UCI Law’s Restrictive Externship Policy

Myles Couch
J.D. Candidate 2013, UCI Law

Last summer I had the opportunity to discuss the law school experience with lawyers in various stages of their careers. Most expressed some version of the complaint that their legal education did not prepare them for actual legal work. From the beginning, UCI Law has promised an exceptional commitment to “experiential learning” that will leave Anteaters better prepared for practical legal work than graduates of other law schools will. This dedication to real-world learning significantly influenced my decision to attend UCI Law. Painfully unrealistic Lawyering Skills hypotheticals aside (what college would not suspend a teacher after he admitted to groping a student?), I have been impressed with our school’s efforts. Faculty and administration are working hard to develop exceptional pro bono and clinical programs that promise to compete with or even outshine the programs of other law schools. However, UCI Law’s policy regarding academic year externships unreasonably limits opportunities for hands-on learning.

During the academic year, UCI Law permits full-time externships only in extremely limited circumstances. For a full-time externship to be allowed, there must be no comparable part-time externship available near the law school. Examples of this might be the rare externship with the UCDC program or a position at the International Court of Justice. The policy harms students who learn better outside of the classroom and puts UCI Law at a competitive disadvantage with other public interest-focused law schools, many of whose academic year externship policies are more flexible.

UCI Law’s academic year extern-ship policy is more restrictive than the majority of National Jurist’s 2011 top twenty public interest schools. Top-ranked public interest schools including Berkeley, Hastings, UCLA, Lewis & Clark, Loyola, Northeastern, University of Maryland, and Stanford offer between ten and fourteen externship credits during the academic term. UC Hastings, for example, places 120 students per year in full-time judicial externships, and UCLA allows students to earn 13 credits working full-time at one of 31 approved employers. Chapman Law allows full-time judicial externships or two part-time non-judicial externships, either of which can satisfy the Lawyering Skills requirement.

I can imagine several reasons for discouraging full-time academic year externships. Pro bono, externships, and clinics all threaten to distract students from learning basic subject matter tested on the bar, and bar results are a factor in the law school ranking system. Some externships are more worthwhile than others and some require closer supervision; creating an approved list of full-time externships and supervising student experience as per ABA requirements would be a significant bur-den on faculty and administration alike. In fact, the majority of students probably have no interest in full-time externships. They would rather take advantage of UCI Law’s exceptional faculty and take bar courses instead of jumping into the unpredictable world of legal employment. And perhaps some faculty are even uncomfortable with the idea that students might choose real-world work experience over the lectures and final exams that justify their paychecks.
Unfortunately, UCI Law’s restric-tive approach to externships deprives students of the choice to include additional real-world experience in their education, especially during the second year. If students are mature enough to choose a class list, then they should be trusted to choose from a list of approved full-time academic year externships, such as those offered by UCLA, Loyola, and UC Berkeley, or at least they should be trusted to choose a full-time judicial externship, such as those offered by UC Hastings and UC Davis. As Dean Chemerinsky frequently reminds us, there will be time to study for the bar after graduation. Students should be permitted to take a term off and see if a given specialty is for them. Faculty should remember that more externships mean fewer finals to grade, and therefore more time to impress Brian Leiter with the extent of their scholarly impact. A policy that prohibits most full-time legal work during the school year seems to be based on the assumption that rote classroom learning is the most valuable way to learn lawyering. This one-size- fits-all approach does not support UCI Law’s educational goals and should be re-examined.