Using externships to further your career goals

When it comes to furthering career goals, the summer job search tends to receive the most attention, concern, and focus. And it should definitely be a point of focus for law students. Your summer job undoubtedly is a big part of the story your resume tells, the experience you build, and the contacts you create in your market.

But externships can build your personal brand and further your career just as much and perhaps more than a good summer job.

Your externship experience goes on your resume just as your summer job does, and employers do not care when you got experience. Employers care about the quality of experience you got.  Often times, the experience you get through an externship can be more in depth, and you can get more personalized mentorship.


First of all, it is much harder to get your first choice summer job than it is to get your first choice externship. Every law student in the country works in a legal job over the summer and so competition can be fierce. I have worked with Notre Dame students in the past who have told me that the organization they externed with during the school year only takes Yale and Harvard students during the summer but takes applicants from any school during the school year. Employers only have so much capacity for student interns and externs and so they necessarily have to limit the number of students they are taking, which means turning some applicants down.

But not every law student completes an externship in a given semester so employers get considerably fewer applicants for school-year externship positions. If you’re applying for a full-time externship during the school year such as through ND’s Chicago and DC programs, you are a hot commodity because few schools have programs enabling their students to extern full-time. Through these programs, you can absolutely work for an organization that might otherwise not be able to take you on during the summer.

Beyond just getting in the door, the externship experience can be better too. When organizations have full intern classes, supervisors have more demands on their time and are thus not as able to provide as much individualized attention to each intern. Plus, there are only so many projects for interns to go around and if you are the sole extern, you are going to get higher quality projects than if you are in a large intern class competing for work.

So how can you leverage an externship to make your resume awesome and further your career goals?

Work backwards. Think about what your dream job after law school is and look to see what kind of experience attorneys working in that field have. Odds are you will see a theme emerge. Now, pursue an externship consistent with that theme.

Notre Dame Law School offers eleven school-year externship programs with the opportunity to work in hundreds of different organizations. Surely, at least one of those opportunities will provide you with experience that employers will love to see.

During my four years at Notre Dame, I have seen externships advance careers so many times. There was the

-Student who worked for the DOJ through the DC program and got a coveted DOJ honors program position.

-3L who was committed to working for the Cook County States Attorney, externed there through the Chicago program, and was put at the top of their post-graduate hiring list amidst thousands of applicants.

Corporate counsel extern who externed for a corporation that just happened to be looking for an entry-level attorney at the right time and hired him straight out of law school.

National Immigrant Justice Center extern who built her client interviewing skills and felt way more confident going into her public interest career than she otherwise would have.

Completing an externship also provides you with the chance to control your resume’s narrative and shift it away from something that maybe you thought you wanted to do but are no longer are interested in. Maybe you came into law school really wanting to do labor and employment law, worked for a labor and employment organization 2L summer, and realized it wasn’t the best fit for you. If you want to apply for non labor and employment jobs, you need to distance yourself from that practice area and your resume has to show an interest in something else. Enter an externship!

Even if you entered law school knowing exactly what you wanted to do and you have done it both summers, completing an externship in that area will only make you even more of an expert, show how deep your commitment to that practice area runs, and make you an even more desirable candidate to employers. Public defender offices, for instance, are especially committed to hiring candidates who are truly passionate about their work. Nothing demonstrates that passion more than working two summers in public defense and completing a school-year externship with a public defender’s office on top of that.

If you aren’t sure what your dream job after law school is, an externship can help clarify your career goals and set you on a purposeful path you would not have been aware of otherwise. One Chicago program extern I worked with in the past was a 3L with no clear idea of what she wanted to do with her career. She externed with the Public Defender and it was like a light came on. She realized that this was her calling and now she had a purpose in law school that she had never had before. She never would have realized this if she had not externed. Now, she is thriving working in public defense in Chicago.

The best way to figure out what you truly enjoy doing is to go out and do it. Externships are all about getting you in the field and letting you engage with the work. You don’t have to wonder if a certain practice area or organization will be a good fit for you. You can actually get out there, do the work, and see for yourself.

The externship opportunities that Notre Dame offers are endless and if you haven’t thought about an externship before, now is the time to consider it!

Here is just a sampling of some real opportunities that you can take advantage of at Notre Dame:

Extern at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Hammond through the Lawyering Practice Externship performing research projects and assisting in trial preparation. Externs will be assigned projects from both the Civil and Criminal Divisions and work with several different AUSAs over the course of the internship.

Extern at Great Lakes Naval Base through the Chicago program where you will be assigned to a legal command or staff and gain experience in traditional Navy JAG Corps practice areas such as military justice (criminal prosecution and defense), legal assistance (providing general legal advice to Sailors and their families), and command services (advising military commanders and their staffs.

Extern for a U.S. Senator or Representative through the DC Program. 

Extern at Whirpool Corporation the #1 major appliance manufacturer in the world, with $20 billion in annual sales in Whirpool’s labor and employment group, litigation group, mergers & acquisitions group, or intellectual property group. This externship is offered through the Corporate Counsel externship program.

If you’re interested in learning more or taking steps to set up an externship for next semester, check out Notre Dame’s externships page



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