Externship Programs

SMU’s Externship Programs provide students with the opportunity to learn by doing. Students work in carefully selected legal settings under the supervision of a mentor-attorney and a member of the law faculty.

During their externship, student externs observe and participate in lawyering tasks, gaining both valuable skills and a sense of the kind of lawyer they wish to become. In addition, externships foster sensitivity to the social, political and professional implications of the legal process.

Externship Programs

Externships at SMU include both work in a legal setting and an associated class designed to help the extern get the most out of the experience. There are four classes, each of which is associated with a cluster of externships:

Corporate Counsel Externship

Fall only; 4 credits for field placement + class

The Corporate Counsel Externship Program is a four-hour academic program that combines a two-hour corporate counsel course with externships in corporate legal departments. Third-year law students work 10 hours per week in DFW corporate legal departments in exchange for two hours of academic credit. In class, students explore substantive areas of the law as well as practical skills like working with outside counsel. Many of our students want to work in-house at some point in their careers and this academic program gives them a glimpse of what that is like. It also allows them to gain practical legal experience and learn important soft skills.

This fall 85 students are placed with 85 different DFW companies, matched as closely as possible based on their practice area or industry interests. For example, a Russian JD student was placed with Mary Kay where she was able to use her language and legal skills on a transaction for the company in Russia. Students interested in sports law have been placed with the Cowboys, Mavericks, Stars and Texas Rangers. 

Externships run September through November. Each participating company designates a lawyer in their department to act as the student’s field supervisor, and Dean Yeager serves as the faculty supervisor. Students apply to participate in the program in March of their 2L year. For information, email Steve Yeager.

Deason Center Rural Externship Program

Summer only; 3-4 credits for field placement + class

The Deason Center’s Rural Externship Program offers students a nine-week summer criminal law externship in small and rural communities in Texas. Working in rural prosecution and public defense offices, externs will hone their legal skills, develop valuable mentorship relationships, and gain first-hand experience in the challenges and rewards of working in a rural community.

At each site, a supervising attorney will work closely with the Deason Center to provide a transformative externship experience. Externs will also participate in a weekly externship seminar.

The Deason Center Rural Externship Program is open to all students who have completed their first year of law school at an ABA-accredited law school. Preference will be given to rising 3Ls.

Federal Judicial Externship

Fall and spring; 3 credits for field placement + class

  • Students participating in this externship are individually selected by federal judges for their chambers, to work directly with the judge and his/her law clerks on pending matters. A 5th Circuit Appellate Judge, and 19 additional U.S. District Court, Magistrate and Bankruptcy Judges in Dallas, Plano, Fort Worth and Sherman participate. Externs in this program also take a related class that reflects on the role of federal judges and courts, and enhances the students’ research and writing skills.

Government & Public Interest Externship

Fall, spring, summer; 3-4 credits for field placement + class

  • Students apply directly to the field placements to be selected for the opportunity to participate in these government and public interest placements. In addition, students must enroll in a weekly class that explores the role of the lawyer in public service, helps students achieve their learning goals, and encourages reflection on the externship experience. Students should watch for announcements regarding opportunities to apply for many of these externships through the Office of Career Services.

Students must register for the classroom component of the externship in order to receive credit for the Corporate Counsel Externship or Federal Judicial Externship. Beginning in the fall of 2017, students must register for the Government & Public Interest Externship class in order to receive credit for the first externship they do that falls within that program.

Field Placements within the Government & Public Interest Externship Program: For information about pre-approved placements and how to apply for them or how to create a new field placement that qualifies for academic credit within the Government & Public Interest Externship, email Laura Burstein.

All credit for externships is governed by these rules. Click here for Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About our externship programs.

Mid-Size and Small Firm Externship Program

Spring only; 3 credits for field placement + class

The Mid-Size and Small Firm Externship Program combines a weekly classroom component with hands-on experience in a mid-size or small law firm. The goal of the course is to provide students with direct experience in a law practice setting that will expand upon substantive coursework, including by integrating doctrine, legal theory, skills, and ethics, and to provide multiple opportunities for performance, self-evaluation, professional skills development, and exposure to relevant substantive and procedural laws.

By the end of the course, by working on real-world legal projects and by observing lawyers dealing with legal issues in context, students will gain a better understanding of the practice of law. The externship placement should also provide an opportunity to develop professional skills, including legal analysis and reasoning, drafting, problem solving, communication, teamwork, negotiation, time management, and fact finding. Seasoned practitioners will provide training in the exercise of these skills, supervise progress, and critique the student’s development. Additionally, the course will allow students to develop habits of reflective learning and self-awareness through written and oral reflection and analysis.

For more information about the program, please email Smitha Mathews at mathews@smu.edu.