Externship Conference: Responding to Changing Times

Externships 5:  Responding to Changing Times

I just returned from this excellent conference in Miami attended by over 150 externship faculty, deans, and administrators.  The Lextern list is buzzing with excitement about meeting the challenges of designing and teaching externships (or Field Placements, as we say in Albany) in changing times, and with praise for the conference planning committee and chair who organized a program rich with new ideas, methodologies, and resources.   

Thanks to conference planners Alex Scherr, Harriet Katz, Avis Sanders, Eden Harrington, Sande Buhai, Liz Ryan Cole, Robert Parker (am I leaving anyone out!?), host law schools, and conference chair, Jennifer Zawid for putting together such an informative, interesting, collaborative, challenging conference – and fun too! 

The Conference discussions, along with Carnegie and Best Practices, provides the externship community with many interesting and challenging questions issues to address, including: externships in the curriculum, designing educational outcomes in light of evolving ABA standards, increased pressures on externships as law schools and legal communities deal with the current economic downturn,  teaching ethics and professional identity in externships, etc. 

Here are a just a few highlights from the Conference to get the discussion started…

  1. There’s More Than One Way to Create a Great Externship Program

Choices regarding placement options, classes or seminars, program oversight, and training, are – or should be – a function of particular program goals and law school mission and should consider where the primary learning is expected to take place – (field and/or classroom). Avis Sanders and Eden Harrington led a panel discussion through the pros and cons of supervising attorney training, site visits, allowing placements at private firms and for-profit entities, general or subject specific classes, etc. Great food for thought for both established and new programs.

  1. ABA proposed standard 305

Alex Scherr led an open forum on the proposed elimination of interpretation 305-3 which currently prohibits law schools from granting credit to a student for participation in a field placement program for which the student receives compensation.  There is still time to comment on this proposal and it is important that we weigh in as this rule will have significant impact on externships. 

As some pointed out, this might assist students in tough economic times and we should still be able to control placement educational goals even if placements pay for student work.  A vocal majority, however, expressed concern about the prospect of allowing pay and credit.  For example, would field placements lose academic legitimacy if students get paid for credits?  Assuming that students would opt for placements that are able to pay, what would this mean for the majority of public service, public interest, government, not-for-profit placements?  If schools are unable to place students in public placements, might this undermine social justice goals?  There were concerns regarding pressure to send students to private placements and to give credit for already existing paid jobs – an additional administrative burden.   I hope others will weigh in.

  1. Status of externship faculty 

I was surprised to learn that while some externship teachers and program directors are tenured faculty or even academic deans, others, including leaders in legal education and experiential learning, are not considered “faculty” at their own institutions!   Does the lack of faculty status undermine the educational mission? Does it send the wrong message to students and placements that externships are not part of the academic program?  What do others think?   

The detailed program can be found on the co-sponsor University of Miami website

 http://www.law.miami.edu/events/externships/works.php, as well as on the Lextern web

 http://laworgs.cua.edu/lexternweb/index.htm.  I hope presenters will post materials on both sites.

One Response

  1. The status issue is quite important. Job status is always a sign of what is valued at an instituion or in a business. And it announces to the student-consumers what kind of learning is valued, important and to be taken seriously. thank you for identifying this and other important issues from the conference.

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