Externships Give Real-World Law Experience

Monday, January 28, 2013

Christy Caves named University of Tulsa College of Law assistant dean of experiential learning

By Ralph Schaefer
Business & Legal News
Published Monday, January 21, 2013

 Christy CavesEmployers want law school students to have some real-world experience when they graduate.  Responding to that need, Christy Caves has been named assistant dean of the experiential learning program at The University of Tulsa College of Law.  That change centralized the program and put it under Christy's direction.

The goal is to create opportunities for students to gain that practical experience in addition to academic work, she said.  Law students work in various areas from non-profits to law firms and government entities.  The 33 students working between 10 and 15 hours each week at various locations are unpaid.  Externships are assigned each semester.

American Bar Association rules hold the student benefits from the program, and as a result they give back to their community.  Rules govern the externship program.  All students must be supervised by an attorney.  Work must be educational in nature and weekly evaluation meetings.  That work can involve research, drafting documents and just observing the goings-on in the area where they are assigned.

Caves said some of the externship is required classes that students attend as part of the curriculum.  They vary from the civil to criminal and domestic courts to the Women in Recovery program, depending upon where the student is working during the semester.  Students must make the commitment because monthly time sheets are turned in to Caves for review.

This is an exciting opportunity because students get a chance to see the legal world beyond the classroom, she said.  Working in the real world supports their classroom experience.  Hopefully every law student will take advantage of this meaningful learning opportunity.

Caves, who earned her Juris Doctorate in 2005 from the TU College of Law, said that she was not aware of  any externship that might have existed at that time.  Now she is working with law firms and organizations outside the law school that possibly could provide that meaningful experience for students.

The role change to assistant dean from being the Professional Director associate director meant that Caves has changed office and job focus.  She is still helping students develop professionally and obtain employment both during law school and after graduation.  "Watching the students grow and accomplish new feats during their three years here is quite rewarding, and I am happy to be a part of the process," Caves said.  "From this position, I have learned first-hand how vitally important obtaining practical experience is to gaining meaningful placement."

The TU law school has consistently held an employment rate above the national average and we must continue to make new strides to ensure students are as market ready as possible, especially as the current legal market remains tight, she said.

Dean Janet Levit and TU Law are answering that call by enhancing the experiential learning program available.  Externships are so vital to the law school experience because they offer law students the opportunity to gain hands-on learning so they can hit the ground running at graduation, while doing so ethically and competently, Caves said.  Additionally, this program allows our law school to help serve the legal needs of our community.  As the externship program grows, every law student extern will still be provided with the individual attention and assistance they deserve to ensure their experience is fruitful and one of a kind.

Ralph Schaefer