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W&L Law Launches Pilot Externship Program in Washington

This fall, a dozen Washington and Lee law students got the chance to see what it’s like to work and live full time as a lawyer in the nation’s capital.

The third-year students are participating in W&L’s pilot DC Externship program, a semester-long residency program. Students have placements at a variety of federal agencies and courts, as well as in general counsel’s offices at major corporations.

W&L Law Dean Nora Demleitner says the School created the program primarily to facilitate the objectives of students who wish to pursue a career in government.

“Our DC program allows us to leverage our innovative, bridge-to-the-profession, third-year program with federal government agencies, enabling our students to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in new settings and gain valuable government experience,” says Demleitner.

The extern placements this semester include the Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, the U.S. Department of Transportation General Counsel’s Office, the Department of Defense Office of the General Counsel, and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. In addition, one student is working for language learning software giant Rosetta Stone and another for the sports marketing agency Octagon.

While students have held externships in Washington 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 interns 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.”

Kristin Slawter, a 3L from Wayne, PA, is a judicial extern for Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Slawter works four full days each week at her clerkship and is in charge of several of her own cases, including monitoring the docket, communicating with counsel, and drafting all opinions for the cases.

“I learned early on that Judge Lamberth was not going to review my opinion drafts by re-researching the legal arguments,” says Slawter. “He trusts my legal analysis and my judgment. Having this responsibility was invigorating and motivating in a way I had not yet experienced in my early legal career.”

In addition to their externships, where students are onsite anywhere from 20-40 hours per week, the students in the DC program must also complete the required coursework for W&L’s innovative third-year curriculum. This includes taking a practice-based simulation class, known as a practicum, held in the DC offices of the law firms DLA Piper and BakerHostetler.

With an externship in the Division of Investment Management at the Securities and Exchange Commission and a practicum course on International Business Negotiations taught by attorneys from DLA Piper, 3L Chrishon McManus is using his time in DC to build on the knowledge he gained in his second year classes on corporate law and securities regulation.

“I hope to work as a transactional or regulatory lawyer in Washington or in my home state of North Carolina,” says McManus. “I chose to attend W&L Law in part because of the third-year program. The expansion of the program to DC has given me even more opportunities and experience than I anticipated.”

Fourteen students participated in the program this fall and another 24 will be selected for the program next year. At the end of the two-year pilot phase the faculty will assess the success of the DC program and consider potential expansion to other metro locations, such as New York or Charlotte.

“Taking our program and our students out of our campus setting provides the perfect transition from academia into high-level supervised practice,” says Demleitner.