Description of Government Internship Program

Instructor:   Helen Gaebler
University of Texas School of Law
727 East Dean Keeton St.
Austin, Texas 78705
(512) 232-5439
hgaebler@law.utexas.edu

Assistant:     Rachel Sidopulos, rsidopulos@law.utexas.edu

Introduction

The Government Internship Program provides a unique opportunity for law students to work closely with experienced attorneys at approved placements for academic credit. Students engage in legal work with government offices, gaining hands-on experience that the students reflect upon and analyze. Student assignments address topics relevant to the role of lawyers and legal institutions, including ethics, access to justice, advocacy and communication skills, professional identity and self-development.

Supervising attorneys are expected to provide students with varied and challenging assignments, along with opportunities to observe or participate in activities of the office that would be educational for students. All interns are expected to do significant research and writing.

Placement supervisors are critical partners in this educational endeavor. Students receive a significant benefit from the supervisors’ involvement, and supervisors hopefully find their teaching roles rewarding and enjoy the side benefit of student assistance.

Students are required to perform a minimum of 150 hours of uncompensated legal work at their placements over at least ten weeks. Internship hours must be completed by the last day of classes. Each placement may require a greater time commitment or specified prior experience.

Internship placements must be pre-approved by the instructor. Each student must be assigned to an experienced supervising attorney who agrees to participate in this program. Students must work in the offices of their sponsoring organizations and interact with their supervisors in person (i.e, “virtual offices” or long-distance supervision are not permitted). Students are instructed to comply with all confidentiality rules of their sponsoring organizations and the applicable rules of professional conduct. While the students’ internship experiences serve as a basis for course assignments, all confidentiality constraints are honored. This course is offered for four credits during term-time and is open to students who have completed the first two semesters of law school.

Educational Objectives

The broad educational objectives for the Government Internship Program are as follows:

  1. To develop students’ lawyering skills through participation in and observation of the legal work performed in their placement offices;
  2. To expose students to issues of professional responsibility within the context of practice;
  3. To give students the opportunity to study the work of legal institutions and the lawyering role;
  4. To encourage students to engage in an ongoing process of professional self-development.

To accomplish these objectives, students are tasked to focus on three more specific goals as they work onsite.  We ask that supervisors assist students as they:

  1. Learn to target specific lawyering skills on which they would like to focus and to track their progress in developing those skills.
  2. Practice the skills involved in effective informal oral presentation before lawyers.
  3. Engage in professional self-development and written reflection.

 Class meetings will be used primarily to expose students to a very broad variety of tasks, problems, and ethical dilemmas that may arise in government work.  These experiences will allow students interact with their peers, whose placements are interesting and varied, and to understand the broader landscape of government lawyering in which their placements are situated.

The specific goals for the classroom component of this class include that students:

  1. Gain a better understanding of the common issues and tasks involved in government lawyering, along with a sense of which issues they find interesting and which tasks they like and/or dislike.
  2. Are able to identify a number of ethical dilemmas and other tasks and challenges unique to government lawyering.
  3. Further enhance the skills involved in informal oral presentation before lawyers through presenting material to their peers and instructor.

Role of the Supervising Attorney

Supervising attorneys are essential partners in this educational endeavor. An attorney with at least three years’ experience must supervise each student, although the student may receive assignments from others in the office. The Law School’s expectations of supervisors are as follows:

Orientation: Each supervisor should ensure that the student receives a full orientation about the mission of the office, policies and procedures, resources available for legal research, and confidentiality of information and documents. Supervisors are asked to provide training materials, sample documents and a list of suggested readings to students.

Internship Plan: Students are responsible for developing educational goals and creating specific plans for their internships. Each intern meets with the supervising attorney to discuss his or her goals and the types of experience that might help to achieve them. The student and supervisor create a plan that includes specific activities designed to maximize the educational content of the internship. This plan should be as concrete as possible and should consider all available learning opportunities within the placement (i.e., staff meetings, strategy sessions, court proceedings, client interviews, etc.). The student reduces the plan to writing for the supervisor and course instructor.

Work assignments: Students should be assigned to do significant legal work, including challenging and varied assignments and meaningful research and writing. Ideally, students will participate in legal work similar to that of a beginning attorney, requiring them to synthesize their developing legal knowledge and skills. Administrative tasks should not be part of a student’s normal workload. Students may occasionally work with non-lawyers, but the student’s work must be primarily legal in nature.

The supervisor and student are expected to establish a regular schedule for the student’s work. While students may perform some of their work away from the placement, most of their time should be spent at the office. Each intern maintains contemporaneous timesheets reflecting the hours they work and the general nature of their activities. Timesheets must be signed by the supervising attorney.

Supervision: The internship program offers a unique opportunity for a student to meet regularly with an experienced attorney to discuss cases, strategy, proceedings, client relations, and professional responsibility issues. Such interactions help the student develop insights into the role of lawyers.

Regular supervision is valuable and critical to this educational experience. The supervisor is responsible for monitoring and evaluating the student, and should be available regularly to answer questions, monitor assignments and provide feedback. Supervisors are encouraged to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of an intern’s performance on each activity and provide suggestions for improvement.

Evaluation: The faculty instructor will be in touch with each supervisor during the term to discuss the student’s activities and performance. The supervisor is expected to:

  1. Formally evaluate the student mid-term through the completion of the Evaluation of Progress;
  2. Respond promptly to requests via email/phone for updates on the student’s performances; and
  3. Complete a written Final Evaluation and conduct an exit conference with the student at the end of the internship to discuss the evaluation and the student’s experience. The student’s overall performance must be rated at least “fair” in order to receive academic credit.

Students and supervisors are urged to try to resolve any problems together. If an issue arises that does not seem easily addressed, the faculty instructor should be contacted immediately.

We are grateful for your participation!

Helen Gaebler
University of Texas School of Law
727 East Dean Keeton St.
Austin, Texas 78705
(512) 232-5439
hgaebler@law.utexas.edu