SWLAW Blog | Dean's Fellow Digest

Dean's Fellow Digest Issue #46

March 14, 2023

Dean's Fellow Digest Issue #46: Mapping a Southwestern Student’s Route to Landing a Job as a Criminal Law Attorney in the Local Public Sector

Issue: 2022-03-10

Dean's Fellows consistently strive to support students in realizing their full academic potential, leading ultimately to success on the bar exam and in the workplace. To support all Southwestern students in this goal, the Dean's Fellows created this Digest as a way to check-in at critical times throughout the semester with helpful tips, strategies, and encouragement. 


  • Mapping a Southwestern Student’s Route to Landing a Job as a Criminal Law Attorney in the Local Public Sector 

Dean's Fellow Digest Issue #46: Mapping a Southwestern Student’s Route to Landing a Job as a Criminal Law Attorney in the Local Public Sector

Are you interested in pursuing a career in Criminal Law with the District Attorney’s or the Public Defender’s Office? The path to either office is often quite similar. Although there are other non-traditional routes, here are a few tips to help you get through the door!

Part One: Extern & Explore

What are externships?

What are Externships?

As a Southwestern student, you must complete six experiential units to graduate. Southwestern offers a list of approved externship placements and permits students to introduce other placements for approval. Each externship will earn you a certain number of experiential units based on the number of hours you devote to the externship. The chart below breaks down the hours/credits system (SCALE students have different requirements). These numbers may seem intimidating, especially with your already busy schedule, but this commitment is certainly worth the time.

Chart breaking down the hours/credits per semesterThere is an academic component to externships. The academic program requires that you attend a few class meetings throughout the semester, including an orientation meeting for first-time externs. This is a credit/no credit class that typically meets just a few times in the semester to supplement your experience in the office. It is often taught by a professional in the same industry who can provide invaluable information to help you excel at your externship.

Externing is not only a graduation requirement but also a source of invaluable experience and support building. In addition to providing practical experience, externships offer you an opportunity to foresee a future in the office you want to build a career in. During your externship, you will see the day-to-day expectations, gain hands-on experience, and connect with the people who will become your mentors and supporters along the way.

You will be assigned to a supervising attorney who will be your direct mentor throughout the semester. However, you will have or should seek, the opportunity to work with and build relationships with other attorneys in the office, as well. It is important to keep the line of communication open with these professionals by asking for feedback, encouraging critique, and asking for different kinds of assignments. Do not get comfortable- take the initiative to reach out for opportunities that don’t automatically fall on your lap.

At the office, you will have the opportunity to evaluate real cases, analyze evidence, meet with victims/defendants, draft memoranda and legal briefs that may be submitted to the court or navigated through the office, observe court proceedings, and even conduct your own preliminary hearings. Students who have completed Evidence are eligible to apply to become Certified Law Clerks at their chosen office with the State Bar. As a Certified Law Clerk, you may conduct preliminary hearings, argue motions, and even conduct jury trials under the supervision of your supervising attorney. Not only is this a great way to get the chance to speak on the record, but the more such experience you gain, the more you stand out in the application process later. For more information, visit: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/, and click “Practical Training of Law Students.”

Externships are not only great practical training, but they are also key for you to build up a strong support system. Your direct supervisor can become an asset to you for your future with the office and are a great resource for letters of recommendation, answering questions about applications and hiring, and acting as a reference on your resume. Also, take the opportunity to talk to other attorneys in the office when you have free time and offer your time. Speaking with different people will help you gain insight from a different perspective so you can determine for yourself whether that is where you see yourself in long term. 

When are you eligible?

When are you eligible?

Traditional students can extern after the completion of the first year- starting in the Summer semester before 2L Fall. SCALE students often extern full-time during Period 8. Part-time students can start externing during their second summer. Although part-time students are not allocated credit for externing before the second summer, they may still volunteer for personal gain by directly applying with the office of their choice.

