In 2012, Mike House (’71) and Ed Rogers (’84) had a goal of creating an externship program to introduce Alabama Law students to career opportunities in Washington DC. Ten years later, through the leadership and support of many dedicated alumni, Alabama Law’s DC Externship Program has placed more than 70 students in over 43 different agencies, committees, or advocacy group offices across DC.
“DC is a top out-of-state market for our graduates,” said House (’71), past president of the Alabama Law Board of Governors (2020-2022), long-time parter at Hogan Lovells, and founder of Oak Grove Strategies. “It is a unique city where contacts and qualifications can be equally important. This is why this program, backed up by a strong committed alumni network, is essential.”
The program places students in federal agencies, legislative committees, or nonprofit advocacy groups during the spring semester of their second or third year of law school. While in DC, externs work full-time for the 14-week semester and earn 12 hours of academic credit accompanied by a two-credit hour political and legislative writing course taught by four Alabama Law alumni.
“The DC Program has helped our students build their careers in multiple ways,” said Program Director and Assistant Dean Megan Walsh (’12). “Some use the experience to learn more about the DC market and make connections while there for future opportunities in DC. Others seek out specific practice areas at agencies and non-profits to gain experience to take back to other organizations that practice the same topic.”
Upon arrival in DC, each law student participating in the program is paired with a mentor from Alabama Law’s DC Advisory Board, made up of Alabama Law alumni in the area. Throughout the 14-week course, mentors offer advice to students on applying the law, operating in the workforce, networking, understanding policy, and becoming well-rounded professionals. For many of the Board Members, the opportunity to mentor the students is personal.
“I want to help students get started in DC,” said John Cox (’92), adjunct professor in the DC externship program and Founder and Managing Director at Verto Solutions. “I give back to the students because Alabama Law grads helped me get started in Washington after I graduated.”
For the students participating in the externship program, the personal mentorship offered by the Advisory Board members doesn’t go unnoticed.
“The Alabama Law alumni I encountered in Washington, DC were incredibly generous with their time and interested in the success of Alabama students,” said Meredith Moore, a 3L who participated in the program in Spring 2022. “The law students participating in the DC. Externship program not only interacted with alumni professors, but with an entire advisory board of alumni who shape the program and want to help Alabama Law students.”
During her externship, Moore worked as a semester law clerk for the Department of Justice’s Federal Tort Claims Act Section where she was responsible for helping determine the government’s tort liability and defending the government from claims of employee negligence.
“On a normal day, I helped my Section process administrative claims submitted to the Department by researching the applicable federal and state law and drafting memoranda recommending the settlement or denial of claims,” Moore said. “Throughout the semester, I had the chance to assist my supervisor by working on matters involving a variety of federal agencies and laws, which was an incredible opportunity to expand my legal expertise.”
With the support of Alabama Law Alumni, past student placements have included: the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Office of the White House Counsel, the Department of Labor, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Center for Justice and International Law, the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Senate Budget Committee, the Senate Legislative Counsel, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
“[This program] has changed lives,” said Michael Taylor (’97), chair of the DC Advisory Committee, adjunct professor, and partner at King & Spalding. “Part of the real success of the Externship Program is because the University is behind it. It takes a lot of time and effort to run a program like this.”
However, according to Program Director and Assistant Dean Megan Walsh, it’s the alumni who truly make the difference.
“The Alabama Law support system in DC is incredible, and we are so thankful for such wonderful alumni who give back to our students,” Walsh said.
From taking headshots in front of the Supreme Court, going on private tours of the Senate Chambers, attending receptions and alumni events, and working with their placements, externs are given every opportunity possible to build their network and relationships in the DC area.
“The results speak for themselves,” said House (’71). “In a recent survey of Capitol Hill employees, Alabama Law ranked sixth among National Law Schools in the number of graduates working in Congress—second, just behind Harvard if you are looking at schools that aren’t based in DC. * This is a remarkable achievement.”
And while this program is driven by the commitment and mentorship of alumni and adjunct professors in the DC area, the experience would not be possible for many students without the financial backing provided by our generous alumni base. Recently, Alabama Law introduced the Mike and Gina House DC Externship Student Support Fund—in recognition of the tireless and selfless dedication of Mike and Gina House—to offset additional living costs for students. Not only are housing costs high in DC, but many students must also continue paying rent in Tuscaloosa while they are away for the spring semester. Through the Mike and Gina House Fund, the Law School can ensure that financial barriers do not keep students from participating in an externship experience in DC.
“I could not have participated in this program without the financial and academic support I received from Alabama Law” Moore said. “I want to express my deep gratitude for the school’s commitment to this program and recognition of the value it has for its students. This experience will impact my law school career and future legal career because it gave me a greater understanding of a small part of the largest legal employer in the world, an inside look at life as an attorney in Washington, DC, and a deep respect for the DOJ’s work.”
To learn more about the Alabama Law’s DC Externship Program, contact Megan Walsh, Director of DC Externship Program: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* The data reflects congressional staffers working in DC congressional offices as of April 30th, 2019. Rankings found on LegBranch.org: https://www.legbranch.org/everything-youve-ever-wanted-to-know-about-educational-pipelines-to-capitol-hill/