Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Anderson: Law Students Should Speak Up For Paid Externships

ABA Logo 2Following up on Monday's post, Law Profs, Law Grads Debate Changing Accreditation Standards To Permit Paid Externships:  Rob Anderson (Pepperdine), Law Students: Speak Up!:

The American Bar Association Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has published a series of proposed changes to the rules for law schools. One of them is a change to "Interpretation 305-2" (current 305-3), a change that would repeal the current ban on law schools giving academic credit for field placements (i.e., externships) for which law students are paid. The current Interpretation prohibits your law school from giving you credit for paid work experience, no matter how practical the experience gained or how closely related to your proposed area of practice. The proposed change would lift this prohibition to allow law schools to decide whether to offer such credit.

I don't think I need to remind you that law school is expensive and that most students graduate with debt, often substantial debt. One of the best things a law student can do during law school is to work at a law firm to gain practical experience and defray some of the costs of tuition and living expenses. ...

Unfortunately, a small but organized minority of law professors don't want you to be able to be paid for work and receive academic credit at the same time, and they are the ones being heard by the ABA.

The Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) and the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT), which are special interest groups that advocate for the interests of law school professors, are lobbying the ABA to try to stop it from allowing you to receive pay and credit for the same externship. ...

Why would some of your professors want to do this? Because they want shunt all law students into their in-house clinics and governmental and other non-profit externships over which they have more control, rather than more practical law firm jobs that deal with regular law practice. Many clinical professors preside over significant fiefdoms within law schools, often using students' tuition money to favor their own ideological goals. Law school clinics are among the most expensive education law schools provide on a per-student basis, and that expense is all too often paid with students' tuition dollars. In addition, these clinics and unpaid externships tend to focus on issues of interest to the clinical professors, rather than on the skills that students will need in their careers to serve paying clients. ...

I encourage all interested law students and recent graduates to make their voices heard (whether you agree with me or not) by submitting a comment to, even though the "deadline" for comment has passed.

Stephen Bainbridge (UCLA), Paid Law Student Externships? Why Not? So Go Tell the ABA.

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Clinical Prof, I am not arguing that students *should* be paid for externships, so your first sentence is not particularly relevant. I am arguing that they should not be denied credit simply because they are paid. The same logic would apply to Contracts or Corporations courses if, for some reason, a student were paid to attend them. The CLEA argument, which you parrot, that employers will treat the externship as educational if unpaid and not educational if paid, makes no sense. Those externship teachers who value mentoring and teaching students will treat the externship as educational whether they pay the students or not. Those externship teachers who have mercenary motivations will try to exploit students whether they pay the students or not. The important thing is careful scrutiny of each externship, whether paid or unpaid, to make sure the students are receiving a valuable educational experience. If they are not, the externship with that employer should be terminated. The issue of pay is really only relevant to those who want to steer students away from law firm externships and toward in-house clinics. Most (but not all) of those clinics do not practice in the areas that provide students with skills that are directly transferable to private practice. We are not protecting the educational experience by distorting students' choice and further devastating their financial future by making it more difficult to pay for law school. Everybody who knows the politics of law schools knows what the primary driver of opposition to this rule change is about, and it's not about the students.

Posted by: Rob Anderson | Jul 23, 2015 8:19:56 PM

Should students be paid for attending class and studying for a Contracts or Corporations course? An externship is a course for which credit is awarded. The primary goals of an externship are educational. A position at a law firm, for which a student is paid, is a job. It is doubtful that a firm paying for student work is likely to view the primary concern to be what the student is learning. Most of the students at my law school have jobs at law firms, agencies, courts, etc. Many hold those positions while they also take an externship, as well as other courses.

Posted by: Clinical Prof | Jul 23, 2015 2:12:17 PM

Agreed. ABA should hear from *ALL* stakeholders.

Posted by: JTM | Jul 22, 2015 8:29:15 AM