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Starting Down the Externship Trail

Starting Down the Externship Trail
March 17, 2013

By: Andy Wright
Managing Editor, Grand Rapids

This is the first article in a series aimed at helping you find a great externship.
Cooley’s externship program sets it apart from other law schools. Working under the supervision of practicing attorneys for credit is like swimming in the ocean without the fear of drowning or being eaten by sharks. The freedom to learn and make mistakes before hitting the “real world” is truly invaluable.

For many students, planning an externship is a frightening enigma wrapped in a condundrum. A quick tour of the externship database from the portal presents law firms as far as the eye can see. The database is sortable, of course, making it easy to narrow the field to a certain city or practice area. But what then? Throw a dart at the printout and hope for the best?


So, you don’t know what you want to do when you graduate? Join the crowd, because many law students don’t. But that doesn’t mean you’re completely in the dark about your future. The truth is, there is no “right way” to find the perfect experience. However, there are certain steps you can take, to get started down the right path.

1) The early bird catches the worm: It is never too early to start thinking about your externship. Your career ideals may (and likely will) change – you may want to save the porpoises in your first term and be a corporate shark by your last. This is normal. Its better to figure this stuff out before you don your cap and gown.

2) Know yourself: Are you introverted or extroverted? Are you a skilled writer or do you need a lot of practice? Do you enjoy working in a team or are you more of an individual contributor? Honestly assessing who you are now can prevent a bad fit that wastes precious time.

3) Don’t rely solely on your resume: In other words-- network, network, network. I am the perfect example of networking at... work. My externship fell into place a little like this: conversations with a career counselor led to conversations with professors which led to conversations with the professors’ practicing peers which led to references who recommended me for opportunities. You might have noticed a trend there. Simply put, conversations lead to opportunities.

4) But don’t ignore your resume: The Career Professional Development (CPD) office is there for a reason. Use it! The counselors know how to shape our rambling experiences into works of resume art. Do you remember your writing professors? Give them a call! Their usefulness goes beyond student torture. Seriously, they know how to put together a resume that begs to be seen.

5) Relax and be your best you: This goes hand-in-hand with networking. Simply put, don’t get yourself so overwrought by the whole process that you lose yourself along the way. Take some time out to step back and reflect, doing what best relaxes and focuses you. If you need to meditate, do it. Reflect on your successes and keep the things that made them happen for you.

Up Next: Best Practices in Externships

Andy Wright is the Managing Editor for the Cooley Grand Rapids campus. He also serves on the SBA as a Class Senator and recently started his externship. If you have an idea for an article, would like to join his team, or just want to help him cope with the stress of life in general, his email is