Each week during the fall 2023 semester, Kamryn Sannicks split her time between attending class at the Law School and working remotely for the Nebraska Civil Engagement Table. Leon Boykins put his textbooks aside to sit on conference calls with members of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s legal team. In the Twin Cities, Lexie Studler worked full time for the US Department of the Interior while earning class credit.

Sannicks, Boykins, and Studler participated in domestic-based externships, supplementing part or all of their coursework with real-life legal work experience.

Michigan Law’s Externship Program allows students to work on a part-time or full-time basis for one semester throughout their matriculation at the Law School. While the program is perhaps best known for its overseas experiences in Geneva and South Africa, domestic-based externships allow students to work for a nonprofit organization, government agency, or court to gain professional experience within the United States. 

“Students have two summers to explore their career interests outside the classroom, but an externship lets them get another taste of a real legal setting throughout the school year,” said Professor Amy Sankaran, ’01, externship program director.

Boosting support for nonprofits in Nebraska

Portrait of Kamryn Sannicks
Kamryn Sannicks

Though Kamryn Sannicks, 2L, lives and attends law school in Michigan, she remains involved with her home state of Nebraska. Currently serving in the Nebraska National Guard, Sannicks anticipates balancing her remaining semesters with military obligations. So, this past semester was the perfect time for her to participate in a part-time externship through Michigan Law. 

Although Sannicks’s career interests are centered around corporate law, she wants a broad understanding of the legal landscape. She crafted an externship with the Nebraska Civil Engagement Table, a service-oriented organization that works alongside and provides support to local nonprofits. The organization focuses on increased voter participation among historically marginalized and underrepresented communities across Nebraska. 

“Be it people of color, queer people, people who are becoming citizens for the first time, brand new voters, or young people, the Nebraska Table is involved in that work,” she said.

Interested in the day-to-day operations of a nonprofit organization, particularly on the staff side, Sannicks knew the Nebraska Civic Engagement Table was the right placement for her. “I saw the many ways the law impacts nonprofits, from their financial standing with the IRS and within the state to organizing on those issues to doing timely policy work for the upcoming and ongoing ballot initiatives in Nebraska.”

Sannicks said the hands-on experience tied to her roots drew her to the program. “Being engaged with what’s going on at home on a weekly basis, rather than just when I’m there for drill, gave me the ability to work on things that I haven’t been able to do as much since being in law school several states away,” she said. “And the externship helped diversify what I was learning.”

From inside the governor’s office

Portrait of Leon Boykins
Leon Boykins

Wherever he finds himself, Leon Boykins, 2L, prioritizes networking. “As I’ve been a student, or in most places I’ve lived, I’ve tried to find ways to connect with the local community,” he said. “To me, this externship was another way of doing that.”

Boykins participated in a part-time externship in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office during the fall semester. With his primary interests spanning education law, child advocacy law, and civil rights law, he is attuned to the education-specific policies enacted in the Michigan government. When Gov. Whitmer signed the bipartisan education budget for fiscal year 2024, ensuring all Michigan public schools get free breakfast and lunch, Boykins felt inspired. 

“I was interested in seeing more about how those decisions came about and what role the office played in them,” he said. “The recent education policy further drew me to the job.”

One of Boykins’ goals during his externship was to understand the challenges lawyers in a governor’s office face and how they stay informed about what Michigan citizens are interested in. “Every Friday, I met with a legal team member to have an hour-long virtual chat,” he recalled. “It was a deep dive into what they do, the projects they’re working on, and who they work with.”

Touching on the advantages of being a part-time extern, Boykins said, “I enjoyed having classwork but also getting to spend time working on real projects.”

Building a network before graduation

Portrait of Lexie Studler
Lexie Studler

Lexie Studler, 3L, is well acquainted with Michigan Law’s Externship Program, having participated in a part-time externship with the California Air Resources Board in 2022. This past semester, the Minnesota native took on a full-time externship with the US Department of the Interior in their Twin Cities office. This time around, she said she has a broader understanding of what it’s like to work for a government organization.

Studler’s work centers on environmental law, natural resources law, and federal Indian law, which often overlap. “I knew a couple of the 3Ls when I was a first- and second-year student who had externed for Interior,” she recalled. “I want to do government work, and this externship offered me the possibility to work with one of their many offices.” 

Reflecting on the differences between her part-time and full-time externships, Studler said her most recent placement with Interior allowed her to dive deeper into the projects she was assigned. “I’ve gotten more hands-on experience,” she said. “Being full time and participating in office or client meetings has given me a better idea of how these offices work and are managed.” 

Studler said the experience has also affirmed her career goals. “I was assigned ongoing research throughout the semester for issues with the Bureau of Indian Affairs regarding contracts that the US has with tribes. That was my favorite: working with clients, fact investigating, and coordinating with our Indian law attorneys.”

Studler recommends Michigan Law’s Externship Program, particularly for building your network as a student. “If you participate in a domestic externship somewhere that you’re trying to work, it can be a good primer to practice there eventually,” she said.