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3L: Externships

Skill Development in Diverse Practice Settings

Penn Law’s Externship offerings enable students to earn academic credit while working in a wide array of government agencies and non-profit, public interest settings outside of the law school. Externships are intended to offer students opportunities not only to contribute to the work of their placement site, but also to conduct an in-depth study in a substantive and/or practical area not offered in the curriculum and to supplement experiential studies in clinical courses.   In addition to completing all assignments generated by the placement site and connected to the practical needs of the organization, students are encouraged to fully observe the external practice setting, while becoming integrated into the placement site’s work and culture to the fullest extent possible. Additionally, externships offer students opportunities to expand their professional network in an area of interest, which may advantage them in their early or later careers.

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Gittis Externships

Gittis Externships are standing placement opportunities at approved government agencies and non-profit organizations in the Philadelphia region administered and supervised by the clinical faculty. In recent years, placement sites have included the U.S. Attorney’s Office (Civil Division), the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Defenders, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Community Legal Services, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Women’s Law Project. The Gittis Externship Program also includes a partnership with the Dechert law firm in which externs team with Dechert attorneys to provide pro bono representation in cases pending before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. All Gittis Externships are listed in the Law School’s course registration materials and students enroll through the Law School’s established lottery process.

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Ad Hoc Externships

The Ad Hoc Externship Program provides students with an opportunity to propose experiential study which meets educational goals tailored to their demonstrated interests. Students who have a demonstrated professional interest and commitment to a subject that they would like to study experientially, but which is not offered in the Penn Law curriculum through a course, seminar, clinic, or Gittis Externship, may propose an Ad Hoc Externship for approval by the faculty in accordance with published guidelines.  Ad Hoc Externship proposals are closely reviewed by a faculty committee, led by the chair of the faculty’s Educational Program Committee in consultation with the Director of Clinical Programs and Dean of Students, to assure that established criteria are met before approval may be granted.  Ad Hoc Externships are not limited to the Philadelphia region; many recently approved placement sites are located in Washington, D.C. or New York City.  Past ad hoc externships have included placements at the White House, U.S. Dept. of Justice, U.S. Dept. of State, National Labor Relations Board, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the New York Attorney General’s Office, the Office of General Counsel at the University of Pennsylvania, the New York City Law Department, U.S. Commerce Department, the New York Legal Aid Society, etc.  Any full-time or part-time member of the Penn Law faculty may serve as a faculty supervisor for an Ad Hoc Externship, provided that students must secure a formal supervision agreement on a prescribed form from any faculty member who agrees to act as supervisor.

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Critical Reflection

The type of work, character of supervision, frequency of feedback, and opportunities for both participation and observation within placement sites are inherently variable. Therefore the structure and integrity of all externship placements are supported by biweekly tutorial sessions with full-time Law School faculty. In advance of each tutorial meeting, students are required to write reflective journals where they are encouraged to identify and explore issues for discussion involving professional responsibility, legal institutions, lawyering competence and judgment, client relations, and other issues that arise in each setting. Faculty supervisors may also assign academic readings related to externship issues that arise during the course of the semester. Placement site supervisors assign and supervise students’ legal work and provide feedback on student performance.

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3L Considerations

Eligibilty and Preference

3L students are eligible to enroll in all externships and are given registration priority over 2Ls for Gittis Externships.

Complementary and Required Study

While it can be helpful for students to have exposure to certain substantive and practical topics before pursuing an externship, only one standing Externship placement site (Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office) requires completion of particular courses for enrollment (see Registration FAQ’s below). Nevertheless, students are encouraged to enroll in or design externships that align with a particular career aspiration or area of academic interest or focus. All students should consult relevant Areas of Focus throughout this Guide, as well as the Externship section on the Law School website and course descriptions, to develop ideas about courses that complement each externship offering. Prior experiential study in clinics, though not required for Externship enrollment, prepares students to capture the educational value of Externship placements.


Externships require a commitment of substantial time and energy. Externships are generally for one semester and are approved for 4 or 7 academic credits. Under very special circumstances, an Ad Hoc Externship may be approved for 12 credits. For each credit awarded by an externship, students should expect to devote 3 hours of time each week (e.g. in a 7 credit externship, expect to spend over 20 hours each week). Moreover, the timing of placement site opportunities to participate in meaningful and challenging work and observation can be unpredictable. Flexibility in your schedule is vital. Additionally, all externships require students to travel to (at their own expense) and be present at their placement sites to undertake their study, and to commit to their placement site from the first week of the semester up to and including the final day of the exam period. Therefore, 3L students should consider carefully how their enrollment in an externship will interact with their other courses and commitments.


