Civil Federal Legal Services and Advanced Civil Federal Legal Services Externships

LW.12807 / LW.12808
Professor Robyn Tarnofsky
Professor Hans Romo
Open to 3L and 2L students; LLMs if space permits*
Maximum of 8 students

Civil Federal Legal Services (Fall and Spring) 5 credits**
Advanced (Spring) 4 credits***
No prerequisites or co-requisites.


Course Description

Under supervision, students in the Civil Federal Legal Services Externship (CFLSE) are assigned their own cases (individually and in pairs) and assume full responsibility for assisting non-incarcerated civil litigants in the Southern District of New York (the “Court”). They litigate on behalf of working-class New Yorkers in Federal Court within an exciting range of cases at nearly every procedural stage through placement with the New York Legal Assistance Group’s Federal Legal Clinic (the “Clinic”).

Substantively, CFLSE students have handled nearly every aspect of those cases including, among others, wrongful death, law enforcement misconduct, housing conditions, foreclosure, disability discrimination, employment discrimination, wage and hour violations, intellectual property infringement, securities, social security, and the Mueller investigation.

While not guaranteed, and subject to final Court approval, students may have the opportunity to defend a deposition, argue a motion in court, represent a litigant in settlement negotiations in an Americans with Disabilities Act case or intellectual property case; and/or represent a litigant at an initial case conference. Students will be encouraged to attend case conferences, trials, and appellate arguments.

With a mix of fieldwork, seminars on procedural and substantive civil litigation, and participation in simulations, CFLSE prepares students for commercial litigation with one of the nation’s premier law offices, public interest litigation, and/or federal clerkships.


Each student will work under the supervision of the course faculty at the Clinic—which is funded by a grant from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to assist individuals who are representing themselves or planning to represent themselves in civil lawsuits in the Court.

Through a problem-solving approach towards cases for plaintiffs, defendants, and even persons discouraged from filing a case, CFLSE students become intimately familiar with every stage of the civil process prior to trial by: assessing lawsuits prior to submission; drafting complaints; drafting oppositions to motions to dismiss; responding to complaints; drafting discovery documents; participating in depositions, mediations, and settlement conferences; and drafting summary judgment documents.

Subject to final Court approval, students will also have an opportunity to defend a deposition and appear for initial case conferences.

Because many of these cases occupy the margins of accepted legal doctrine, the students often work on cutting edge legal issues. However, with an average annual caseload of 500 per staff attorney, the students will also constantly evaluate how to triage resources for any individual case while striving to provide the highest quality legal assistance that money can’t buy.

Because the Clinic aspires to a team based holistic approach, students will have the opportunity to work collaboratively with social work master’s students, volunteer attorneys from law firms, and retired attorneys with extensive experience in the public interest and the private sector.

While historically fieldwork has been focused on individual cases, for students who indicate a specific interest in policy work, we can discuss and look for opportunities for students to work with outside entities, including the federal judiciary, to reform Court policies and rules, mentor similar federal court projects, and expand the scope of the Clinic’s services.


The first portion of the seminar will focus on federal civil procedure and the substantive areas of law that the students will repeatedly encounter to prepare students for assisting litigants with lawsuits in the SDNY.

In the remainder of the semester, students will participate in simulations, and we will use the seminar to discuss policy decisions on dispute resolution made by the federal courts, the value of legal services, ethical issues that arise from litigation, the challenges that students face in their cases, and boundary setting for self-care.


Both the seminar and the fieldwork will receive a letter grade. The seminar grade will be based on preparation, participation, performance in simulations, and self-reflection. The fieldwork grade will be based on preparation, written work, performance, time management, and self-reflection. For both contexts, self-reflection will be heavily weighed. The fieldwork grade may be calculated with input from the staff attorney involved in the students’ supervision.

Advanced Semester

Because the externship is offered in both the fall and spring semesters, students have the option to enroll in a second semester as advanced students for the spring semester immediately following their fall semester. This permits students to choose to build on and continue their work from the first semester.

The seminar will meet every other week for two hours and dive deeper into the issues raised during the first semester. The fieldwork will be similar to that for the foundation students, but may also include, subject to final Court approval, the additional opportunities to negotiate settlement in more difficult employment and civil rights cases, the opportunity to take depositions, and conduct oral argument before federal judges.

Grading will be based on identical criteria as the first semester.

Application Procedure

Please submit the standard application and resume on-line via CAMS. We will contact you to schedule an interview. If you have any questions, please direct them to Hans Romo.

Student Contacts

If you wish to learn more about prior students’ experiences in the CFLSE, please contact students who have recently worked with the Federal Legal Clinic including:

Daniela Purpuro (2L)
Natalie Chew (2L)
Natalie Gagarkina (currently with DLA Piper LLP)
Nina Haug (3L)
Samuel Krauss (3L)

* Consult the LLM Clinic Requirements at A Glance page to see if the clinic is available to LLMs in the current year.

** 5 credits include 3 clinical credits and 2 academic seminar credits. (LW.12807/LW.12808)

*** 4 credits include 3 clinical credits and 1 academic seminar credits. (LW.12809/LW.12810)