Academic Advising

Clinical Area Group’s Advice to Students in Selecting Experiential Courses: Clinics, Externships, and Simulation Courses

NYU School of Law’s longstanding commitment to social justice is embedded in our brand – “a private university in the public service.” Our clinics, externships and simulation courses help to put that brand into action. Students in these courses often have the opportunity to push boundaries in identifying, diagnosing and addressing the most pressing problems facing – and likely to face – individuals and communities domestically and around the world.  Sometimes these courses identify and make visible nascent areas of concern that have yet to be recognized fully. Other times, these courses develop approaches to issues that stubbornly persist. But whether experiential courses expose students to issues that are novel or chronic, they offer students a learning opportunity that expects students to step into, perform, and reflect on the role of the lawyer in its many dimensions.  

As a result of a requirement established by the American Bar Association (as the accrediting agency for law school J.D. programs), all J.D. students must take at least 6 credits of “experiential courses,” a term that includes clinics, externships, and simulation courses. The Lawyering Program provides 3 of these credits, and J.D. students must take at least 3 more credits in clinics, externships, or simulation courses. J.D. and LL.M. students who plan to seek admission to the New York Bar must also satisfy the skills competency requirement of N.Y. Ct. App. Rule 520.18. Students in the J.D. program will usually satisfy the New York requirement by a combination of Lawyering and at least 3 credits of experiential courses. LL.M. students will usually need to rely on practice in another jurisdiction or an apprenticeship to satisfy the skills competency requirement for admission to the New York Bar.  

The Law School offers all three of the types of courses that satisfy the “experiential course” requirement. In clinics and externships, students work on real cases, transactions, or policy advocacy under the supervision of a full-time faculty member or adjunct faculty member.  The students also participate in a seminar which may focus to varying degrees on substantive law and procedure, and may involve student in-class presentations, simulations, and other written assignments.  In simulation courses, students do not work on actual cases, transactions or policy advocacy, but do so in simulations in which they undertake the role of the various participants in the legal process and participate in a seminar that expands on the simulation experiences.

In all three kinds of courses, students perform lawyering tasks in role in order to acquire familiarity with lawyering skills and to develop the capacity for engaging in expert judgment and decision-making in situations that lawyers typically confront in practice. Students learn substantive law, and grapple with difficult legal issues in role, thereby acquiring a deeply rooted understanding of not just the legal principles but also how lawyers use doctrine, policy, and equitable arguments. Students also develop the myriad skills involved in fact gathering, fact assessment, problem evaluation, and problem solving. Clinics, externships, and simulation courses provide instruction in professional responsibility, using real-life ethical issues or simulations to examine the applicable rules of professional conduct and the range of responses available to a lawyer when an ethical issue arises in practice.

All three kinds of courses advance the instruction to which students already have been exposed in the first-year Lawyering course: Students are confronted with problem situations of the sort that lawyers encounter in practice; the problem situations are concrete, complex, and unrefined; students deal with the problems in role; and the students’ performance of each activity is subjected to intensive, systematic critical review. The courses all build on the Lawyering program’s basic instruction in systematic methods of reflecting upon and learning from one’s own lawyering performances, thus helping students develop the tools they need in order to continue their learning after graduation.

Choosing Among Clinics and Externships

While some clinics and externships are not available in every year and new offerings are added from time to time, the discussion below provides general guidance regarding the range of clinics and externships available, and considerations in choosing among them.

Litigation, Policy, or Transactional Legal Skills?

The practice of law involves a wide variety of skill sets, including litigation and courtroom advocacy, legal and policy advocacy outside of the courtroom, and transactional legal skills. Students who seek to participate in clinics and/or externships may wish to consider which skills they would like to develop. 

Any student who wishes to learn about litigation would benefit by taking one of NYU School of Law’s many litigation clinics and externships. The learning from primary representation of a client in a trial-level litigation clinic or externship is extraordinary for students who have the interest in having such an experience and who can realistically devote the time and attention needed for live-client direct representation. The following clinics offer an intensive, year-long experience in representation of a client in a trial-level litigation setting: Civil Litigation – Employment Law Clinic; Civil Rights Clinic; Criminal Defense and Reentry Clinic; Family Defense Clinic; Federal Defender Clinic; Immigrant Rights Clinic; and Juvenile Defender Clinic. The following clinics and externships offer a semester-long experience in the litigation context, which allows students to work on some, but usually not all, aspects of trial-level litigation: Civil Litigation – Employment Law Clinic; Civil Rights Clinic: Challenging Mass Incarceration; Education Advocacy Clinic; Environmental Law Clinic; Government Civil Litigation Externship (EDNY or SDNY); Housing Law Externship; Immigrant Defense Clinic; Local Prosecution Clinic; Prosecution Clinic (EDNY or SDNY), Racial Equity Strategies Clinic; Racial Justice Clinic; and Reproductive Justice Clinic.. Students interested in learning about litigation at the appellate or postconviction contexts may wish to consider the Criminal Appellate Defender Clinic, the Equal Justice and Capital Defender Externship, or the Immigrant Rights Clinic.

