The City as Classroom: Students Gain Hands-On Experience in the Law School’s Externship Program

Monday, March 31, 2014

Over the last two years, St. John’s Law has redesigned its externship program to give students a unique opportunity to learn the law by doing. An externship is an internship pursued for academic credit. Through externship placements in a range of public and private practice settings, students get to test substantive areas of the law as they identify and chart their career paths.

Student externs work directly with mentor-attorneys on real cases. “We identify and approve placements in the New York City area and, currently, there are 248 approved employers in the program,” said Associate Director of Career Development Kimathi Gordon-Somers, who coordinates the externship program. “Dean Michael A. Simons has made experiential learning a priority at St. John’s Law and we’ve expanded our placement network and made other program improvements to afford our students exceptional externship opportunities.”

Students can participate in up to four externships during their time at St. John’s, earning up to nine pass/fail credits. Current and past externship placements include:

• Brooklyn Defenders Services
• Department of Labor
• District Attorneys’ Offices
• Federal Trade Commission
• Financial Industry Regulatory Authority
• Fox Broadcasting Company
• Judicial Chambers (federal, state, and city courts)
• Mental Hygiene Legal Services
• Merrill Lynch
• National Football League
• New York City Law Department
• Securities Exchange Commission
• Sony Music
• The Legal Aid Society (civil, criminal, and juvenile rights)
• United States Attorneys’ Offices

To augment their hands-on externship placement, students take a concurrent seminar led by St. John’s Law faculty. For first-time externs, the weekly seminar focuses on essential lawyering skills, such as client counseling, negotiation, interview techniques, client letters, factual investigation, and ethics in the workplace. When they participate in subsequent externships, students take advanced seminars that help them further hone their practical skills.

The numbers speak to the externship program’s success. Over 50% of the Class of 2013 (174/309) had at least one externship placement. And a recent study published in the BYU Journal of Public Law identified St. John's Law as one of 30 law schools nationwide with the highest and most consistent externship program participation rates, achieving 25% participation in all but one year between 2006 and 2011.

“I had an extremely positive experience as an extern in the New York County District Attorney’s Office this semester,” said Matthew Merson ‘15. “I helped the Assistant District Attorneys prepare for trial by researching, writing, and drafting motions. I then had the opportunity to see the ADAs take action using my work. One of the bonuses of this placement was being able to walk across the street to the courthouse at any given time to view proceedings. Prior to this externship, I was unsure about what I wanted to do. But I now know that I want to be involved in either criminal or civil litigation.”

Rayna McKenzie ’14 also found her externship experience formative. “I was placed with the Director and Coordinator of Standards and Practices and the Business and Legal Affairs department at BET,” she said. “I worked the delay box for live performances, reviewed scripts and programming, assessed and monitored community standards, and tracked audience feedback across digital channels. I also drafted vendor agreements and assisted with two major productions, RIP the Runway and The BET Experience. I returned to St. John’s Law for my final year feeling empowered by the personal and professional strides I made as an extern. And just last week, my supervising attorney at BET called with a job offer.”