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Externship opportunities are generally available for students who wish to participate in the program. Over 70 percent of CWSL students participate in the Clinical Externship Program.

Students can participate in full-time or part-time externships. Externships provide the opportunity to take on actual lawyering responsibilities and challenges. This facilitates the transition from law student to first year attorney.

Externship opportunities are almost unlimited. Students may apply to extern at the Program’s pre-approved placements or self-initiate an externship in San Diego or anywhere in the world. California Western students have externed in many countries in Asia, Europe, South Africa, and South America.

To learn more about the Clinical Externship Program, contact Program Administrator Ruth Briscoe by phone, 619-525-1438, or email,

Program Goals

  • Develop the students' abilities to learn from experience and become thoughtful problem solvers
  • Promote students' sensitivity to and awareness of professional responsibility and ethical issues
  • Give students insights into how the legal system works
  • Train students in lawyering skills and critical thinking
  • Instill values of professionalism
  • Develop students' interpersonal skills

Externship and clerking experiences are both valuable aspects of legal education. They are, however, different in focus. The chart below compares the law clerk experience to the externship experience:

Relationship with attorney Employer/employee Mentor/student
Purpose Produce Learn
Tasks and work Focus on needs of employer Focus on learning goals of extern
Expectations Efficiency and speed Understanding, learning and reflecting
Exposure Work assigned Opportunity to engage in a variety of lawyering activities including observation
Feedback Not primary focus Work continuously reviewed and revised
Compensation Money & experience Supervised experience and academic credit

Academic Credit and Externship Seminar

Students extern for 13 weeks and spend from 20 to 40 hours per week at their externship, depending upon the number of units they are earning. Externs receive academic credit (pass/fail) rather than remuneration for their work. Students earn between 5 and 10 credits for their externship, each unit of credit representing 4 hours of externship per week. Every extern is required to enroll in the Externship Seminar for 1 unit.

Thus, a student externing 40 hours per week would receive a total of 11 units of credit, 10 pass/fail and 1 graded for the Seminar. The chart below lists the number of hours students must work at their externships depending upon the number of units they are receiving. Students may take other courses while externing, but may not exceed 17 units of credit.

5 20 260
6 24 312
7 28 364
8 32 416
9 36 468
10 40 520

The above does NOT count the 1 unit classroom component

In the weekly Externship Seminar, students have an opportunity to share experiences and learn about different areas of law practice. The Seminar also provides a forum for discussing issues of concern to new lawyers, ranging from the most practical questions regarding professionalism, to the more theoretical considerations of ethics and morality. Students find these seminars to be an important source of information, education, and support for making the transition from student to new lawyer.

Students externing outside of San Diego participate in the weekly seminar vis a vis an online learning platform with other out-of-town externs.

How to Plan for an Externship

Students must complete 90 units to graduate, 15 of which must be Experiential (EXP) units. All units earned through the Clinicial Externship Program are considered EXP units (including the seminar).

  1. After completing first year courses, meet with a Career and Professional Development Office advisor to discuss career planning.
  2. Meet with faculty point of contact and academic advisor to plan schedule for the second and third years.
  3. Visit the Clinical Externship Office to discuss externship opportunities.
  4. Acquire 50 hours of legal experience during law school.

Full-time externships require additional course planning. Consult CWSL Academic Policies and arrange to take all bar and required courses prior to the externship.

A few options to consider in the three trimesters prior to externing full time are:

  1. Take 2 trimesters of 16 units and 1 trimester of 17 units
  2. Reduce need for high course loads by taking 2 or 3 summer classes or a summer abroad program
  3. Take one 2 or 3 unit course while externing (only consider courses taught in the late afternoon or early evening or online)


  1. Students must be in their last or next-to-last trimester of law school at the time the externship begins.
  2. Students are required to have a minimum of 50 hours of legal experience (paid, pro bono, or other volunteer) acquired since entering law school.
  3. Students may participate in the Program for only one trimester. Externships for credit cannot be repeated.
  4. Students planning to extern outside of San Diego must arrange to attend the CWSL's Bar Review Course the trimester before or after their externship. Please contact Professor Sassi at for details.
  5. Students cannot be on, or in danger of going on, academic probation (Academic Policy 7.33). Students cannot have a violation of the law school’s Code of Student Professional Conduct (Honor Code).
  6. Some externships have specific class ranking, prerequisite courses or other requirements, as detailed in the externship office.
  7. Students ordinarily may not extern with relatives, friends, or friends of relatives.
  8. Students interested in externing at an office where they are working or have been employed must have their supervising attorney complete a Teaching/Learning Agreement explaining how the externship experience will be different from the work the student has already done.
  9. Students may not take more than 17 units of credit while externing.
  10. Students must successfully complete the STEPPS Program.
  11. The Clinical Externship Program does not allow students to be compensated for their work.
  12. Supervising attorneys are prohibited from billing clients for the time and work performed by externship students.