Law School Externships and Online Learning

While many universities have started to offer online-only or hybrid (much online; some on-site) degree programs, law schools have been slower.  Some of this is chicken-and-egg – the American Bar Association has not offered accreditation to any online-only programs and has seemed reluctant to do so.  In late 2013, it did agree to a 2015 pilot program with the ABA-accredited William Mitchell College of Law, to offer a hybrid program combining online and on-site education.

The National Law Journal reported that the ABA last week rejected a call to ease its ban on paid externships for law students – that is, what you know as “paid internships” in which the student receives both pay-for-work and academic credit. Law students who might go to Washington or New York for the summer, or who want to work in their field during the fall or spring semester, will be affected.  Critics charge that this most affects students who can not spend a summer working “for free” on Capitol Hill or elsewhere, or who must work during the school year and can not earn academic credit for that work, as their unpaid classmates can.

NLJ reported that removing the ban had been supported by the ABA’s Law Student Division but opposed by the Society of American Law Teachers and the Clinical Legal Education Association.

As law schools move toward online learning, this may affect many more students.  The importance of externships – both for education and for resume-building – could be especially critical for online-learning/distance-education students.  The ABA ban retains an important hurdle for future law students who will seek to combine valuable legal training and experience during the day while studying online at night.


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