A relevant consideration in selecting among the foregoing clinics and externships is whether the student anticipates going into civil or criminal practice after graduation. Both civil and criminal clinics and externships work equally well to foster deep understanding about the interaction of substantive law with procedural and evidentiary rules, fact development, and legal and practical problem-solving. A student who has already made a decision to practice in either the civil or criminal context upon graduation may enjoy an added benefit by working in the chosen area. 

A student who is interested in learning about the work and perspective of a lawyer who represents the government, rather than an individual client, may wish to consider: the Government Civil Litigation Externship (EDNY or SDNY); Legislative and Regulatory Policy Clinic; Local Prosecution Clinic; New York City Law Department Externship: Representing New York City; NYS Attorney General’s Office – Antitrust Enforcement Externship; NYS Attorney General’[s Office  – Economic Justice Law Enforcement Externship; NYS Office of Attorney General  – Social Justice Externship; and Prosecution Externship (EDNY or SDNY). . Students can work with a district court or appellate judge in the Federal Judicial Practice Externship. 

The clinical program also offers non-litigation lawyering clinical experiences, sometimes in combination with litigation. Students interested in non-litigation lawyering experiences may wish to consider: the Brennan Center Public Policy Advocacy Clinic; Education Sector Policy and Consulting Clinic; Global Justice Clinic; Innovation Externship; LGBTQ Rights Externship; Mediation Clinic; Mediation Clinic – Advanced Dispute System Design; Litigation, Organizing and Systemic Change (Pro Bono Scholars Program Externship / Clinic); Regulatory Policy Clinic; and/or the Technology Law and Policy Clinic.

The clinical program also offers transactional clinical experiences. Students interested in learning business and transactional legal skills may wish to consider: the Business Law Transactions Clinic, in which students learn to work with organizational clients by working on transactional and governance projects for nonprofit clients and social enterprises often located in the New York area; and the International Transactions Clinic, in which students work with nonprofit and for-profit clients (including impact investors and social enterprises) that aim to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems by engaging in cross-border transactions, often in emerging markets.

Students interested in working on international issues may wish to consider not only the above-described International Transactions Clinic but also: the Global Justice Clinic; Guarini Global Law & Tech Externship – Legal Practice in a Digital Society; International Organizations Clinic; and United Nations Diplomacy Clinic.

Year-Long or Semester-Long? 2L and/or 3L Year?

Students are faced with many choices of courses to take during their 2L and 3L years. Because some clinics are year-long while other clinics and externships are semester-long, and courses of both types vary in the number of credit hours awarded and the amount of time required for the seminar and fieldwork, students should consider which year(s) to apply for a clinic or externship and what type of clinic or externship to select. Most clinics and externships accept both 2L and 3L students, but some clinics and externships are limited to 3L students. 

Students who choose to take a clinic or externship during their 2L year benefit from receiving an early start to developing their legal skills and understanding of a particular field of law. Students often find this knowledge and experience helpful in the process of writing a law review note or fulfilling the substantial writing requirement, applying what they have learned in their summer internship, and applying for clerkships or public interest fellowships. However, some clinics and externships may involve a large number of credit hours, so enrollment in a clinic may limit the number of other courses a student is able to take during his or her 2L year.

Students who take a clinic or externship in their 3L year may benefit from having previously taken clinics, externships, or other courses that provide a useful foundation for the work that the student will do in the clinic. As with 2Ls who participate in clinics, 3Ls often find the knowledge and experience they gain through the clinical experience to be helpful in the process of applying for jobs, fellowships, and clerkships after graduation.

Some students may be interested in the possibility of taking a clinic or externship in both the 2L and 3L years. Some students take a simulation course in their 2L year followed by a semester-long clinic or externship or year-long clinic in their 3L year. Other students choose to take a one-semester clinic or externship in their 2L year followed by a full-year clinic in their 3L year, or vice versa. The Pro Bono Scholars Program (and the clinics and externships offered in that program) allow law students to take the New York State Bar Exam in February of their 3L year and then spend the last semester of law school working full-time on pro bono work for credit through a clinic or externship.

Additional Information

Students are encouraged to discuss all of their questions about choosing clinics or externships with clinical professors and students currently enrolled in clinical courses. Every Spring Semester, prior to the time for submitting applications to clinics and externships, the clinical program holds a “Clinic Fair” that provides students interested in clinics and externships with the opportunity to talk with clinical faculty and with students who are currently enrolled in clinics and externships. At that time of year, the clinical program also hands out, and posts on the website, a set of detailed descriptions of clinics that will be offered in the coming academic year. The descriptions include the names of students currently in clinics and externships so that students who may be interested in these courses can contact current participants to learn more about the nature of the seminar and fieldwork and their time demands.

Information about the clinical program

Information about the process for applying to fieldwork clinics