Externships offer law students the opportunity to have hands-on experiences with the law. To move them from studying it in a classroom to practicing it in a legal setting, such as a corporation, nonprofit, government agency or within the court system.
Tanner Larson, a second-year law student, had the chance this summer to build his skills working directly with clients in an externship with the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General. He worked in the office’s expungement program, which helps Minnesotans, at no cost, determine eligibility and complete the application to have their criminal records sealed. Larson was matched with the position through St. Thomas Law’s Fredrikson & Byron Public Interest Externship Program.
“The tasks performed by externs vary from position to position,” Sally Dahlquist, assistant director of career and professional development and externships, said. “But what we look for when we place a student is that they will get exposure to the day-to-day job of an attorney so they can practice thinking like one and increase their understanding of the law.”
Sometimes this means learning to manage the variety of cases and projects that come across an attorney’s desk and how to be agile in handling requests and client needs.
“The hardest thing about the externship was learning on the fly,” Larson said. “It was very much learning by doing, but the staff at the attorney general's office was very supportive.”
He said he was able to improve over the course of the externship by remaining focused on his clients and actively listening to their stories, competencies that have been stressed in his St. Thomas Law classes.
Larson was also motivated by the impact he could see he was making for his clients when their criminal records were expunged.
“One of my reasons for going to law school was to have a greater ability to help people,” he said.
Sealing, or expunging, a criminal record can remove barriers for those who want to move forward after completing the terms of their sentence. It can be difficult for those with a criminal history to obtain a job or housing, for example, due to necessary background checks.
“My overall takeaway from the experience was that providing legal help that is very simple to legal workers, can make the biggest difference to clients,” Larson said.