Externships - University of Virginia School of Law
Academics: Professional Training

Working full-time at the U.S. Department of Justice, Laura Prebeck spent the fall semester of her third year at UVA Law helping to investigate and prosecute suspected violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

"Not only was I able to gain substantive knowledge of criminal procedure, but I also gained real insight into prosecutorial decision-making within the Justice Department," Prebeck said. "By working at the DOJ full-time, I had the flexibility to attend a range of meetings, help out with time-sensitive assignments, and take on longer-term research assignments."

Prebeck also said she found the experience of working with a seasoned supervising attorney—a key element of the externship program—to be rewarding.

"Because I worked directly with him over the course of the semester, I was able to see my work contribute to his. It was very satisfying to hear my research referenced in a meeting with defense counsel, or to see my writing integrated into a larger memo or report."

Externships FAQs

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What is an externship?

An externship consists of part-time or full-time volunteer work at a government or nonprofit organization, plus reading and writing assignments, for academic credit.

UVA offers four types of externships:  part-time externships, full-time individualized externships, J-Term externships, and UVA Law in DC (fall semester only).

May I work at a law firm or company for externship credit?

No.  Externship credit is only available for work at government or nonprofit organizations.

If I’ve taken a clinical class, or am interested in taking a clinical class, can I still extern? How many non-classroom credits do externships count for?

Yes, you may extern if you’ve taken or are planning to take a clinical class, but you have to be mindful of the limits on non-classroom credits that can count towards your J.D. degree.  You must have a minimum of 86 credits total for the J.D., of which 64 must be in-classroom credits.  Thus, if you plan to have 86 credits for the J.D., you may have a maximum of 22 non-classroom credits.

  • All credits earned by doing a part-time externship or a J-Term externship count as non-classroom credits.
  • All 12 credits earned by doing a full-time, individualized externship count as non-classroom credits.
  • Nine out of the 12 credits earned in the UVA Law in DC program count as non-classroom credits, except for those seeking admission to the New York bar, in which case 10 out of the 12 credits count as non-classroom credits.

The clinic I wanted to take is full or doesn’t fit in my schedule; can I do an externship at that office instead of the clinic?

Externships may not overlap substantially with clinical offerings.  So, for example, you may not extern at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, or the U.S. Attorney’s Office trial division in the Western District of Virginia in Charlottesville, because clinical courses have their students work there.  You could, however, work in the trial divisions of U.S. Attorney’s Offices elsewhere, or at the LAJC in northern Virginia.

May I do an externship part-time?

Yes, for 3 credits total.

May I receive academic credit for externing with a judge?

Yes, but only during the academic year, not during the summer.

Do externships count towards the professional skills requirement?

Yes, any externship – whether part-time, full-time, or part of UVA Law in DC – counts towards the professional skills requirement for graduation.

Do you need to have taken Professional Responsibility, Evidence, or obtained a Third-Year Practice Certificate in order to extern?

You do not need to have taken Professional Responsibility or Evidence before beginning an externship, though you may find it helpful to have done so for certain externships. For some organizations, such as district attorney’s offices, having a Third-Year Practice Certificate may be desirable. Check with the particular organizations you’re interested in to find out if this is the case.

Will I need a background check for an externship?

If you’d like to extern for the federal government, you will undergo a background investigation; indeed, an offer to extern at a federal organization will often be contingent on passing the background check.


Does UVA Law find externship placements for students?

Students must find their own externship placements.  The externship program does maintain a list of potential placement organizations.  This list is only partial, however; virtually any nonprofit or government organization can serve as a placement for an externship, so long as the work is legal in nature and is done under the supervision of a licensed attorney.  See also the questions below.

How do I find a placement organization?

Opportunities for externships are almost boundless.  Where you should apply depends on where you are in your law school career; what type of law you’re interested in, or what type of practice; and any geographic preferences.  Many organizations that take summer interns also take externs, even if their websites do not indicate that. When in doubt, call or email an organization that interests you.

Counselors in the Public Service Center can help you develop a strategic approach to obtaining an externship. There are also many resources on the Public Service Center’s website that have information on government and nonprofit organizations that offer placements, including the following (LawWeb access may be required):

Federal government opportunities

State government opportunities

Public defenders opportunities

Nonprofit opportunities

Again, the options above are by no means exhaustive, but a starting place. The director of externships, A. Sprightley Ryan, can also offer suggestions.


Where have UVA law students done externships?

Click here for a link to a list of current and former externship placements.

Would students who have done externships recently be willing to talk to me?

Yes! Click here for a list of former externs, with email addresses, who’d be more than happy to give you advice and talk to you about their externship experiences.


I’d like to extern but I’m not sure where or whether to do it part-time or full- time. Who can give me advice?

Make an appointment through Symplicity with the director of externships, Professor Ryan, or with a counselor in the Public Service Center, to discuss what type of externship and where would be best for you.

Where may I find further information on externships?

See the Externship Manual, for further information, including the requirements for applying for academic credit, deadlines, and coursework for each of the three types of externships.

Details about the program are in the Externship Manual.

Contact Information

Sprightley Ryan, Director of Externships