There comes a point in many law students’ careers where he or she chooses to pursue an internship or externship in the field of law he or she is most interested in. What is the difference between an internship and an externship, and how do you decide if you should pursue either? Hopefully, the following information will be helpful.
What is the difference between an internship and an externship?
While this line isn’t always drawn in solid ink, the general difference between an internship and an externship is that an internship is held for a decent length of time (say a summer or a semester), while an externship is often shorter. In addition, externships are more of job shadowing exercises, and while some give school credit, many don’t. Internships can either be paid or held for school credit.
What are the benefits of pursuing either an internship or an externship?
The main benefit of an internship is the structure. In most cases, internships are long running and are available each summer, at least (sometimes during the academic year as well). Since internships follow a specific structure, they are a kind of cross between an externship and a class. Another benefit for students? They are often funded. Most law schools have resources to help students find internships, and those resources should be utilized—that’s what they’re there for!
An externship, since it does not benefit from the same type of structure as an internship, often offers a bit more freedom to both the student and the agency where the student is being placed. While some externships offer credit to the students, most are strictly volunteer work. Externships should really be thought of more as job shadowing experiences—they are designed to show students (especially law students) what it’s like out in the real world. Because of this, there is also more opportunity for students to find their own externships during the summer months or during the school year. However, like with internships, most law schools have resources to help find externships and some even host externship programs in coordination with coursework and school credit.
How does the application process work?
Well, it depends on the agency that you want to work with. Sometimes, it’s as easy as sending a resume and a cover letter. However, in some cases, there are strict guidelines for the internship or externship (this is especially true if there is a stipend involved). For example, for a legal internship at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the student must send a resume, cover letter, transcripts, writing sample, and references. This is in stark contrast to externships at the Center for Disease Control, where only a resume and cover letter are required for the application. In both cases, it is important to have an up-to-date resume and a stellar cover letter, because such internships and externships are competitive. After going through the first phase of the application process, there is generally an interview phase that occurs in order to narrow down to the best candidates for the position.
There are several distinct benefits to pursuing an internship or externship while you are in law school, but gaining valuable real world experience is at the top of the list. Whether you want to be part of the legal counsel of a government agency or are hoping to work for a BigLaw intellectual property firm, an internship or externship is a good way to spend the summers between years in law school. You’ll have a better idea of what you truly want to do with your life in the end, which is the whole point of pursuing an advanced degree, right? If you’re looking to apply to an internship or externship for next summer, it doesn’t hurt to start searching early—some of the application deadlines are far in advance of the dates you’ll be working. Good luck!
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