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Legal Internships, Externships, Clerkships and Clinics

The Lowdown on Legal Internships


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Legal internships provide an opportunity for students to increase their knowledge of substantive areas of law, gain exposure to a real work environment and provide valuable support to a legal employer. An increasing number of law schools, paralegal programs, legal secretarial schools and other legal educational institutions require the completion of an internship as a prerequisite to graduation. Some internships are paid although many are not. However, most internship programs allow students to earn school credit.

As the legal field becomes more complex and legal employment opportunities proliferate, the traditional internship has evolved. Now a number of different experiential opportunities for the legal student exist including judicial clerkships, legal clinics, summer clerkships, legal externships and pro bono projects. These programs place students in law offices, courts and public interest organizations with the goal of providing real-world legal experience under the guidance of faculty members, licensed attorneys and sitting judges.

While your school’s career center is the first place you should look to find an intership, a number of internet sites also maintain lists or links to internships.

Judicial Clerkships

Judicial clerkships are among the most popular law school internships. Students intern for state and federal court judges and gain valuable insight into the workings of trial and appellate courts. These positions are very research and writing intensive and are excellent resume-boosters, especially for those who wish to practice civil or criminal litigation or appellate law.

Judicial interns perform a wide range of clerkship duties including reviewing appellate briefs, trial records, and other documents; researching and analyzing case law; assisting in the drafting of bench memoranda and opinions; making recommendations regarding the disposition of matters on appeal; and briefing the judge prior to oral argument.

Students applying for judicial internships must demonstrate exceptional research and writing skills, sound judgment and strong interpersonal skills. Students seeking federal court clerkships generally must have a superior academic record.

Federal judicial clerkships (clerkships with one of the nation’s circuit courts) tend to be more prestigious, and thus more competitive, than state court clerkships. Clerkships with the United States Supreme Court are the most prestigious and sought-after clerkship positions.

Legal Clinics

Legal clinics allow students to gain legal experience through clinics located within the law school. Legal clinics offer an opportunity for second and third year law students to apply classroom knowledge to real-life legal situations. Students perform real-world legal work under the supervision of a faculty member and/or practicing attorney.

Examples of legal clinics include representing abused children in juvenile court, litigating fair housing cases in federal court, conducting real estate closings for Habitat for Humanity or drafting a will for elderly clients.

Clinics are good option for students who cannot afford the time away from the academic program required by a paid internship, or by those unable to find a source of payment for the internship.


Externship programs offer students the opportunity to work in practice settings outside the school. Through an externship, students can gain real work experience in specific areas of interest. For example, students interested in health care law can perform an externship in a hospital’s in-house legal department. Students interested in family law or children’s rights can work for a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program. Students seeking litigation experience may complete an externship with a state prosecutor’s office or the U.S. Attorney’s office. Students with an interest in public interest law can work at an area legal aid program. Students wanting to concentrate in employment law or civil rights issues may extern with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the U.S. Department of Labor.

Students in externships programs are usually supervised on-site by a licensed attorney who assigns specific tasks and provides oversight and feedback. Full-time faculty members and staff may also provide additional oversight and supervision.

Although some externships provide financial compensation, more often an externship is offered for school credit. Externships provide students the opportunity to serve the public, make valuable contacts in the field, learn about the rigors of daily practice in a specific field of law and acquire valuable legal skills.

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