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U.S. Government Shutdown Impacts W&L Law DC Externs

When Washington and Lee School of Law created a Washington, D.C.-based semester option for its innovative third-year curriculum, one of the goals was to allow students to get a taste of what working as a government lawyer is like.

Now, thanks to the government shutdown, some of those Washington-based W&L law students are getting some hard lessons about what it means to work for a government seemingly paralyzed by a partisan budget fight.

So far, three of the Law School’s 12 government externs in Washington have been told not to report to work. That number could grow the longer the shutdown lasts according to externship program director Tammi Hellwig. However, as long as the shutdown is short-lived, the academic credits students are receiving should not be affected.

“Our DC students have enough site hours to sustain some time away from work,” says Hellwig. “But starting this week, we may have to give them alternate assignments and credit them accordingly so that the shutdown doesn’t impact the credits they need to graduate.”

Kyle Hoffmann is one of the affected students. He is working at a government agency in the district this semester. He says he and others in his office were made aware by supervisors that the budget negotiations could send him home for a time.

“It is a shame it happened while I was supposed to be working in a job that is perfect for what I want to do, but there’s some novelty to being affected by a government shutdown, as infrequent as it is,” says Hoffmann.

Related: “Government Shutdown Puts Law Student Externs on the Street” (National Law Journal)

Students are externing at agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, U.S. Department of Transportation General Counsel’s Office, Department of Defense Office of the General Counsel and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Most of the W&L students externing in DC report that they are not affected in the short-term, but are unclear about the impact on them if the shutdown becomes protracted.

The Washington, D.C., option, launched this year as a pilot program, exports a full complement of W&L’s practice-based, third-year curriculum to the nation’s capital. In addition to their externships, students take practice-based simulations know as practicum courses, participate in a legal profession course, and complete law-related service, just like the students back in Lexington. The law firms DLA Piper and BakerHostetler offered space in their D.C. offices for classes.

W&L created the program to facilitate the objectives of students who wish to pursue a career in government. While students have held externships in the district in past years, the School decided that a residence program would give students a complete and consistent experience working in government. Charles Martel, a 1985 graduate of the W&L School of Law who worked in employment law and litigation before turning to a career in public service in and around the district, oversees the externs in Washington.

“By being based in Washington, the students are able to put in more hours at work and build their network of connections with other lawyers,” says Martel. “They are able to appreciate fully what it means to be a lawyer working in the district.”

As for the shutdown, Martel thinks it, too, is serving an educational purpose. “All the students are learning an important professional lesson. You have to be adaptable to changing conditions.”

Tiffany Eisenbise, another W&L 3L furloughed because of the shutdown, is eager to see the shutdown end, but she is learning to live with it for the time being.

“Most of the people I have spoken too are taking the shutdown in stride,” she says. “While it is not ideal for anyone, most people realize that there is not much they can do about it except try and have a positive attitude.”