The “best” time to embark on an externship will be different for every student.   All students are encouraged to enroll in an externship when they feel they will derive the greatest educational benefit, and will be most able to balance the demands of an externship with other commitments.
An earlier externship enables students to study a distinctive lawyering environment as early as possible and to learn a great deal about the knowledge and skills required of lawyers in those settings, the ethical quandaries encountered by that practice, the hallmarks of excellent lawyering, and the aspects of the specific practice that are personally appealing, challenging, satisfying and frustrating. This knowledge prepares students to make reasoned choices about summer work opportunities and career aspirations. Additionally, feedback from placement site supervisors may assist students in charting a sensible course of upper-level study by seeking out other clinics, externships, targeted skill development offerings, practice competitions and leadership roles in pro bono projects and student organizations that best showcase their lawyering strengths and challenge them to improve in areas of weakness.  

A later externship can provide students with a springboard into their professional career. Taking an externship later in law school allows you to benefit from having taken additional substantive, practical and professional courses that can be applied to externship work in an integrated way. Externship tutorial sessions also provide a space for students who may be on the brink of graduation to identify and develop confidence in the unique personal character, lawyering style and values that each student will bring to the profession when they enter the bar. For upper-level students who have already identified a practice area or setting into which they will matriculate after graduation, externships may provide an opportunity to jumpstart their practice and grow their professional network in that area.

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Registration FAQ’s

How do students enroll in an externship? Are there applications that are required?

Students enroll in Gittis Externships through the regular enrollment lottery during Advance Registration. It is recommended that 3L students preference the externships high during Advance Registration. Only the Federal Appellate Litigation Externship requires an application (e-mailed to all rising 3L students in May). Please consult enrollment procedures for externships for more instructions on registering for Externships during Advance Registration.

Ad Hoc Externships are not secured through the regular registration process and are only approved after compliance with the application process described here.

Are there any course pre-requisites or co-requisites students should be aware of when enrolling in an externship?

In most cases, there are no pre-requisites required to enroll in an externship. However, the  Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office externship requires that students have completed Evidence and have completed or are concurrently enrolled in Criminal Procedure (Note: Criminal Procedure: Prosecution and Adjudication or Constitutional Criminal Procedure satisfies this requirement).

Can students enroll in more than one externship during a semester?

No. In addition, students are not permitted to enroll in an externship and a clinic during the same semester. 

Is a student’s chance of enrolling in another externship, or in a clinic affected by having enrolled in a clinic or externship during a prior semester?

No. In fact, many students enroll in multiple clinics and externships before they graduate.

If at first you don’t succeed…What happens if a student doesn’t get into an externship? How do students remain on the waitlist?

Each Gittis Externship generates a waitlist of students who attempted but failed to secure the externship during Advance Registration. Students who wish to remain on the waitlist must confirm their place on the list in a book maintained in the Registrar’s Office before the end of the second day of classes. Confirmed waitlist students may receive an e-mail from the Registrar’s office inviting them to enroll in an externship during the first week of Add/Drop period. Students who fail to secure an externship can bid again during Advance Registration for the next semester.

Can enrollment in an externship satisfy the Law School’s Pro Bono Requirement?

Yes. Students may elect to receive one less credit for an externship in exchange for 35 hours of pro bono credit. Students should visit the Toll Public Interest Center Office for more details and to complete the necessary paperwork.

Does the law school arrange transportation to and from externship placement sites or reimburse students for costs incurred in connection with transportation or otherwise?

No travel assistance is provided for Gittis Externship and most ad hoc externships.  However,  the Law School has recently received funding from a donor that will be available to help subsidize a portion of the reasonable and necessary travel expenses for a limited number of students enrolled in domestic government externships that are located outside of Philadelphia.  Additional information will be forthcoming about possible travel assistance after final decisions on government Ad Hoc externship proposals are made.  Please contact Rachel Mayover ( with any questions.

How do students know which days of the week they will be working at the externship site?

Students work directly with their placement site supervisor to determine the days/times they will report each week.   All externship students are encouraged to maintain maximum flexibility in their schedule to be able to participate in the full range of placement site activities.

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Any Questions?

Students who have questions about Externships are encouraged to contact Rachel Mayover (, Gittis Center Administrative Director, who will assist in answering your questions or connecting you to faculty or upper-level students who can provide further information or guidance.