College of Law offers remote semester in D.C.

A new program in the College of Law provides for students to participate in an externship at Washington, D.C. and practice legal work.


Dave Harmantas

The University of Iowa College of Law’s Boyd Law Building on Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. The College of Law is the number 20 ranked law school in the country.

Katie Ann McCarver, News Reporter

As the home of the first caucus in the nation, Iowa is generally understood to have an upper hand in politics. For aspiring lawyers, that power provides for a unique position in the nation’s capital.

Next fall, UI College of Law students will have the opportunity to spend a semester in Washington in an externship that allows participants to earn credit while simultaneously practicing legal work at the center of U.S. government.

“There are just a lot of opportunities in D.C. for lawyers,” said June Tai, the law school director of field placement programs. “The types of legal work are varied, so you have a pretty wide spectrum. You’re not limited in that sense.”

Although similar programs have been, and remain, available at UI law in different locations, Tai said this new and more curricular focus on D.C. has more of a theme. Her hope is that instead of one person being in a particular city, a cohort of students will work together.

“It’s a place where a lot of the work that’s done, it’s unique and specialized,” Tai said. “Even if you don’t end up in D.C. long term, seeing the government work from a lawyer’s perspective, you get an experience in a skill set that you can take with you.”

It’s a place where a lot of the work that’s done, it’s unique and specialized.

— June Tai

Tai compared a law student’s externship to a medical student’s residency: a very immersive experience in which they can see a lot more than they might in a regular internship.

“You’re doing legal work under supervision of an attorney,” Tai said. “Especially if you’re doing it in the academic year, things happen that might not over the summer.” 

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A majority of law students at the UI opt to stay in-state for their externships, but Tai said the new program will hopefully benefit them in career placement counseling and looking for positions in D.C. with the help of UI alumni in the area.

Law Dean Kevin Washburn said a handful of UI law graduates take jobs in D.C. annually, and he suspects there are others who would like to.

“We’re really excited; it was sort of my vision, I guess,” he said. “My own career has taken me to Washington, D.C., on many occasions, so I’ve got a kind of interest [there]. It’s a fun place to be as a young lawyer. That’s how I came to focus on it.”

Washburn emphasized the comparative advantage of UI students in D.C., saying that politicians value staffers who understand the state of Iowa, particularly in regard to elections.

Ultimately, he said, the externship is a component of a larger strategic plan by the UI law administration, with specific thought toward how that can improve the law-school experience.

“Overall, I think it’s an important opportunity to have available to students,” law Assistant Dean Jill De Young said. “For those who are interested, they can see law in practice in a different setting, while learning from and networking with D.C.-area alumni.”