COURSE WORK: John Clarke just graduated with a law degree from Roger Williams University School of Law after participating in the Corporate Counsel Clinical Externship Program, where companies give hands-on experience in corporate legal work in exchange for academic credit.
Law school is a heady experience, and by that, recent Roger Williams University Law School graduate John Clarke, of North Kingstown, means “theoretical.”
Law school coursework “doesn’t necessarily translate into real-world skills,” said Clarke, after participating in the spring semester of the RWU Law School Corporate Counsel Clinical Externship Program run by Cecily Banks, director of the program and a professor of legal practice. He worked for academic credit in construction law at Gilbane Building Co., one of several participating corporations.
“With the externship,” Clarke said, “everything is hands-on. You see different aspects of transactional law … and see how issues might come up. The real-world application of it is a lot different than the way it is taught to you, whether you’re writing a memo or email correspondence. Being able to see it actually happening is enormously beneficial.”
The Corporate Counsel Clinical Externship Program provides academic credit, not pay, for law students who work in the in-house corporate offices of for-profit companies and nonprofits in Rhode Island and southern New England, Banks said. Externs are not paid and sign nondisclosure agreements because they are exposed to the inner workings of the company, she said.
“It’s a pure training mission,” Banks said. “The rationale is: This is designed as a training program, an educational extension of what we are doing in the law school. … In this training model, supervisors work hard to give them meaningful tasks and projects that further the development of the student.”
Confidentiality is the lynchpin of the program because Rhode Island is such a small place to do business, and there is no expectation for hiring put on the companies, Banks added.
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