The 3L Externship Path at NYU Law

For students who want a jumpstart on being in a full-time working environment, NYU School of Law offers several options to take 14-credit clinics during 3L year. The structure allows for a year’s worth of real-world experience while still keeping the student grounded in academia.

Among NYU Law’s vast array of clinics are nestled three very specific semester-long clinics that take up the entire course load for the semester: the Education Sector Policy and Consulting (ESPC) Clinic, the Legislative and Regulatory Policy (LRP) Clinic, and the Pro Bono Scholars Program (PBSP), the latter only available to 3Ls during their spring semester. Each of these clinics is 14 units and involves, for the most part, working full-time either at a legal organization or in the legal office of an organization. Additionally, students maintain an academic presence by taking an accompanying seminar and either completing a final project or writing a research paper at the conclusion of the semester.

Want to experience the working life of a full-time lawyer as a 3L? Consider the clinic/externship path. (Photo by vmiramontes)

Working full time during your 3L year rather than sitting down for an array of classes and traditional clinics entails certain pluses and minuses. On the positive side, this strategy provides a fantastic opportunity to delve deeply into the practical aspects of a particular branch of the law. If you are truly fascinated by national security law, then three months of working full time in the Office of the General Counsel at the Department of Defense via the LRP Clinic might be ideal for you. If you know for certain that your end goal is to combine law and policy to advocate for targeted changes in the education sector, then the ESPC Clinic exists to satisfy that passion.

But there are some drawbacks, the primary one being that you don’t have the time or ability to take additional classes. This means that essentially you will have to cram academic exploration into your 2L year, which can be extremely limiting, especially since you’ll have to take Professional Responsibility and, at least, either Property or Constitutional Law—or both, if you did not take either as your 1L elective. That leaves relatively little room to take on additional exploratory classes, especially if you want to fit in some more core classes such as Corporations, Evidence, or Federal Courts. At the same time, the entire law school academic experience is something of an experiment in judicial economy. Choices must be made, and if the ultimate choice is to incorporate additional practical experience into one’s law school career, then cramming extra classes into your 2L year is simply par for the course.

Legislative and Regulatory Policy Clinic

NYU Law hosts a clinic for which you pack up and move to DC for the fall semester. The core element of this clinic is your placement in the legal division of a government agency, a congressional committee, or a nongovernmental organization, where you will work full time for the duration of the semester. The clinic is led by two amazing professors: Sally Katzen and Bob Bauer, each of whom has a wealth of experience working at the intersection of law, government, and policy over several presidential administrations.  You typically begin your internship shortly before or after Labor Day, although certain positions require extensive paperwork that ideally should be completed during the summer. Your placement is determined in an interview/conversation you have during 2L spring with either Professor Katzen or Professor Bauer. I spent my semester working in the Office of the General Counsel for the Department of Defense. Others in my class were placed in just about any agency you can think of, including the Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, Department of State, and Department of Health and Human Services. Fellow students also worked on the Hill and even in the Office of the White House Counsel.

Eight of your 14 units consist of working full time. The workload at your government placement is, for the most part, on par with the type of work you would receive if you actually worked within that branch of the government. You are going in there as an intern, but also as a full-time employee. This allows the supervising attorneys to hand you longer-term assignments or work that requires deeper analysis, since they know that you will be around for a while. While you won’t necessarily get your own portfolio, you will have multiple opportunities to engage deeply in work that actual government lawyers are also doing, so it provides an excellent opportunity to determine if this is the type of work you’d like to do down the road.

The academic portion of the clinic, worth the remaining six units of your semester, consists of a weekly seminar that meets one evening a week (dinner included—always a plus) where you discuss various mechanics that make up the lifeblood of American politics. The seminar is an excellent primer on everything from executive orders to the precise relationship between Congress and the president to the difference between the White House’s Office of Legal Counsel and the Department of Justice’s attorney general. The final component is a 35-page paper on a topic of your choice (just about anything that covers the intersection of law and government), which can count as your substantial writing. One thing to note is that applications for this clinic are due much earlier than the applications for the rest of the clinics—typically in early February. Otherwise, applying to the DC clinic mirrors the general clinic application process: essay + interview.

