When the global pandemic forced Miami Law to shift to online classes and social distancing, the Career Development Office had to make decisions swiftly regarding its Externship Programs. Miami Law spoke with Sajani Desai Granquist, Assistant Director and Externship Program Manager, about what steps have been taken to ensure that students can still get hands-on experience during the COVID-19 crisis.
How have you been supporting students and their employers to ensure they are able to continue with current externships?
We believe the practical legal experience that students gain at their externship field placements is invaluable, so we provide support to our students and supervising attorneys in every way we can, including after the COVID-19 outbreak. To that end, we have open and active communication with both our externs and supervising attorneys.
For example, when the university made the decision to transition to distance learning because of COVID-19, we reached out to every supervising attorney and requested that the extern under his/her supervision be transitioned to remote fieldwork. Understanding that some field placements could not support remote work for various reasons, we arranged for a contingency plan where Dean Kele Stewart would assign the student an academic research project to account for the student's remaining field hours if necessary. All but two externship field placements transitioned their externs to a remote working format.
As part of our communication, we made resources like Tips to Successfully Work Remotely available to our externs. We also transitioned all remaining externship skills lectures to a distance learning format, so students were able to continue to gain practical tips and information from legal professionals in our community. Lastly, we check in with both our externs and supervising attorneys continually.
How easily have student externships shifted to a virtual medium?
All of our students have transitioned well to the remote working format. Our students had the benefit of working in-person at their field placements for eight weeks prior to transitioning to a remote working format, allowing them to develop strong relationships with their supervising attorneys and colleagues. Every extern and supervising attorney completed an Externship Agreement due to COVID-19, which required the student and supervising attorney to have a meeting of the minds about what type of technology would be required to effectively work remotely, what type of assignments would be provided remotely and a concrete feedback/communication plan. One good example is Bacardi-Martini, Inc. Bacardi provided each of their externs a Bacardi laptop to allow them to continue to work remotely.
Do you foresee summer externships continuing as planned this year?
We are thrilled that a number of our externship field placements have confirmed they are planning to move forward with their summer program despite COVID-19. These include Florida Justice Institute, Miami Waterkeeper, University of Miami Office of Technology Transfer, University of Miami Office of Privacy & Data Security, Federal Public Defender's Office, U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, ACLU of Florida, Legal Services of Greater Miami, Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office, and the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. Despite COVID-19, we also have added new field placements such as MIAMI Association of Realtors and Metro-Dade Firefighters IAFF Local 1403. We will continue to confirm/add new placements to the Summer 2020 Externship Program.
Similarly, some LL.M. programs have also transitioned their students to virtual practicums. For example, the International Arbitraiton LL.M. plans to offer several practicum placements virtually this summer including at Shutts & Bowen, deAlmeida Pereira, GST, and White & Case.