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You cannot create experience. You must undergo it. — Albert Camus The famous French existentialist author and philosopher did not receive his J.D. from the Columbus School of Law, but he may as well have. His insight perfectly describes the philosophy that animates a scholastic offering like no other: the legal externship program. For many years, the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America has run one of the largest and most well-established legal externship programs in the area, if not the country. Through the program, about 225 future lawyers each year (about one-fourth of the class) earn course credits by working in law firms; federal, state, and local government agencies; Congress; judicial chambers of federal, state, and D.C. courts; public interest organizations; trade associations; and corporations. These are not the novice experiences of a typical internship. Although not salaried, students are expected to contribute as near-professionals and to conduct themselves as professionals at all times. In return, they gain invaluable practical experience. Lessons learned in the real world breathe meaning and relevance into classroom concepts and reading assignments. Through the externship program’s seminars and tutorials, second- and third-year students learn to maximize the experiential learning opportunity, to deal with ethical and professional responsibility issues, and to plan their legal careers. ‘A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE’ For many students, the externship is their first exposure to a real legal setting. In subsequent course evaluations, some of the young attorneys-in-rehearsal described it as a “life-changing experience,” and praised its ability to connect them to potential future employers. Through externships, students better understand the scope and nature of the practice of law. They learn which areas of law appeal to them and which do not. Students build solid legal workplace skills and develop networks of mentors and colleagues who may contribute to their finding employment during summers and after graduation. Extern employers don’t get a bad deal, either: Students come to work prepared, motivated, and willing to learn. Nor does the cost of the labor bring a scowl. The success of Catholic University’s legal externship program has not escaped attention. The most recent rankings of America’s best graduate schools by U.S. News & World Report pegged CUA Law’s clinical programs at 13th nationally, due in no small measure to the strength and growing recognition of its subset externship program. RESIDENT EXPERT But outstanding programs do not sprout from nowhere. They are manifest extensions of the energy and vision of the people who create them. The Columbus School of Law is fortunate in this regard. Professor J.P. “Sandy” Ogilvy, the coordinator of clinical programs, is one of the country’s foremost authorities on legal externship education. Ogilvy joined the faculty in 1991 to become its coordinator of clinical programs. He inherited an already robust curriculum, ably developed over the previous nine years by faculty colleague Leah Wortham. (Ogilvy is a former chair of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Clinical Legal Education and is currently the organization’s historian.) He is the primary author of Learning From Practice: A Professional Development Text for Legal Externs, widely acknowledged as the definitive work in its field, and owns two listservs related to clinical legal education. Clinical education programs have existed for decades in the United States. Yet the history of their evolution is little known. Like the Works Progress Administration historians of the 1930s, who fanned out across the nation to record and archive the personal recollections of thousands of Americans as a sort of national oral history, Ogilvy has set about preserving the infancy of his own chosen field in a similar oral history project. Patiently and methodically interviewing the pioneers of the field, he has assembled a vast array of stories and reminiscences into a first-of-its-kind documentary film, “An Oral History of Clinical Legal Education: Part One, Seeds of Change.” Further installments are planned. FIRST NATIONAL ARCHIVE Ogilvy’s passion for delineating the history of clinical legal education is not the lonely quest of an intellectual Don Quixote. On the contrary, the Columbus School of Law supports the mission in a most concrete way. In the fall of 2002, the school’s Judge Kathryn J. DuFour Law Library agreed to permanently house the first national archive of materials and information relating to the subject. The largest assembly of such materials in one place, the new archive collects, catalogs, preserves, and makes available to researchers a treasure trove of items that shed light on the early beginnings of clinical legal education. Scholars can find videotapes, photographs, newspaper clippings, teacher materials, and other sources of information, most of which will eventually be accessible online. A two-day conference on externship, hosted by the school in March 2003, drew more than 125 participants from 75 law schools around the world. At “Externships: Learning From Practice,” 45 speakers shared their knowledge of a wide range of issues facing legal externs everywhere. Topics included: “Getting Unstuck — How to Think Creatively”; “Confidentiality”; and “The Care and Feeding of Mentors.” Most good law programs offer students the opportunity for some real-life, hands-on lawyering before they graduate. In fact, legal externship programs are now found in a substantial majority of the 188 ABA-accredited law schools. In the past 20 years, law schools across the country have been working to improve the academic integrity of their externship programs, both because of their own pedagogical concerns and because of pressure from the American Bar Association. The advantage for Columbus School of Law students is that they are not merely nudged out the classroom door with a pat on the back: The extern program is run by experts in the field and supported by the entire institution. The clinical legal education program at the Catholic University of America, and its externship program in particular, demonstrate yet again that whether you are running an externship program or participating in one, there is no substitute for experience. Thomas Haederle is director of public affairs at the Columbus School of Law, the Catholic University of America.

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