Externship Program


At Stanford Law School, the externship program is a complement to the Clinical Program. Every quarter, students who wish to supplement their clinical training, or do legal work which is not available in a clinic, head out to work for academic credit in non-profit agencies, government offices and public policy organizations. In these public interest placements, they may do legal research and writing; they may do client interviews; they may make court appearances under the supervision of an agency attorney. And in conjunction with this uncompensated work, they take either an Externship Companion course or engage in a supervised tutorial which allows them to reflect and learn from their experience in a guided pedagogical setting.

All of these students — who are participating in the Stanford Law School Externship Program — glean much more than substantive knowledge and practical skills; they also gain self-confidence and a sense of empowerment. After spending a quarter as an extern at the ACLU of Northern California, for example, Jen Clark, Class of 2011, noted: “Any opportunity to get out in the real world and see what lawyers do is empowering for law students. I’m more confident in the choices I’ve already made thanks to my time at the ACLU, and the additional first-hand knowledge I’m now armed with will be a source of assurance as I make decisions in the future.”

Externships — Around the Corner, or Around the World

In any given quarter, it would not be uncommon for one SLS student to be externing with the City of Palo Alto, another to be at the White House Counsel’s office in Washington, D.C. and still another to be working at the U.N. Rwanda Tribunal in Tanzania. These students would each be taking advantage of one of Stanford Law School’s two externship programs: The Standard Externship Program (SEP) or the Special Circumstances Externship Program. (SCEP).

The SEP allows students to work in the Bay Area for a minimum of 16 hours to a maximum of 34 hours per week in a public interest setting, such as a criminal prosecution or public defender’s office, a civil rights organization or a legal organization that specializes in environmental law. Students in the SEP must take the Externship Companion course and write weekly reflection papers of 3 to 5 pages, along with a final reflection paper of no fewer than 15 pages. Recently, students in the SEP handled both federal and state misdemeanor prosecutions. They did client counseling for California Rural Legal Services and they researched national immigration issues for the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project.

The SCEP allows students to work for academic credit throughout the United States and anywhere in the world. Because they are not in the Bay Area and are therefore unable to attend the weekly seminar, SCEP externs must work for 40 hours per week at their approved placement. They must also secure the agreement of a faculty member to supervise their placement and their tutorial, and conduct a site visit. In recent years, SCEP externs have worked at the U.S. Embassy in the Hague, the Brennan Center in New York City, the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. and the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York City, and the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.

Take the First Step

Students who are interested in the externship program should review the FAQ to learn more specific requirements and applications for both the SEP and the SCEP.  Please note that students may only participate in the externship program once during their time at Stanford Law School. Students in the final quarter of their third-year may not extern more than 16 hours per week, so they are not permitted to participate in the SCEP.

The Levin Center produces a regular e-newsletter featuring summer internships and school-year externships. Join the LinkedIn group. Note you must first join the Stanford Law School group, which verifies your SLS affiliation.

Students who still have questions after reviewing the Externship Program FAQ below should contact Jory Steele, Director of the Pro Bono and Externship Programs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Public Interest Externship Program?

The Public Interest Externship Program at Stanford Law School provides students the opportunity to receive academic credit for engaging in fieldwork – i.e. direct services, certified student trial practice, legal research and writing -- at a non-profit or government organization. Because students receive academic credit for their externships, they may not receive wages or payment of any kind for their work. Students may participate in the Externship Program only once during their time at Stanford Law School.

What are the two types of Externships?

There are two kinds of externships at Stanford. The Standard Externship Program (“SEP”) is for students who extern at non-profits or government agencies in the Bay Area. Students in this program may work between 16 and 34 hours per week, and all students in the SEP concurrently take a 2-credit Externship Companion Seminar, taught by the Externship Director. Students in the SEP must file Weekly Reflection Papers of 3 to 5 pages and a Final Reflection Paper of 7 to 10 pages is due by the last day of class.

The Special Circumstances Externship Program (SCEP) allows students the opportunity to apply for placement outside the Bay Area, including in an international placement. Students in this program must work full-time. Students who wish to do a SCEP must find a faculty sponsor with whom they will create a tutorial with a specified reading list.

Please keep in mind that faculty members are under no obligation to accept students who approach them for sponsorship. Once a faculty sponsor is found, the student should work with the sponsor to develop a syllabus outlining the course of study and a process by which they can review and discuss the externship placement each week.

