Thursday, April 22, 2010
Georgetown University law students and faculty are discussing whether to expand the credit value of the school's externship program. Georgetown offers a maximum of 2 credits for externships and students are pushing for a 50% increase. The student proposal is here. According to the Georgetown SBA, Stanford allows 12 credits, Berkeley 10, and GW 8. There seems to be some trepidation among Georgetown faculty, at least according to this report.
Since start-up, I've watched the development of our Co-op program - a super-intensive externship. My conclusion thus far is that externships can deliver a great experience...but they require schools to invest a fair amount of money, planning, and human resources. It's not enough, for example, to design an excellent classroom component. You also must build and maintain close relationships with the sponsoring organizations and their staff. Externships don't work unless supervisors actively engage in one-on-one teaching - which often turns out to be a bigger hassle for these employees than having no extern at all. For that reason, a law school needs identify, train, and engage the people who will have day-to-day student contact. If you've got 60 students placed at 60 different sites each term, and an array of 150 externship sites rotating in and out of service, that's a ton of labor.
The growth of externships is good news. The challenge for a school which markets itself as having top-flight experiential education (like Georgetown) is to insure that the externships are as good as the in-house clinics. They're easy to do cheaply; they're difficult to do well. And of course, they have to be crafted to conform with Department of Labor regulations!