Pro Bono Scholars Program (Litigation, Organizing, & Systemic Change)

A few years ago, New York established the Pro Bono Scholars Program, which allows 3Ls to take the bar exam during their spring semester and spend the rest of the semester working full time at a direct legal services provider. Each law school in the state implements the program slightly differently, but the core concept is as described above. At NYU, the program has changed slightly each year (as I write, the program is slated to change once more and include an option to work with the Equal Justice Initiative). It’s important to note that the clinic consists of a six- or seven-unit externship/clinic fieldwork component and a seven- or eight-unit seminar component, which may be a single seminar or several different seminars, depending on the PBSP track the student takes. Your timeline looks roughly as follows:

  • Almost immediately following the end of 3L fall, you begin studying for the bar exam (yes, there goes your winter break). This continues right up until the bar exam in mid-February.
  • After taking the bar, you begin the program. The New York-based PBSP program has an eight-day intensive seminar (9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) that serves as a crash course on access to justice/community/movement lawyer organization strategies. This course is actually an excellent introduction to the concept of being a community-centered lawyer, and it provides you a perfect opportunity to speak with multiple practitioners on the challenges they face advocating for community interests. The eight-day intensive also incorporates two credits’ worth of negotiation training.
  • This next part is a little confusing. After the eight-day intensive seminar, you begin working full time at your placement, save for roughly five hours a week when you will be taking Civil Litigation at the Law School, or Education Advocacy Litigation for those students doing Education Advocacy Clinic fieldwork. Beginning in 2018, the Law School will convert the famed Equal Justice and Defender Clinic, which takes place mainly at the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Alabama, to the PBSP format. The program will be distinct from the rest of NYU’s PBSP options but will still incorporate the same number of academic hours.

Similar to the LRP Clinic, your job while in the PBSP Clinic depends on you. With the exception of EJI, which you apply for separately, your eventual placement in a direct legal services organization hinges on the preferences you express during your interview. The default placement is Make the Road NY, a community-based and member-run organization where the legal work runs the gamut from housing law to immigration work. Spanish-speaking skills are strongly encouraged here but are not an absolute requirement.

Another option is Advocates for Children of New York, where you work alongside students who are taking the Education Advocacy Clinic. Clinic students provide legal representation to help students from low-income backgrounds get the services and support they need to succeed in school.

If neither Make the Road nor Advocates for Children aligns with your particular interest, the clinic also includes a “make your own” option. I worked at the Urban Justice Center within their Community Development Program, which aligned with my interest in capacity-building for nonprofit organizations. Others have worked for New York Legal Assistance Group or any number of other service delivery law organizations. Each such assignment must be individually developed among the student, PBSP faculty supervisors, and the placement’s supervising lawyers to ensure that the placement meets the PBSP requirements.

Education Sector Policy and Consulting Clinic

The third option is the Education Sector Policy and Consulting Clinic, which I did not take. This clinic brings together upper-level law, business, education, and policy students from NYU, Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, Michigan, Princeton, Stanford, Texas, Vanderbilt, and Yale to study and practice transformative change in public-sector organizations with a focus on public school systems. Students get an immersive experience in problem-solving together in interdisciplinary teams tackling complex, multidimensional problems. While I can’t speak to the content of the clinic, there are some specific criteria I should use this opportunity to point out. NYU doesn’t allow you to take both the Education Sector Policy and Consulting Clinic and the PBSP version of the Education Advocacy Clinic (i.e., the PBSP placement at Advocates for Children). You can take this clinic as a 2L, as many law students do, but it is not possible to take it and the LRP Clinic and the PBSP Clinic.

Below is a brief overview from Ke Wu ’17, who took the course as a 2L and TAd for it as a 3L:

The clinic is effectively a full-time job. During the semester, you work on an interdisciplinary (business, policy, education, and law) team of students with an engagement manager on a consulting project for an education organization. As with the nature of consulting projects, there are rapid iterations on your work product with substantial feedback on how to improve. The clients can range from large school districts to foundations, and the projects can range from developing strategic plans to evaluating program impact. The seminar is focused on organizational change and offers frameworks for transforming public education institutions (traditionally structured as bureaucracies) into organizations that better address the needs and wants of the community.  

Are the 14-Unit Clinics Worth It?

I thoroughly enjoyed my coursework as a law student at NYU. I could do without the exams—as could, I imagine, most of my classmates—but there is a certain joy in learning about a new branch of the law, somewhat akin to trying out a new author in a favored genre. Nonetheless, trading classwork for legal work has a satisfaction all its own. Perhaps it’s the difference between reading your favorite author and taking the first steps towards writing like your favorite author. Still, if I had walked onto campus with the plan to work full time my 3L year, I would have structured my first two years a little differently (I confess, I took PR and the PBSP Clinic simultaneously, which required some… maneuvering). Minor hiccups aside, taking two 14-unit clinics is certainly worth considering, if it works for you.