Unlocking Opportunities: Duke Law Students Create Lasting Memories in Externships and Pro Bono Projects

John, a white man with brown hair and a beard, wears a white shirt, peach tie, and navy suit.Surya, a man with black hair, wears a white shirt, pale grey suit, and teal tie. Christina, a woman with short, dark brown hair, wears a black suit. By John Godfrey Jr., Surya Korrapati, and Christina Trepczynski

In the dynamic world of law, where traditional classroom learning meets real-world application, externships and pro bono projects play pivotal roles in shaping future legal professionals. This month, we had the privilege of interviewing three law students who are gaining experience outside the classroom, either through volunteering for pro bono causes or gaining course credit in legal externships.  By highlighting their work, we hope to provide some insight as to how you can secure an externship or find the right pro bono project — and the sorts of skills you may gain along the way.

Elizabeth Longosz, a 2L J.D./L.L.M.-L.E. student, shared her externship experience as a Law Associate at Duke Capital Partners. Drawing on her corporate background at Paramount, Elizabeth was keen on engaging in an externship during law school, particularly one where she could leverage her J.D. to further develop her business acumen in the EC/VC space.

At Duke Capital Partners, Elizabeth works alongside students from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, Pratt School of Engineering, and Medical School, among others, to evaluate opportunities for possible investment. In this role, she contributes objective legal analysis related to capitalization, intellectual property, and regulatory matters in order to help understand the drivers of business, interpret company projections, and survey and summarize market exit possibilities (IPOs, acquisitions). Beyond the due diligence process, Elizabeth helps to review documents related to financings/transactions of the Duke Capital Partners portfolio companies.

Elizabeth highlights that the work is diverse and impactful and that the collaborative nature of her role, working with associates and business leaders from various backgrounds, adds a unique dimension to her legal experience. She notes that the externship at Duke Capital Partners has enhanced her ability to “think outside the box” and be creative – a skill that law schools traditionally overlook. She is proud of her experience at Duke Capital Partners and is excited to continue learning the ins and outs of early-stage technologies and companies throughout the semester.

Elizabeth concludes with valuable advice for law students, encouraging them to forge their own paths in law school. She emphasizes the diverse applications of a law degree and the importance of exploring opportunities through externships and practicums. As she puts it, “an externship is a great opportunity for you to build up your confidence in industry terms and knowledge and to gain a deeper understanding of your chosen field – your law school degree is yours!”

Like Elizabeth, fellow 2L Thomas Moy also wanted to explore a potential career path outside the classroom. Thomas is externing at the Office of the Solicitor General of North Carolina this semester. “I help with most aspects of litigation,” he says, which includes researching, drafting, and editing briefs, along with preparing attorneys for oral argument. Thomas had sought out the externship after enjoying his internship last summer with a judge in Washington, D.C.

When asked if he would have pictured working at the Solicitor General’s office during law school, Thomas replies, “Definitely not. I was expecting to sit in class all day . . . it’s been great getting some real world experience.”

Thomas’s externship provides him access to high-quality work and meaningful mentorship. The office represents the state in numerous appellate litigation matters, which gives Thomas pride in knowing he’s working on behalf of North Carolinians. “Whenever I do work, it’s like I’m representing the state and people of the community.”

As for the mentorships, Thomas has enjoyed working with Solicitor General Ryan Park, his deputies, and recently graduated law students in the Office’s fellowship program. “They have been incredibly welcoming and supportive,” Thomas says.

Thomas encourages other law students to explore an externship, particularly in positions of government service. “Getting experience of any kind is useful,” he says. “But I think this one is unique because every [case] is truly one that impacts important issues.”

Engaging with pro bono work is another way that students can use their law school knowledge – while at the same time giving back to their community. Lucy Walton, a 3L, has played a pivotal role this past year in reviving Duke Law’s “Broad Street Law” student organization. “Broad Street is a pre-law and civics education program for teenagers at the Durham Youth Home, which is the City of Durham’s juvenile detention facility,” Lucy explains.

Students who work with Broad Street fulfill two kinds of roles. “Our volunteers fall into roughly two categories,” Lucy notes, “facilitators and curriculum builders. Preparing for each tutoring session is a collaborative process, and we have around twenty Duke Law students who are involved with the program.” Twice a week, facilitators go to the Durham Youth Home and teach classes one-on-one, with a focus on introducing Youth Home residents to aspects of the legal system with which they might be unfamiliar. Topics of discussion range from food law, to intellectual property, and even popular topics like name, image, and likeness rights for college athletes.

Lucy recommends that law students try to take advantage of the opportunity to do pro bono work during law school. “Participating in pro bono offers both the chance to use your legal skills to better the world, and the opportunity to engage with the local community. My favorite part of Broad Street is getting to know the kids. One of my students is really interested in becoming a chef, and it was really rewarding to see his eyes light up when we discussed trademarks and how they could be a part of his business someday.”