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Legal community helps build future lawyers through externships

This article, written by Lauren Donald, assistant dean for experiential learning at TU, was first published in the Tulsa Business & Legal News.

The externship program at The University of Tulsa College of Law is one of the most robust programs of its kind, offering students an effective and comprehensive bridge to go from law student to lawyer.

TU Law’s proximity to the thriving, urban setting of the city and its engaged legal community ensure that externs have opportunities in a variety of exciting and relevant placements. In addition to local resources, students also take advantage of externships across the U.S. and abroad in government agencies, public interest organizations, courts, law firms and corporations.

Through externships, students build confidence in their ability to practice, feel the pleasure and challenge of work that matters, and find a path from lawyering experiences to a rewarding career.

Said Keaton Taylor, a second-year law student and extern with the Tulsa County Public Defender: “During (the law student-to-lawyer) transition, new skills become necessary for success; skills that can only be learned by doing. Externships are crucial to future lawyers. The externship program gives me the opportunity while still in school to begin navigating the new terrain of an attorney.”

Supervisors also find reward in helping lay a foundation for a student’s career. April Merrill, Legal Aid attorney for Medical-Legal Partnerships, says that through her practice students are exposed to real-world issues and sometimes of the darker side of life.

“This is often the first real-life experience the student has interacting with actual clients who are entrusting their problems to us,” she said.

Through these experiences, she hopes to instill in students a desire to serve low-income persons as these future lawyers move on in their careers.

Merrill has invested time as a supervisor in building the student experience.

“I strive to take the students from the legal theoretical framework to the practical, everyday practice of law,” she said. “As the students are allowed more client interaction and responsibility for drafting and research, I can see their confidence grow.

“Those ah-ha moments, as Oprah calls them, are the most rewarding. As a supervisor teaching a concept and to see it suddenly click, it’s really meaningful.”

Under the direction of engaged supervisors such as Merrill, students begin to identify their path and develop marketable skills.

“Law school is like an oyster producing pearls,” Taylor said. “For a pearl to hold value, it must be polished. Experiential learning increases my value as a pearl. I aspire to be the shiniest pearl on the market so I need to polish my skills as soon as possible. The externship program at TU allows me to do that.”