"In working at my externship, the ability to use my skills and my knowledge for something that I was passionate about was unrivaled. Being able to sit across from a client knowing that I have a skill that I can offer to help them figure out whatever the solution is to their problem was really rewarding. It was awesome to know the work that we were doing was able to help equip somebody else to empower themselves to move forward."
-- Nakeena Covington
Students enrolled in a Practicum course work 12 to 15 hours per week during the school year and at least 18 hours a week during the summer in an approved externship under the close supervision of on-site lawyers. The law school’s location in a large urban area means that students have their pick of a large variety of excellent opportunities. The externship settings include federal and state government agencies, federal and state judicial chambers, non-profits, and corporate general counsel offices. Depending on the setting, the externship work may involve researching and drafting opinions or briefs, interviewing clients, appearing in court, participating in negotiations, or drafting policy documents.
Students receive four credit hours for a Practicum. There are separate Practicum courses for each type of work setting. Each course focuses on legal and ethical issues relevant to the types of placements in the class. Although each Practicum course has its own requirements, all students must participate in all seminar classes, maintain a reflective journal, make a substantive class presentation or submit a paper, and satisfy the requirements of their externship.
Center for Externships Practicum Courses
- Civil Government Practicum: Students secure externships at federal, state, or local governmental agencies or offices involving civil law. Students conduct research, draft motions and briefs, and work on policy initiatives.
- Corporate Counsel Practicum: Students secure externships in legal departments of Chicago-area corporations. Students conduct research, write memoranda, and plan legal strategy under the direction of in-house lawyers.
- Criminal Law Practicum: Students secure externships with either prosecution or defense lawyers in the federal or state criminal justice system, including the United States Attorney's office, the Federal Defender's office, the Cook County State's Attorney's office and the Cook County Public Defender's office. Students conduct research, write legal memoranda and briefs, interview clients and witnesses, assist in trials and trial preparation, and observe courtroom proceedings.
- Judicial Practicum:Students secure externships with United States District Court Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Court of Appeals Judges. Students conduct research, prepare legal memoranda, draft opinions, and observe courtroom proceedings. In the summer, two sections of this course are offered – one for students with externships in the Chicago area and a remote section for students with externships in other parts of the country.
- Mediation Practicum: After completing mediation skills training from the Center for Conflict Resolution and becoming certified mediators, students conduct mediations under faculty supervision.
- Public Interest Practicum: Students secure externships with public interest legal organizations. They help represent low-income clients in civil matters. Students interview clients, research and draft legal memoranda, assist in discovery and trials, and participate in policy initiatives.
- Public Service Practicum: Students secure externships with public interest organizations or government agencies doing civil or criminal work. Depending on the placement, the work may include interviewing clients, researching and drafting memoranda and briefs, and assisting with discovery or trials. This class is only offered in the summer, and there are two sections: one for students with externships in the Chicago area and a remote section for students with externships in other parts of the country.
Intensive Semester Practicum
The Center for Externships now also offers an Intensive Semester Practicum. Students may work with attorneys at a government or non-profit agency anywhere in the United States. Students work for the agency full time for an entire semester. In addition, they participate in-person or remotely in an accompanying course with a supervising faculty member using a syllabus that is individually designed for their particular placement. Students earn a total of 12 credits for this practicum: three graded credits for the class and nine ungraded credits for the externship experience. The Center for Externships places students in offices all around the city and country. They work side-by-side with lawyers and judges in an array of settings, gaining real-world experience doing everything lawyers do: writing, researching, analyzing, representing clients, conducting intakes, doing policy work, and drafting judicial opinions. The seminar component provides students the opportunity to get together once a week to discuss issues they are facing or that they may encounter, and to further explore legal issues faced by attorneys and judges with whom they are working.
Practicum faculty are actively involved in helping students find a placement that is right for them. They meet individually with students to help identify agencies that are a good match for each student's interests.
"I see such excitement when students do this work," says Center for Externships director Cindy Wilson. "They really get it – how the law works in practice and what value their skills are going to offer to real people. Many of our students work with individuals who may not otherwise have a lawyer. They are doing work for people who really need them, and students are learning the importance of what lawyers bring to the system."