MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Summer 2020 was much like any other summer: a group of WVU Law students took on meaningful externships across the state, helping further access to justice for West Virginia’s most vulnerable residents.
Summer 2020 was also unlike any summer before: because of the pandemic, the externs were challenged with adapting to quarantine guidelines and varying work environments as they carried out their work.
The 10-week summer externship course at WVU Law allows students to develop their skills in legal research, writing, analysis, interviewing and communication as they work alongside practicing attorneys and judges.
This year, nine students completed externships at the following host sites:
- WVU General Counsel.
- WVU Hospitals/WVU Medicine General Counsel.
- WVU Title IX/Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office.
- Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
- U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, Hon. Tom Kleeh's chambers, Clarksburg.
- U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, Hon. David Bissett's chambers, Wheeling.
- U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, Hon. Irene Keeley's chambers, Clarksburg.
- West Virginia AFL-CIO/ International Union of Operating Engineers Local 132, Charleston.
“Externships are an excellent way for students to get practical, hands-on, relevant legal training in a government, judicial or public interest setting,” said Jennifer Powell, externship course instructor and director of the Center for Law and Public Service. “They get real-life experience by working on real cases and get the chance to learn from attorneys at their placement sites. Students say their legal research and writing skills improve and that they get a chance to build their professional networks.”
Each extern adopted their own routine, working remotely or splitting time between digital and in-person participation throughout the summer. No matter their working format, all students completed significant research projects for their host sites and participated virtually in interviews, hearings and other court-related proceedings. The students received course credit for both their legal work and a final presentation to their peers.
“Externship site supervisors did a good job of keeping in touch with their externs while everyone worked remotely, whether by phone, text or web-based meeting platforms,” Powell said. “We met as a class at least every other week via zoom, which gave us a chance to talk about issues and review course content. I also met with students individually via phone and email to assess their progress and talk about their final presentation projects.”
Second-year law students Patrick Crowe, Jaime Deitzler and Casey Putney were among the summer 2020 externs.
Crowe spent his summer working remotely in WVU’s Office of General Counsel. While he was not able to spend time in person with attorneys in his office, Crowe maintained real-time conversations with them via office chats and video conferences.
“I enjoyed working on real-life issues. Dealing with hypotheticals in law school is great preparation, but the stakes are greater when working on issues with real-life consequences,” he said. “All of the attorneys utilized Microsoft Teams for communication, which made it easy to stay in touch and engaged with them while we worked remotely. It was an effective alternative to being in-person.”
Crowe is from San Diego, California and earned his bachelor’s degree in Sports Management from Eastern Mennonite University. He is working through law school as the director of Baseball Operations at WVU.
Deitzler worked remotely all summer during her externship with WVU’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She was able to gain some real-world experience in person by participating in a victim interview at the Morgantown Public Safety Building, during which all COVID-19 guidelines, like mask wearing and social distancing, were observed.
“I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to complete my externship despite COVID-19. I learned how to interact with investigators and lawyers, which will help me succeed in the future,” she said. Overall, my externship experience improved my writing skills.”
Deitzler is from Morgantown and earned a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University in 2018. At WVU Law, she is a member of Women's Leadership Council, Community Service Council, Public Interest Advocates, Alternative Dispute Resolution Society, West Virginia Association for Justice Student Chapter and the Federal Bar Association Student Chapter.
Putney worked under the guidance of the Hon. Irene M. Keeley of the U.S. District Court for the Northwestern District of West Virginia. Despite COVID-19, he was able to complete parts of her externship in person.
“Judge Keeley’s office adapted well to COVID-19 guidelines and put everyone’s safety as a priority. This included requiring masks in all settings outside our personal offices, and social distancing for conferences and court hearings,” he said. “It cannot be stated enough how much I learned this summer simply by receiving and performing tasks that a lawyer would perform daily. I believe that ‘real life’ aspect of my externship motivated me even further to learn and perform well going forward.”
Putney is from Urbanna, Virginia and graduated from Longwood University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies. At WVU Law, he is pursuing a dual J.D./M.P.A. degree and is involved in the Federal Bar Association and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Society. Prior to attending WVU, he worked for nearly seven years as an emergency services dispatch.
The externship program at WVU Law is designed to provide students with an opportunity to gain practical lawyering skills that complement their law classes and further their legal training.
It also helps them to discover meaningful career opportunities in public interest and government settings and begin building their professional network within the law.
In addition to part-time summer public interest externships, WVU Law students have the option to complete full-time externships with West Virginia’s federal or judicial agencies as part of the externship program.