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Gittis Center for Clinical Legal Studies’ Externship Program introduces students to specialized government and nonprofit work

September 09, 2020

The Gittis Center for Clinical Legal Studies offers more than 15 externships in addition to the nine clinical offerings, and students may also design their own externships.

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School students seeking practical legal experience have a plethora of choices, including nine in-house clinics as well as the Gittis Center for Clinical Legal Studies’ Externship Program, which consists of more than 15 standing Gittis Externships. Students may also create their own ad hoc externships with government or nonprofit organizations of their choosing.

During their externships, students meet regularly with Law School faculty supervisors to discuss their progress and reflect upon larger practical, systemic, sociological, and ethical or philosophical issues arising from work at their placement sites.

“Experiential education is about putting students in real-life situations where they can observe and participate firsthand in the practice of law,” said Practice Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Clinical Education Praveen Kosuri. “The Externship Program gives students the opportunity to be exposed to specialized areas of legal practice and work with practicing attorneys in those areas to learn the nuances of different types of law through a variety of organizations.”

Lillian Li L’21, for example, recently completed an ad hoc externship with the Wistar Institute, a leading biomedical research center, where she was able to explore her passions: the intersections between healthcare, technology, and the law. Wistar works towards solutions to global health challenges such as the COVID-19 crisis.

“The Wistar Institute makes exciting scientific discoveries in areas including cancer and infectious diseases,” she said.

Li said her externship gave her “valuable insight into the work of general counsels that I wouldn’t have acquired through my doctrinal courses. At Wistar, the legal and technology transactions groups work closely together, so I had the opportunity to see decision-making processes that blend business and legal concerns.”

Through research assignments, Li was able to get a big-picture sense of the role entities like Wistar play in local economies.

“I looked at how innovation is fostered by different state policies or programs,” she said, “and learned about technology-driven economic development.”

At the same time, Li became familiar with the details of a transactional attorney’s day-to-day practice.

“Although this may seem small,” she said, “I really appreciated the exposure to commonly negotiated issues when editing standard contracts and reviewing licensing agreements.”

Li said that the externship influenced her decision to join a technology transactions practice after law school.

“I enjoyed seeing how collaboration drives basic research,” she said, “along with some of the interestingly complicated considerations associated with various agreements.”

Bridget Lavender L’21, who aspires to a career in public interest focused on reproductive rights and justice, also found externship opportunities relevant to her long-term goals. As a 2L, she completed Gittis Externships with the Women’s Law Project and the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

“Through the Women’s Law Project,” Lavender said, “I researched and prepared memoranda on sexual violence and on pregnant women’s access to public benefits in Pennsylvania. At the ACLU, I was able to explore issues related to the intersection of criminal justice and economic justice, which are both critical when implementing a reproductive justice framework. I brought the wealth of knowledge I acquired from both these externships to my summer experience at The Center for Reproductive Rights, and I know I will continue to draw upon the work I did for years to come.”

Lavender found the opportunity to do legal research and writing in “an actual legal practice setting” particularly useful. “I formed mentorship relationships with the attorneys in the office — relationships I have continued to benefit from even long after the externship,” she said. “The ability to get feedback from attorneys doing what I one day hope to do was incredibly valuable.”

She also appreciated seeing what attorneys’ lives were like at different public-interest employers. “Through my externships,” Lavender said, “I was able to understand how attorneys organized their daily schedules — including their work-life balance — and how the organizations decided which cases to take or which issues to focus on and when.”

Kosuri said the Law School’s Externship Program “is a great complement to the Gittis Legal Clinics because it allows students to experience the practice of law in real-life settings and preview different careers while building generally-applicable legal skills. Observing how law operates in various systems gives students an edge over other new attorneys who have only read about the same material when they begin to practice. Externships are an excellent way for law students to bridge the gap from school to practice.”

Read more about Penn Law’s clinical and externship opportunities.