Photograph: Rural Landscape with Barn

Rural Externship Program

A grant from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation has allowed Washburn University School of Law to offer a quickly growing summer externship program as part of its Rural Law Program. The goal of the program is to provide students with opportunities to experience life and law practice in a rural community, as well as to interest them in pursuing careers in rural Kansas.

The program provides students with an immersive externship experience in one of the 26 counties that the Hansen Foundation serves in northwest Kansas. Last year was the first of the program; 11 students worked throughout the summer in 12 firms, with one student splitting his time between two smaller firms. Funding is available to place 20 students in 2018, and interest in the positions has been very strong among Washburn Law students.

Those chosen for this program may enroll in six hours of externship credit during the summer with full cost of tuition covered by the program. Because students are expected to live in their placement community, they also receive a living stipend of an additional $5,000 to cover travel, housing, and related expenses during the program.

Externship students are partnered with practicing attorneys or judges in one of the covered counties to learn the work done by those rural legal professionals. Throughout the summer, students work with the placement attorney, as well as other legal professionals in the area. Throughout the process, Externship Director Shawn Leisinger engages with the students and supervisors to ensure the program is mutually beneficial for all participants.

“The Hansen Foundation grant allows Washburn Law students to try out rural law practice in these northwest Kansas communities,” said Leisinger. “Senior attorneys get to share their experience and expertise while at the same time having an opportunity to see if these young lawyers may be a good fit for rural practice in their small towns.  This is a wonderful program that will help to place law students and ultimately young lawyers in underserved rural areas, and is a win-win for the students, rural lawyers, and these communities!”

The opportunity to entice future lawyers to practice in rural America is particularly relevant at a time when the number of lawyers available to serve people living in rural areas is disproportionately low. As reported by The National Law Journal in "It's Time to Heed the Call of Rural America," some residents of Nebraska have to travel 200 miles each way to reach the nearest lawyers, while Washington has one lawyer for every 12 people. Washburn Law is answering rural Americans’ call to have increased access to justice by offering the Rural Law Program to its law students. 

Check out this video where Washburn Law students talk about their experiences during the inaugural year of the Dane G. Hansen Foundation's western Kansas rural externship program.

For more information about the program, please contact Externship Director Shawn Leisinger.