Students should submit the agreed-upon reading list, the proposed syllabus, and the planned process of review, with their application, in the form of a memorandum of understanding signed by both the student and the faculty sponsor. In addition, all students who participate in the SCEP must arrange for their faculty sponsor or another law school faculty member to make a site visit during the student’s externship. This site visit may be conducted in person, via Skype, or, if absolutely necessary, via a conference call. Students must discuss and arrange for this site visit with their faculty sponsor prior to the sponsor’s agreement to participate in the externship program. The memorandum of understanding between the student and faculty sponsor should acknowledge that this site visit is required and that such arrangements will be made.

Students in the SCEP must also file Weekly Reflection Papers of 3-5 pages, the topics for which should be assigned by the faculty sponsor. Additionally, they must file a Final Reflection Paper of 10 to 15 pages, which must be submitted to the Registrar by the deadline for all final papers due for that quarter.

All externships at SLS are governed by rules set by the law school itself, as well as by Standard 305 of the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar. The ABA establishes requirements not merely for participation by students, but also for supervision and instruction by their site supervisors and faculty sponsors. SLS must monitor compliance with these requirements in order to maintain its accreditation.

What are some of the reasons that I might want to do an externship?

The goal of the externship program is to supplement classroom instruction by placing the student in a real life legal setting that will:

  • Expand upon substantive coursework
  • Provide experience in fields not covered by SLS clinics
  • Encourage students’ examination of the roles of lawyers in society
  • Enhance students’ capacity for analysis and critical reflection
  • Promote students’ mastery of self-directed learning
  • Allow students to study the practice of law and public policy
  • Foster students’ ability to perform discrete legal tasks
  • Enable students to gain practical experience in area of law in which the student might wish to practice after graduation.
How Do I Apply?

The Public Interest Externship Program at SLS is managed by Jory Steele, Director of Pro Bono and Externship Programs at the Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law. Students who wish to do an externship must schedule either an in-person or phone meeting with Jory Steele in advance of applying for an externship, and preferably before choosing the place they wish to extern. The on-line application can be found here and is due by the advertised deadline, usually one quarter in advance.

Note, however, that many placements, particularly those for which a security clearance is required -- such as a U.S. Attorney’s Office -- have deadlines well in advance of our internal deadline. Therefore, if you wish to participate in an externship with such placements, you are encouraged to apply well in advance of your proposed externship.

Am I Eligible for an Externship?

Students may participate in the Externship Program only once during law school. Applications are reviewed on the basis of your academic performance and -- for applications to participate in the SCEP (those outside the Bay Area) -- the rigor of the proposed course of academic study to be conducted under the supervision of your faculty sponsor. (See below.) Generally, however, you will be considered eligible to participate IF:

  • You have not participated in an externship before;
  • You do not have any outstanding papers;
  • You plan to extern at a non-profit agency or government organization only; (Judicial externships do not qualify);
  • You meet with the Externship Director either in person or by phone prior to applying for your externship; and
  • You are a 2L or 3L.

Please note:
1. Transfer students who have completed one quarter at SLS are eligible.
2. Joint degree students who will have completed 112.5 quarter units by the end of your ninth quarter are also eligible.
3. 3Ls planning to extern during their Spring Quarter are only allowed to extern up to 34 hours per week and your placement must be in the Bay Area.

Prior Participation in an SLS Clinic is Strongly Encouraged

Students who are considering an externship at any point in their law school careers should select their courses carefully in advance. In particular, it is highly preferred that students have taken one or more clinical courses prior to their participation in an externship. The applications of students who have not taken a clinic prior to, or contemporaneous with, making an externship proposal will be carefully scrutinized. Students who seek to do an externship that involves a substantive area of law that is also the subject of a clinic offered in the same quarter are required to first determine whether they would be able to secure a place in that clinic.

By way of hypothetical example: Assume that the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic will be offered in the Fall of 2015. Student John Smith wants to apply to do an externship in an immigration legal aid office outside of the law school in the Fall of 2015. John has not taken the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic and has not taken the maximum of 2 clinics he is allowed to take while at SLS. Before applying to participate in the SLS Externship Program, he must first determine whether he could participate in the SLS Immigrants’ Rights Clinic in the Fall of 2015.

How Do I Find an Externship?

It’s up to you to make initial contact and arrangements with a placement. You may identify possible locations by reviewing student evaluations from summer public interest internships and prior externships, which are available here. Please scroll down to the next section on this webpage to see a list of recent placements. You may also speak with members of the Levin Center staff and you may certainly do your own research into possible placements that fit your interests.

