SMU program embeds law students with DFW companies’ in-house legal teams
SMU Law School program embeds students with DFW companies’ in-house legal teams.
By Bill Hethcock
My cover story and a series of Q&As in this week’s Dallas Business Journal explore trends, challenges and opportunities in corporate legal departments across North Texas. A major issue general counsel faces is recruiting qualified young lawyers to fill in-house positions.
Although the in-house career path has traditionally started at a law firm, there are signs that this is changing, as companies fill in-house slots with more junior lawyers, according to Stephen B. Yeager, assistant dean for Student Affairs at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law.
SMU is seeing more of its graduates hired directly out of law school for in-house legal positions, Yeager said. Some companies, particularly large ones, have the resources to train recent law school graduates, and prefer to tailor their legal talent to the company from the outset.
“They prefer to interview, hire and train attorneys they identify, and cultivate the technical and professional development of that attorney,” said Yeager, who teaches a course called “Role of the General Counsel” and is a former general counsel himself.
SMU’s Corporate Counsel Externship Program, which Yeager led development of in 2013, allows students to see what it’s like to work in-house and lets corporate legal departments tap next-generation legal talent.
Students in the program clock at least 120 hours — about 10 hours a week — working in-house. They also take a weekly class that explores corporate governance, ethics and areas of the law including employment, securities and intellectual property.
The program just completed its third year with 50 corporate placements, and has been highly successful in giving students a glimpse of in-house legal work, Yeager said.