Externship FAQ

Externship FAQ

Externships are a form of “experiential learning,” in which students tackle the legal problems of real clients while gaining theoretical knowledge of the underpinnings of their work and learning about practice settings and skills through a combination of academic and hands-on work. Experiential classes also teach students about what interests them—issue, type of practice, work setting, etc.—by “trying it on.” Many employers (public interest, government, and private sector) value experiential learning because it provides reflective real-world experience under the guidance of a faculty member.

At Columbia, an externship is a two-part class that focuses on a specific area of law or a specific legal institution: a substantive seminar that meets (usually) for two hours each week; and a field experience at a public interest organization or government office, which is closely related to the seminar, for 10 to 15 hours per week. Externs’ assignments usually are similar to those given to summer associates. The seminars are taught by adjunct professors who are leading practicing attorneys or judges, and the field placements are usually at their workplace, where externs are supervised by the adjuncts and/or their colleagues.

At Columbia, clinics are taught by full-time faculty members who both teach the seminar and supervise the practice component. Clinic students generally have more responsibility for their clients and their matters while the clinical professors provide oversight and advice. Typically, clinics focus more on the students’ development as a lawyer. They also provide less contact with practitioners in the field. Finally, clinics require more time and provide more credits (except for the Externship on the Federal Government in Washington, D.C. and the Pro Bono Scholars program)

Most semester-long externships provide 4 or 5 credits—2 academic credits for the seminar (which may be graded or ungraded) and 2 or 3 fieldwork credits for the field component. The Externship on the Federal Government in Washington, D.C. provides 13 credits—5 graded academic credits and 8 ungraded fieldwork credits and Pro Bono Scholars provides 12 credits—4 graded academic credits and 8 ungraded fieldwork credits. There is some variation—read the course descriptions for the externships that interest you.

Students may take multiple externships in their upper years at the law school but are limited to one externship per semester. In rare circumstances, students may take two externships, but only if they obtain written permission from professors of both externships. If you are considering petitioning to take two externships in a single semester, you should discuss this with both sets of externship professors upon applying and must obtain written permission from both sets of professors prior to accepting both offers.

Students are strongly discouraged from taking an externship and a clinic in the same semester and some professors prohibit it. In rare circumstances, it is possible to do both but this requires written permission from both the externship professor and the clinical professor.

For J.D. students, no more than 30 of the 83 points of law school credit required for graduation may represent either externship, clinical, or other courses related to legal training. All credits earned from taking an externship will count against this cap. In addition, at least 64 of the 83 credits must be for regularly scheduled class sessions. The fieldwork credits for the field placement will count against the 19 credit cap. Students who have taken clinics or other externships or who have received credit for supervised research, law review, moot court, or other nonresidential classroom activities (or plan to do so following an externship) should make sure that they will have the necessary credits to graduate. It is strongly suggested that, before applying for an externship, students consult Rule 1.1.3 of the Columbia Law School Rules for the JD Degree and meet with an academic adviser in the Dean of Students Office.

All credits earned through externships, including both the fieldwork and the seminar portions, will count toward the 24 credits LL.M. students need to graduate and toward the 24 qualifying credits for the New York State Bar Exam. 


Yes. Enrollment for most experiential learning offerings takes place through a combined application process each spring. This allows students to apply a year in advance for multiple offerings to maximize their learning opportunities with a special limited application cycle each summer for LL.M. and transfer students.  Students will be able to apply to up to six courses each spring including clinics, externships and/or policy labs/practicums.  They will be asked to rank their course choices and, also, indicate which term, fall or spring, they would prefer to take the course.  

Students are not allowed to take a clinic and an externship at the same time. In some narrow instances students can take two courses in the same semester bearing experiential credit. Please speak with the Director of Externships about your particular situation before applying.  

To ensure the fullest access to offerings, students generally may not take more than one clinic during their time at CLS. Students may take multiple externships, policy labs or a clinic across different semesters.  

No. Some externships are taught both semesters but others are taught only in the spring or fall. A few externships are yearlong and start in the fall semester. 

The Law School offers opportunities for students to earn course credit for doing fieldwork under the supervision of a faculty member, either independently or in conjunction with a non-externship seminar. Please refer to the Supervised Experiential Study (J.D. or LL.M.) opportunities in the Curriculum Guide, as well as the Advocacy Theory and Practice course taught by M. Kurtz in the Fall term. Students enroll in these courses as part of the regular registration cycle—please refer any questions to the Registrar.

1. Externships offer the opportunity to learn through experience.

2. Externships are offered in many different areas of law and a wide variety of practice settings.

3. Students work on real cases under the supervision of experienced lawyers and the guidance of law school faculty.

4. Students have an opportunity to build professional relationships with practicing lawyers.

5. The real-world environment offers students unique opportunities to observe and experience legal culture and better understand professional norms.

6. Externship students observe and experience ethical issues in real time on real cases and can learn about these issues from both their supervisor and their professor.

7. Students are able to observe and experience work-life balance issues in the externship and explore the topics in class with the professor.

8. Externship students benefit from instruction and feedback from both their externship supervisor and the faculty member teaching the course.

9. Externship students examine supervision and feedback through a critical lens and learn how to solicit and respond to feedback.

10. The multi-layered supervision and feedback that students receive from supervisors and faculty contribute to students’ professional identity formation and growth.

Unanswered Questions?

Liliana Vaamonde