The Importance of Externships

Today we have a guest blog post from Adam LaPlaca, Class of 2021. Adam writes about his externships and how they have shaped his educational experience at NDLS.

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“Graduates will be able to: (1) discern a client’s objectives; (2) ascertain relevant facts; (3) conduct legal research; (4) analyze and apply relevant legal principles; (5) create and execute appropriate solutions to legal problems; and (6) communicate legal concepts clearly and effectively, both orally and in writing.” These are all qualities that the Notre Dame Law School (NDLS) faculty have determined are skills that NDLS graduates will have upon the completion of their studies. See Educational Goals & Learning Outcomes, Notre Dame Law School (adopted April 27, 2016). What do all of these skills have in common? They are each difficult to learn in a classroom.

Experiential learning is crucial for the development of these skills, and fortunately, NDLS has a number of experiential opportunities that we, as students, may take advantage of during our three years. Personally, my two externships have been the highlight of my law school experience. During the spring semester of my 2L year, I participated in the Notre Dame Law in D.C. Externship Program and worked with the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section of the Department of Justice (CCIPS). Currently, during my 3L fall, I am participating in the Lawyering Practice Externship Program and am working with the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office. These experiences have not only helped me begin developing the skills noted above, but they have also allowed me to discern the area of law in which I want to focus my career and to build a network of professionals that are active in this field.

While working with CCIPS in Washington, D.C., I had the opportunity to work with numerous attorneys across the section and assist them with various aspects of the criminal investigative and prosecutorial process. During this time, I helped evaluate the legal basis for a proposed undercover investigation, I wrote a memo analyzing whether a particular factual situation could be charged under a criminal statute, and I drafted a trial protective order and proposed jury instructions for an active prosecution. Through each of my assignments, I had the opportunity to practice the skills identified in the NDLS Educational Goals & Learning Outcomes while developing relationships with each of the attorneys with whom I worked. Perhaps the most unique opportunity I had during my externship with CCIPS was the chance to observe the sentencing phase of a case with which I had helped in the trial phase during a previous summer internship. The summer prior to my externship with CCIPS, I interned with the Cyber Crimes Section of the US Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C. Typically, summer internships are too short to see a case from start to finish. However, by having the opportunity to return to D.C. through the Notre Dame Law in D.C. Externship Program, I was able to go to the sentencing hearing and see the culmination of a case that constituted a large portion of my work during the prior summer. Overall, my externship with CCIPS helped me to observe life as a federal prosecutor, while simultaneously providing me with dozens of opportunities to practice important legal skills and enabling me to discern my passion for technology-focused areas of the law.

My externship with the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office this semester has helped me to build off of my experience with CCIPS and to gain even more practical skills that will help me as I start my career. In this role, I am working directly with Eric Tamashasky, Chief Deputy Prosecutor for St. Joseph County, who serves as a cybercrime resource for the office. I am assisting Eric with investigations into alleged cyber-related criminal activity in the county. Specifically, I have had the opportunity to draft search warrants and other legal processes related to these cases. While my prior externship and internship experiences have allowed me to see the full scope of the criminal investigative/prosecutorial process, this externship will give me the opportunity to experience that process first-hand by working on cases from start to finish.

As I noted earlier, these externship experiences have been the highlight of my time in law school and I believe they have been incredibly helpful in preparing me for my career after graduation. They have provided me with the opportunity to work directly with lawyers in a field in which I am interested and to gain hands-on experience alongside my studies in the classroom. I can confidently say that, thanks to my externships, I will graduate with the necessary skills identified by the NDLS faculty.