Once you find a potential organization to which you’d like to apply, you should generally submit a cover letter, resume and writing sample to them, although it would be prudent to check beforehand to see if other materials are required. Because many agencies are not aware that SLS is operating on the quarter system, you should also be sure to advise them of your specific schedule for the externship in the cover letter.

Be aware, as well, that some criminal or other governmental placements require a security clearance and/or a practice certification, and these processes take extra paperwork and time. Security clearances may take 10 to 12 weeks and certification takes at least 3 weeks. The application for certification of law students to practice under the supervision of an attorney in California is available online.

How Much Academic Credit Will I Receive?

The number of credits students may receive for an externship varies depending upon the externship program and number of hours worked.

SEP Externships: Students registered for an SEP externship must work at least 16 hours a week and may work no more than 34 hours a week. Students are strongly encouraged to work at least 20 hours per week. Please also note that individual employers are free to require a minimum number of hours worked as a condition of employment. Full time externships are not allowed for SEP placements. The allotment of credits for a given number of work hours is as follows:

16 hours work = 5 Credits
20 hours work = 6 Credits
24 hours work = 7 Credits
30 hours work = 9 Credits
34 hours work = 10 Credits

Students who are enrolled in an SEP externship must also take an externship companion course. The companion course is the two credit Civil/Criminal Externship Companion Course taught by the Director of Externships and Pro Bono Programs, Jory Steele. The Registrar will enroll approved externs in the companion course.

SCEP Externships: All non-local externships require students to work full-time (40 hours a week) and participate in a reading tutorial. Students receive 12 credits for the SCEP externship.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

Site Visits: The ABA requires that a law school faculty member make a site visit to the student’s externship site. For students in an SEP externship, the Externship Director will schedule a site visit with them for sometime during the quarter. For those doing an SCEP externship, students should discuss these arrangements with their faculty sponsor prior to securing the faculty sponsor’s agreement to participate in the program. As noted above, site visits for an SCEP externship can be conducted in person, via Skype, or, if absolutely necessary, via a conference call. Students in any externship program should arrange for the site visit to be made at a time when both the student and site supervisor are present.

It is the student’s responsibility to make arrangements for the site visit regardless of the externship location. SLS does not provide funds for site visits. They must be made either at the faculty member’s own expense or in conjunction with some other paid travel. In some circumstances, it may be possible to have an alternate faculty member make a site visit. Such situations should be discussed with Jory Steele.

Evaluations: Both ABA and Stanford Law School rules require certain evaluation forms to be filed for each student in the externship program. It is up to each student to make sure that each of these forms is filed in a timely fashion in conjunction with his/her externship. Specifically, the forms that the student must file – or arrange for filing – are: 1) a Mid-Quarter Self-Assessment Form to be filed by the student and signed by both the student and the Site Supervisor; 2) a Final Evaluation by the Student; 3) a Site Visit Report by the Faculty Sponsor for SCEP externs or by the Companion Course Lecturer in Law for SEP externs; and 4) a Final Evaluation by the Site Supervisor. These forms should be timely filed by submission to Jory Steele, Director of Pro Bono and Externship Programs at the Levin Center.

Directed Research for Extra Credit: Students in the Externship Program may choose to earn an additional 2 to 3 units by developing a directed research project connected to the externship. Any student who wishes to pursue this option must follow the SLS requirements for Directed Research set forth on the Stanford Law School website at www.law.stanford.edu. See Student Handbook under Information for Current Students.

Health Insurance: International externs have the option of waiving Cardinal Care health insurance coverage if they obtain alternate insurance (travel insurance or otherwise) and notify Stanford’s Vaden Health Center in advance of the standard deadline, as listed on Axess. We encourage you to investigate coverage and costs thoroughly. To opt out of Cardinal Care for the Quarter, go into Axess online and go to “health insurance waiver.” For more information on opting out of Cardinal Care, please contact Vaden Health Center at (650) 723-2135.

Students interested in externships should contact Jory Steele, Director of Pro Bono and Externship Programs, to discuss potential placements.

List of employers that recently hosted SLS externs

The following list includes some of the public interest employers where Stanford Law School have externed. Students earn academic credit for volunteering at a nonprofit or governmental agency during the school year.

Current students may also review past students’ employer evaluations on this password-protected website.

Nonprofit employers
Governmental employers