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Editorial Advisory Board: Legal internships – Experience worth giving and getting

The two law schools in Maryland offer different opportunities for legal internships. At the University of Baltimore School of Law, there are internship/externship opportunities for credit or for no credit, even with private law firms. At the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, the rules limit internships/externships to judicial internships or to other placements, such as governmental and not-for-profit organizations.

We believe that both of the law schools should expand internship opportunities for students and include internships with private law firms. Why? With the recession, private practice summer associate opportunities have dwindled or dried up. Yet, the experience of working in a law firm can be an invaluable one. Providing internship opportunities in law firms to law students opens up that learning opportunity. Students get to meet private practice lawyers and others who can be influential in career development.

In a tight job market, having a “real world” private practice experience may be the factor that gets a student a job.

Yet, the “real world” experience needs to be meaningful. In some internships, the intern writes legal memos, talks with lawyers about issues, observes trials and depositions and learns something. In others, the intern is turned into Betty the Bagel Girl or Karl the Coffee Guy. Maybe they get to make copies on occasion, but they don’t get much experience.

We urge those in the Maryland legal community who are taking on interns or planning to do so to conduct a critical self-assessment of the type of internship experience you offer. Is it a good one?

In a good internship, the lawyers supervising the intern act as teachers, not just bosses. A good internship is experiential. The student observes depositions, trials and board meetings and learns. The student does research, writes memos, prepares trial notebooks and learns.

If our law schools are concerned that particular internships are not providing a meaningful learning experience, they have a source of immediate feedback. Just ask the students who have internships. They can tell you if the internship experience was good or bad and why. Placements that don’t provide good internship experiences can be struck from the placement list.

Our Maryland law schools have in place the building blocks for excellent private practice internship programs. Those building blocks include a classroom experience or some type of supervision attached to the internship. At the University of Baltimore, a law firm that plans to take on an extern must promise to provide substantial law-related work and supervision by an experienced attorney. The supervising attorney must work with the student to develop a work plan and a schedule, identify learning goals, meet weekly with the student and provide evaluation and feedback on the student’s work.

Law firms and other types of internship placements need to make that kind of commitment and put the structures in place to provide a good internship.

With a critical eye toward excellence, the law schools and the Maryland legal community together can build meaningful internship programs to include opportunities at law firms, judge’s chambers, government agencies and not-for-profits. Those opportunities expand a law student’s horizons and open up the doors of the legal community — two good things on the path to a real world legal job.

Editorial Advisory Board members William Reynolds and H. Mark Stitchel did not participate in the adoption of this piece.

Editorial Advisory BoardJames B. Astrachan, ChairLaurel AlbinJohn Bainbridge

Neil Duke

Eric Easton

Arthur F. Fergenson

Elizabeth Kameen

Wesley D. Blakeslee

C. William Michaels

William Reynolds

Frederic Smalkin

Norman Smith

H. Mark Stichel

Christopher West