I split time between extorting and working for pay at the same placement?

    We discourage this, but if there is some legitimate reason we should approve it, we require a wall between the two jobs so that there can be no confusion between the two. This can include separate supervision; separate hours/days, a different work space.

    Can I earn externship credit for working for a WCL professor?

    No. Students may not extern for professors or programs at WCL or any other educational institutions.

    Can students enroll in an externship program in another school?

    Students may be permitted to transfer some credits if the externship credits are part of a unique academic program not offered by WCL. Considerations include: whether the program substantially different from anything offered at WCL, whether the student worked a minimum of 65 hours per credit and whether there was supervision by an on-site faculty member, including specific time set aside to discuss issues relating to the externship.

    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 remote work is not available.

    How is the two-credit seminar structured?

    The 2-credit externship seminar is graded (A-F) and meets once a week for 14 weeks. It includes the following requirements/assignments:

    Goals Meeting with Supervisor/Form

    Submit by end of first working week

    Time Records

    Fill out time logs every week

    Reflective Journals/Cover Page. Professor may provide prompts

    10 journals submitted according to syllabus schedule

    Midterm Self-Assessment

    Submit by mid-semester

    Final Reflective Essay. 10 pages. Professor may divide into two shorter essays

    Submit by last day of semester

    Presentation on your externship

    Last weeks of semester – ask professor

    Student Extern Final Evaluation of Externship

    Submit by last class (on Externship Website)

    Supervising Attorney Final Evaluation of Student Extern

    Student responsible for making sure Attorney Supervisor submits by last class

    Submit signed time log to professor

    Submit by last class

    May I take the two-credit course twice?

    No. A student can only receive credit for the graded two-credit LAW-769 course once. The only exception is for students who have completed a two-credit seminar and subsequently enroll in the long distance or corporate seminar.

    What are the requirements of the Advanced Supervision seminar?

    The Advanced Supervision class is one credit pass/fail. It meets nine times over the course of the semester. Only students that have completed the two credit externship seminar may enroll in this class.  It includes most of the requirements above but has only five pages of writing in addition to the journals and may not require a presentation. 

    Who qualifies to take the Advanced Supervision seminar?

    Students who have already taken the two-credit externship seminar. 

    What is Individual Externship Supervision?

    Individual Supervision is only available in special circumstances. It is a one-on-one tutorial with a specific professor, generally when a student has already participated in the two credit seminar and the Advanced Supervision seminar and is enrolling a third externship. The professor must be a member of the full time faculty or adjunct faculty who is a full time staff member. Students must meet all of the requirements (see Individual Supervision under Seminars) but neither the supervision nor the field placement credits count toward experiential skills credits.

    How do I go about seeking an externship? Do you place me?

    Students are responsible for applying to the externship directly as they would for a job. The Office for Career and Professional Development and the Externship Office have many resources available to assist you in finding a field placement. Students may use all WCL resources regardless of whether they are seeking an internship, externship or paid position.

    What resources are available at WCL to assist me with finding an externship and helping me develop my resume?

    Career counselors are available through the Office of Career and Professional Development (OCPD). These counselors assist students in determining how to take advantage of their externships in order to meet 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. OCPD also has excellent software available for formatting legal resumes.  For additional resources, see the Externship Website page -  Finding an Externship and CareerLink.

    How can the Externship Office assist me in finding an externship?

    The Externship Office provides assistance through an extensive database of field placements, 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 our site, 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.

    How do I actually apply?

    Follow the employer's instructions. If the field placement is in the Externship Database or CareerLink, students should review the application instructions in the posting. If there are no specific instructions, send a cover letter and resume to the contact listed in the Database. Students can send a transcript and references or inform the organization that they are available upon request. Students should also check the organization's website for additional information about the application process. If there is a different process described on the website, students should apply through both processes. 

    How do I know which field placements regularly hire WCL students?

    The Externship Database will note in red highlight whether students externed in recent years. However, this is not comprehensive as students who interns without receiving credit are not listed.

    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 organization must be willing to comply with the requirements described in the field placement 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 throughout the fall semester, and start reviewing listings at that time. At the latest, application materials should be completed over Winter break so you can and proceed with the application process when you return to school. Most organizations expect to receive applications for summer externships in January, February and March. Some organizations are starting to hire students in November and December. 

    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 if I will need a security clearance?

    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 international agencies. 

    Do not accept offers for positions requiring a security clearance less than one month before the start of the semester. Any student that has not received their security clearance by the first week of class must contact the Externship Program. Students that have not received their clearance by the 3rd week of school will be need to withdraw from the seminar and field placement credits unless they can find a temporary externship placement at which they can work while awaiting the clearance.

    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 130 area organizations and agencies. This Fair is a tremendous opportunity to meet attorneys who work in a wide variety of practice areas. Most organizations 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. 

    How is the Externship Database different from the OCPD CareerLink Database?

    The Externship Database and the OCPD Career Link Database are two different kinds of 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 organization posts a listing, it remains in the database. The OCPD Database has current opportunities for students including paid positions, internships, and externships. Students should familiarize themselves with both databases. It is helpful to know which organizations have contacted the school with current openings; there are thousands of organizations that do not reach out to schools but would accept applications, so it is important to review the Externship Database as well. We have found that employers that hire WCL externs once often want to do so again.

    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 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 an appointment to come in and view the evaluations.

    I've secured my externship. What steps do 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 field placement agreements 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. 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, particularly when students have secured placements on their own and not through the Fair or the Externship Database.

    After I have accepted an offer, may I turn it down to accept a preferable externship?

    No. Students my not renege on an offer after they have accepted it. Once they have informed the employer that they accept the offer of employment, they must extern. They may not lower the number of externship hours they work without substantial reason. The Externship Program reaches out to all employers where students have changed their hours unless due cause is apparent.

    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 two-credit externship seminar, a one-credit Advanced Supervision seminar for students who have already taken the two-credit seminar, or under certain circumstances, a one-credit individual supervision. 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 (although 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 off-set the cost of summer classes. You should consult the Financial Aid Office to confirm whether this option is available to you and how it would impact your overall financial aid package.

    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 law school's maximum number of "out of classroom" credits.

    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 online or via telephone to discuss the student's progress. Changes are being made to the Summer Program. Previously, students were required 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. The new summer course may not have the same requirements.  If you think you may want to participate in a long-distance externship, contact the Externship Program.

    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.

    How can the Externship Office assist me in finding an externship?

    The Externship Office provides assistance through an extensive database of field placements, 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 our site, 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.

    Are students permitted to earn externship credit for working in placements overseas?

    Yes. Students must be able to attend the remote externship seminar offered at 6 pm EST.  The placement must meet all of the requirements of the program and the attorney supervisor must agree to sign the employer agreement. Attorneys may be licensed in the country in which the student is working.