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Veronica Chacon heads the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University’s externship program, which has about 180 students participate each semester, working with more than 100 employers. Those numbers have steadily climbed over the past few years.
ASU Law boasts some of the best student outcomes in the country, in terms of bar-passage rates and job-placement numbers. A robust externship program offering an abundance of work opportunities with high-level employers is helping to drive that success.
“Externships are invaluable,” Chacon said. “It's a great way to figure out what it's like to be a lawyer. And it's a great way to explore practice areas, which is something we really encourage students to do. It's often very difficult for students to narrow down what practice area they're interested in, because until you've done it, you don't really know what it's like. And so not only from a career services standpoint does it help you find a postgraduation job, but I think it really enriches your law school experience to have this practical work experience as well as the amazing classes that you get here at the law school.”
Unlike internships, which students can seek out independently, externships are vetted by ASU Law and regulated by American Bar Association and university standards. Students must take a class in conjunction with their externships and are required to work a certain number of hours; they also receive class credit.
ASU Law has aggressively grown its externship program and offers several different types. The general externship program is mainly for positions in the Phoenix area, working with government agencies, nonprofit organizations, judges, law firms and corporate legal departments. A 3L residency program, which is exclusively for third-year students, is a full-year program working with small to midsize law firms. There are also externship programs for out-of-state positions.
“I really think it's because firms are seeing how valuable it is to have a year with our students to decide whether or not they want to hire them,” Chacon said. “We're giving firms the opportunity to work with the students, get to know them and find out if they fit in their culture and with the work that they do. And they’re excited about that opportunity.”
After completing her first year at ASU Law, Madison Stark is externing this summer in San Francisco for the Pac-12.
“It’s been awesome to see all the concepts that I've learned in my first year of law school put to use in a real-life setting,” Stark said. “I've gotten to take part in a bunch of really cool projects, and I’m so grateful that the Pac-12 has instilled so much trust in me. I've gotten to draft and write contracts, from the bare bones to execution. I've gotten to conduct some really important employment and sports gambling research. I've gotten to take part in arbitration meetings and write memos when the attorneys need it for certain issues. It's really been a great experience overall.”
The opportunity came about through an ASU Law networking event in February with the school’s Master of Sports Law and Business board of directors. Although not in the MSLB program, Stark — who captained ASU’s soccer team as an undergrad — is seeking a career in sports and entertainment law. A faculty member introduced her to Pac-12 General Counsel Woodie Dixon, suggesting her soccer background and career interests would be a great conversation-starter. Shortly thereafter, she had an invitation to interview for the externship.
“I was able to represent the Pac-12 on the field, playing for the women's soccer program at ASU, and it's been an amazing experience to represent the Pac-12 and work to make a difference off the field as well,” said Stark, who already has her next externship lined up: working with the Arizona Coyotes this fall.
According to fellow student Anthony Studnicka, working with the Coyotes will be an outstanding experience. Studnicka, who is also in between his first two years of ASU Law, is spending his summer on an externship with the Coyotes.
“The experience has been nothing short of incredible,” he said. “The Coyotes provide a great work environment with the opportunity and resources so that students like myself are able to succeed. The Coyotes provide a hands-on experience, which includes research, drafting, analyzing and even participating and joining in on important organizational decisions and tasks.”
Like Stark, Studnicka has been interested in sports throughout his life and has previously worked with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, a baseball agent and Fox Sports Arizona. The externship with the Coyotes, working with General Counsel Marina Carpenter and Associate Legal Counsel Taylor White, has been a perfect fit.
“The legal skills and experience this provides, I am confident will serve me for years to come,” he said. “Marina and Taylor provide clear road maps to complete tasks, in addition to meticulous feedback, which helps stimulate the learning process. Every week, I’m learning new things that will impact my future, getting a better understanding of the important and particular processes necessary to make unerring lasting legal decisions.”
In the fall, Studnicka will be joining the Sports and Entertainment Law Journal as an associate editor. And he will be exploring a new area of the law through his next externship with the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs.
ASU Law makes student outcomes a top priority.
Chacon says that among ASU Law’s class of 2018, 100% of the students who participated in the 3L Residency externship program had been hired within 10 months of graduation.
“I believe what sets ASU Law apart is the abundance of resources set in place to help students succeed not only inside, but outside of the classroom,” Studnicka said. “From resume help to assistance with externship placement, ASU Law really wants their students to succeed in the real world, and if you as a student take the time to utilize the resources, success is possible for anyone.”
Stark agrees, saying “the opportunities are really endless” in terms of externships, student organizations, study abroad programs, clinics, journals and other learning experiences outside the classroom.
“I honestly can't speak highly enough about the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law,” she said. “I’ve had the greatest experience so far and learned so much in my first year of law school — more than I've learned in any other time of my life.”
Chacon says ASU Law takes great pride in the quality of its externship program and the depth of the practice areas offered to students.
“We work really hard to make sure that if you want it, you can get it, and if there's a practice area that you're interested in and you don't see it represented in our employers, we work with you to get that position,” she said. “We take a lot of pride in making sure that our students get amazing externship experiences. We require a lot of evaluations from students to find out how we can improve the program and how we can improve the quality of employers.”