Elizabeth Ford

Document Type



Externships offer a tantalizing experiential option for law schools. Students are hungry for the real-world experience, the networking potential, and the chance to take the skills they have learned in the classroom to the next level. Administrators love externships because of their high enrollment, low cost nature: externships leverage small amounts of resources from hundreds of outside organizations. Faculty appreciate these programs because they provide students with context and skills, inspire them in the doctrinal classroom, and require little diversion of resources from the more traditional faculty ranks. However, the danger of grasping too tightly to externships as the experiential solution is the temptation to avoid thinking carefully about connecting the external experience to the doctrinal and skills training that law schools are charged to deliver. It is possible to leverage students’ real world excitement into deeper reflection and enhanced skills, but it requires us to confront the black hole of most externship programs: the seminar. While it is tempting, we are not free to abandon the externship seminar altogether; indeed I will argue that we have heightened obligations under the American Bar Association’s Standards to be more attentive to rigor and assessment in the externship context. Yet, well-established models from either doctrinal or clinical courses are poor fits for externship seminars, in which enrolled students are working at many different sites and constrained by confidentiality. So, we need a unique pedagogy of externship; that is what this article proposes. The Legal Skills Learning Taxonomy – based on Bloom’s taxonomy in the psychomotor domain – describes the competencies that mark a student’s legal skills development. Students engaged in different substantive work can use this tool to assess their initial proficiency, set meaningful and aggressive goals, reflect on their performance feedback, target their learning in the seminar and develop a depiction of their own progress by the end of the semester.