Step inside Marcia Levy’s office in Jerome Greene Hall and you immediately see mementos of a distinguished and eventful career. A shelf of Russian-language books sits near works of art from the Mideast, along with a framed copy of the 2015 New York Law Journal article honoring her as one of the “Lawyers Who Lead by Example” in the public service field.
This fall, Levy was named the Law School’s first director of externships and field-based learning, a new position created by Dean Gillian Lester to strengthen the Law School’s experiential education. Levy said her mandate is to expand offerings and help make the field-based curriculum more innovative. “I’m excited about this opportunity,” she said. “Columbia already has a wonderful base of externships. This is a chance to grow that.”
An active member of the bar, Levy is well suited to the challenge, thanks to a diverse background that includes litigation, public interest lawyering, career advising and teaching. “You’ve heard that song, ‘I looked at love from both sides now?’ Well, I’ve looked at the law from all sides,” she quips. Most recently, she was the executive director of the Pro Bono Partnership, a community-based organization that provides free business and transactional legal services to nonprofits throughout the New York metropolitan area.
She was previously the associate dean for career services and professor of professional development at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, where she created several successful jobs outreach programs and developed workshops to help students navigate the job market. She also was a special counsel for pro bono and director of professional development at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP.
After graduating with a J.D. from Lewis & Clark’s Northwestern School of Law, Levy worked at the Legal Aid Society, first as a staff attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project, then as an assistant federal defender in the Eastern District of New York. She served more than a dozen years as a clinical law professor at several law schools and was the first director of the Eric Neisser Public Interest Program at Rutgers Law. Passionate about teaching, she has continued to teach in trial advocacy training programs and was given the Robert Oliphant Service to National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) Award.
At Columbia, an externship is a two-part, for-credit class that focuses on a specific area of law or a legal institution, with a seminar and hands-on experience in the field. Students work inside an organization, under the supervision of practitioners. Last spring, for instance, students enrolled in the Government Anti-Corruption externship worked 15 hours a week in public integrity units at various prosecutors’ offices and oversight and regulatory groups, such as the New York City Business Integrity Commission. Every Monday, the students met for a two-hour seminar, led by Jennifer Rodgers, executive director of Columbia Law’s Center for the Advance of Public Integrity, and Rachel Salem Pauley, director of government programs at Social Justice Initiatives.
This spring, Columbia Law’s externship program offers placements at several public interest organizations and government offices and in federal judges’ chambers, such as the Bronx Defenders, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the Legal Aid Society and the United Nations.
Levy said she has been meeting with students, sitting in on the externship seminars and examining the clinical offerings to “look at what the gaps might be” and how to fill them. She is considering not only expanding the number of externships but also the kinds of placements, such as developing externships abroad and at nonprofits that serve entrepreneurs, such as Pro Bono Partnership. “My goal is to have a strong program, where the experience is well-supervised, students have an opportunity to develop skills, and gain feedback and reflection about being a lawyer,” she said. She will also counsel students on externship opportunities, and provide support for externship instructors.
As part of the Law School’s emphasis on experiential learning, Dean Lester has created another new leadership position. In January, Brett Dignam will become the Law School’s first vice dean for experiential education, overseeing clinics, simulations and externships. Levy, who will report to Dignam, said she looks forward to collaborating to create more dynamic opportunities—and work with students. “First and foremost, I’ve always been a teacher and mentor,” she said. “This position at Columbia enables me to come back to these roots.”
Published November 20, 2017