ABA approves paid externships for law students

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Law students will be able to earn money while earning class credit as part of a change to the legal education standards approved by the American Bar Association during its annual meeting this month.

The ABA House of Delegates concurred with a proposal from the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar which opens the door for law students to get academic credit for paid externships. According to a press release from the ABA, the delegates voted Aug. 8 on the proposal after a “short but spirited debate.”

Under the previous standard, students were barred from receiving compensation for field placements. In August 2014, the House of Delegates nudged the council to remove the prohibition. The delegates said eliminating the provision would increase the number of experiential opportunities and enable law students to graduate with less debt.

In December 2015, the council approved amendments to the Standards for Approval of Law Schools which followed the delegates’ recommendation and crossed out the prohibition on paychecks. Advocates of the change echoed the delegates, saying students would be able to reduce their loan debt if they could earn money while getting class credit.

However some law school professors opposed the removal. They fear that allowing compensation will alter the nature of the externship to one where employers are assigning work that benefits the organization rather than work that helps the students’ educational growth.

In its report on the proposal, the council said it did share the professors’ concern. It stated the protections in the revised standard “were adequate to ensure that students participating in field placements for which compensation is offered would be receiving a substantial lawyering experience deserving of academic credit.”


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