April 21, 2009
When Atlanta sports law attorney and Georgia State University College of Law alumnus Scott Barber recently returned to the law school to give a guest lecture in Adjunct Professor Mark Spix's Sports Law class, a student asked what law school experiences had helped him most in his chosen career. Surprisingly, Barber did not point to a sports law class, as might be expected.
Interestingly, Barber said that his externship in the Fulton County Landlord-Tenant Mediation Program, where he mediated small claims cases, was definitely one of the most helpful. Specifically, Barber felt that this experience helped him to develop skills in dealing with all kinds of issues, problems, people and circumstances. His externship also taught him "perseverance and an ability to negotiate interests."
"Many graduates identify their externship as the highlight of their legal experience," says Professor Wendy Hensel, who along with Professor Andi Curcio, oversees the externship program. "It provides a huge confidence booster, allows students to focus on the type of law they would like to do, and is also a risk-free way to try out different fields of law."
For second-year law student Nichole Devries, her externship at the American Civil Liberties Union has confirmed her interest in working in immigration law. Likewise, second-year law student Emily Liss' experience with the Counsel of the Speaker in analyzing, summarizing and then tracking House bills as they move through the legislative process, has reaffirmed her interest in politics.
Jennifer Smith, a third-year law student, describes her externship at Georgia Justice Project as "an eye-opener" that has likely helped her to better define her career path. "I had always been interested in non-profit and public interest work, but had not thought about criminal defense," Smith says. "Now I am strongly considering it."
Capitalizing on the school's location in the heart of Atlanta, the program is able to offer students experience in almost any area of expertise, including banking and securities law, criminal law, employment law, civil rights law, bankruptcy, and corporate law. Additionally, the Externship Program includes a number of judicial clerkship placements with state and federal judges throughout the Atlanta area.
Students might wonder how an externship would be different from a summer clerkship. "The program's focus is on education. Students are not there just to create a work product, but are also there to be mentored," Hensel explains. Supervisors provide students with detailed feedback at the midpoint of the semester and perform an evaluation at the end of the semester. Additionally, students compose papers that reflect on their learning experiences.
Most importantly, the program offers students with the opportunity to use their classroom skills of "thinking like a lawyer" in dealing with real-life legal issues. The Georgia State Externship Program's mission is to make every student extern better prepared to meet the professional, emotional and ethical demands of the legal profession when he or she graduates.
One of the main criticisms that many people hold of the current legal education system, such as the opinions set forth in the Carnegie Report "Educating Lawyers: Preparing Students for the Profession of Law," is that legal education is too theoretical and not experiential enough. "The dramatic results of the first year of law school's emphasis on well-honed legal analysis," the report states, "should be matched by similarly strong skills in serving clients and a solid ethical grounding."
Georgia State's Externship Program provides students with the experiential component to their education. Taylor Harper, a second-year law student, took an externship at the Gwinnett County Solicitor's office in hopes of advancing his oral advocacy skills, sharpening his ability to think on his feet, and gaining a better understanding of Georgia's criminal justice system. Through his experience so far this semester, Harper says, "My confidence and comfort in the courtroom has increased, and my knowledge of Georgia criminal procedure has grown greatly."
The skills Jennifer Smith has gained in her externship at Georgia Justice Project has improved her research and writing skills in writing and contributing to motions.
"More importantly," she says, "interviewing people and working with clients has allowed me to work on relationship dynamics. That simply cannot be replicated in the classroom."
By Crystal Covington Genteman