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Becoming Practice Ready

Third-year law student Jorge Salazar was almost certain his personal interests and professional aspirations would lead him to a future practicing civil law, contracts and torts.

“At least that’s what I thought,” said Salazar, who like many of his 3L classmates has just completed Concordia Law’s Externship Program.

Like many of his peers, Salazar used his externship to take a deep dive into a specific area of law. In January, the 27-year-old Texan was matched with a supervising attorney working in a private, criminal law firm in Boise.

Working side-by-side with his supervisor, Salazar had a front-row exposure to the world of criminal law. He filed motions to suppress evidence and dismiss cases. He sat alongside his supervisor during a week-long trial in the Ada County Courthouse. He performed client intake, networked with attorneys and judges, and came away with a new career plan after graduation.

“In school, my only criminal class was … in criminal procedure and evidence,” he said. “When I got to the externship, I got to see a lot more of the practical side of the law, things like talking to clients, talking to judges, going to court, researching and filing motions. The practical side of it all was very interesting, and I really didn’t know how interesting it would be … or how fun.”

Each academic year, Concordia Law Externship Director Brenda Bauges enlists judges, general counsel offices, private law firms, government agencies and public interest organizations to take part in the program. Under guidelines of the program, which is regulated by the American Bar Association, students must perform 50 hours of field work for each credit earned in their externship placement.

Typically, externship program faculty oversees up to 20 placements per faculty member each semester, with majority of placements occurring in the summer. To qualify, students must have completed 28 credits of academic study and be in good academic standing.

“I think the real value of an externship is the exposure it provides to the skills, demands and level of professionalism expected of practicing attorneys,” Bauges said. “Those are aspects of being an attorney we talk about and teach in the classroom, but in some respects are best learned in a real-world environment.”

For Abigail Schwartz, her externship in the Office of the Idaho Attorney General gave her valuable exposure to a world she never considered: the nexus of the law, state government and politics.

Assigned to a Deputy Attorney General in the Department of Labor, Schwartz attended committee hearings during the 2020 Legislature, engaged with lawmakers and learned the importance of communicating the nuances and intricacies of the law to clients who tend to see the world through a political lens.

 “It really taught me the importance of being able to understand and present ideas carefully in a politically charged setting,” said Schwartz, who grew up in Alaska and came to Idaho for her undergraduate degree. “It also opened me up to the pros and cons of working in a public versus a private space. Working for the Attorney General has made me see the positives of working for government.”

An externship also provides an opportunity to sharpen networking skills, reinforce the professional importance of being organized and thorough, and, in the case of Matt Ruiz, to bolster confidence. Ruiz, 32, who grew up in California and served four years in the U.S. Army before pursuing a law degree, served his externship as a clerk for U.S. District Judge David Nye, one of two federal judges in Idaho.

“I think for me, I’m walking away from this experience with the feeling that ‘I can do this,’” he said. “In the federal court, you’re surrounded by incredibly intelligent people all the time. But my takeaway is that the research I did, the opinions I helped write and the questions I helped answer were up to the standards. I see now how important it is to keep building on that.”