I strongly recommend that students begin externing as soon as they are eligible, if not earlier, for personal gain. Don’t let time get away from you. Understandably, part-time students have significantly less time during the week to dedicate to an externship program (e.g., work or taking care of family). But volunteering is not impossible. You set your own days and schedule at the office, and the Externship Office at Southwestern is always looking for unique ways to ensure that the busiest students still gain these valuable experiences. For example, part-time students can extern just one day per week, or even extern remotely if the office permits. Be creative with your schedule.



Deadlines for applying for an externship with the office of your choice will vary based on which county and office you want to work with. Typically, government offices offer two or three application periods per year- one for each Spring, Summer, and Fall semester. Reach out to the Externship office or to the government office of your choosing directly for specific dates and deadlines. While you have plenty of time, always apply early, as seats are typically filled on a rolling basis. The earlier you apply, the more likely you are to get an early interview, receive an offer, and be assigned to a division of your choice. Start now!

Application & Interviews

Applications & Interviews

Most offices require the basics: A resume, cover letter, list of references, and a completed application packet with proof of identity. Although not every office requires a writing sample for an externship, they certainly set you apart from other applicants, especially if you don’t have a competitive GPA. You can use your LAWs paper! Reach out to your LAWs professor for feedback and suggestions for improvement, and edit your paper before you submit it with your application.

It is imperative that you complete the application packet with complete honesty. Like the Moral Character application, dishonesty will severely undermine your qualifications, your future with the office, and your admittance to the State Bar.

The placement interview is simple but formal. The recruiting representative from the office will ask typical interview questions about yourself, your academic standing, work experience if any, and your goals and desire to extern with that office. This is a great time to showcase your skills and your passions and to request placement in a particular division. This is a great time to talk about why you want to work with that particular office or specific division within the office. Give a personal story about what drives you or the types of people you want to work with. Since many applicants want to work with special divisions, such as major crimes or sex crimes, make yourself stand out.

After you receive your acceptance, you will be instructed about how to complete an application for the background check process. Again, honesty is imperative. The office will walk you through the simple process and will call you in to submit a fingerprint scan. Once you receive approval, you will receive access to an orientation video for the office, a start date, and an assigned professional in the office. This is where the fun starts!

Remember to let the Externship and Career Services Office know when you schedule an interview and when you receive an offer. That way, the office will track your progress, allocate your earned credits to your transcripts, and will walk you through the registration process for the academic component.

This may seem like a daunting process, but it can be incredibly valuable. Take it one step at a time and just look for that light at the end of the tunnel. Good luck (not that you need it!).

Other Resources

Other Resources:

For more information, visit:

Or contact the Externship Office by email at externoffice@swlaw.edu or by phone at (213) 738-6802.

Southwestern’s Career Services Office (CSO) is a wonderful resource for preparing yourself for the application process. They are available to help you draft a resume, write a cover letter, and select a writing sample. They are also incredibly helpful with preparing you for interviews and connecting you with alumni who are eager to help you through this process.

Southwestern’s On-Campus Interviews (OCI) is another great resource for exploring your opportunities. This program provides invaluable information about Southern California Counties, both the DA’s Office and the PD’s Office, that are hiring and their respective deadlines for applications. Like the CSO, OCI is a great program to help you practice interviewing skills, networking, and connecting you with offices that are hiring.

*About the Author: Lilian Zohrab 

Image - Lilian Zohrab

Lilian is a 4L-Evening student who graduated from Cal State, Fullerton, with a B.A. in Sociology. Lilian has been a Dean's Fellow for three years, is on Law Review, SBA's Secretary, and Criminal Law Society's Communications Chair, and is a Dean's Merit Scholar. She intends to complete a concentration in Criminal Law & Advocacy to advocate for victims of violence as a DA. 

Lilian has worked full-time throughout most of her academic career, so she knows how difficult it is to have a busy schedule and succeed in law school. She strives to help current and incoming students navigate through their law school experience. Please feel free to reach out at any time: Lzohrab19@swlaw.edu.

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