Externing in a Corporate Setting: An interview with 3L John Morris

NDLS offers many great externship opportunities that enable students to get out of the classroom and experience different practice areas and work environments. One such experience is the Corporate Counsel Externship, which allows students to perform 8-12 hours of legal work per week in an in-house corporate counsel office for a private company or non-profit organization. To delve further into what students participating in the Corporate Counsel Externship get to do, I spoke with rising 3L John Morris, who externed at First Source Bank last semester

KMB: Tell me about your experience in the corporate counsel externship.

JM: I was attracted to the externship to just get out of the classroom. After taking Professor Griffin’s Banking and Financial Institutions class, I ended up externing in the First Source Bank Compliance Department. It was a great experience in terms of getting to see the operations of the entire bank. I thought it would be focused very narrowly on compliance work but it ended up being an experience that touched the entire bank. I ended up seeing how First Source Bank functioned.

KMB: Are you interested in pursuing this kind of work for your career?

JM: I want to do commercial banking potentially after graduation. I worked in finance for four years before starting law school so I wanted something in that realm. I wanted to familiarize myself with what it felt like to be a lawyer for a commercial bank, either as a General Counsel or in some sort of capacity related to that.

KMB: What was your day to day life like in the externship?

JM: I externed at the bank twice a week. Most people who do the externship program do one 8 hour or 12 hour chunk. I did not. I went on Wednesday afternoons and Friday afternoons. Projects were assigned to me on an ad hoc basis. I would go to meetings. It was project focused. I got to work with different parts of the bank, be it business or personal banking.

I did everything from creating a policy related to compliance that got sent and presented to the board of directors to putting a deck together for every part of the bank on unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts or practices. I put together a PowerPoint slide and was able to teach to different parts of the bank. I was granted a lot of autonomy. They gave me a project and let me run with it and present it to other people who had nothing to do with the department I was working in. I really got to take ownership of my projects.

KMB: What was the Corporate Counsel externship class like?

JM: It was great. There were about ten of us in the class, which took place on Wednesday mornings. Professor Lewis not only engendered an atmosphere that allowed for fruitful discussion with our diverse work experiences but he also brought in aspects we didn’t think of. Some people were in M&A, some were generalists, and some were in compliance like me. Over the 14 week class, he brought all of those aspects together and gave us a good idea of what it was like to be in-house counsel.

With a narrow focus like I had in a compliance department, it was nice to hear the professor’s perspective based upon his prior jobs about what it is like to be a lawyer at a company, rather than a lawyer at a firm. He brought in lawyers from Whirpool and other organizations where students were externing and had them discuss with us how their roles evolved over time, how they got into being in-house counsel versus a lawyer at firm, and how they have impacted their companies in positive ways.

I got to see what it would be like after 10-15 years of law practice and what life can be like after working at a law firm.

KMB: Would you recommend externships to other students?

JM: Yes, I would recommend doing the Corporate Counsel Externship and I am pushing my friends to look at it.

I am definitely going to look at other externships based on my experience in this class. It was great to get out of the classroom.

KMB: Are you doing transactional work this summer too?

JM: I am working at King & Spalding in New York City in their transactional department.

KMB: Do you feel that the Corporate Counsel externship helped prepare you to work at the firm this summer?

JM: It definitely helped me get ready for that. Getting into a work environment is so different from sitting in class so it was a good idea to transition back into a work atmosphere by taking this class. Not having worked in any legal environment before law school, it was great to see what type of issues come up on a day to day basis.

If you’re interested in pursuing a Corporate Counsel Externship, contact
NDLS Externship Coordinator Cathy Kustner at ckustner@nd.edu.

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