Civil Federal Legal Services and Advanced Civil Federal Legal Services Externships

LW.12807 / LW.12808
Professor Hans Romo
Professor Susanne Toes Keane
Open to 3L and 2L students; LLMs if space permits*
Maximum of 14 students

Not offered 2024-25
Civil Federal Legal Services (Fall) 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 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, conditions of confinement, 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 make the types of appearance described above.

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.

No student will be expected to spend more than an average of 10 hours per week on fieldwork. Under close guidance from faculty, each student will play the primary role in determining their workload accounting for desire and capacity. Students will be required to refrain from working between semesters and during spring break.

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. This portion of the clinic will include a six-hour long bootcamp during one of the first Saturdays or Sundays of the school year. 

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

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 Advanced 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. If you have any questions, please direct them to Hans Romo.

Priority will be given to students who indicate an interest during the application process in participating in both the basic and the advanced course.

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:

Justin Cook
Ellie Rutkey
Clare Heine
Brooks Weinberger
Conner Kozisek
David Hamburger
Sophie Pearlman
Vincent Zhang
Brit Zak
Em Feder Cooper
Sarah Hamad
Chris Kim
Christopher Irsfeld
Amanda Cort
Jordan Miller
Meredith Stonitsch

* Consult the Clinics Open to LLMs 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)