Don’t Hire Me as a Token: Best Practices for Recruiting and Supporting Externs from Historically Marginalized Backgrounds

Alexi Freeman

Diverse students strongly encouraged to apply. Seeking diverse perspectives. This program is only for students who identify as racial or gender minorities. Interested in a diverse applicant pool. Committed to recruiting students from historically marginalized groups.

If you were to take a quick perusal of advertisements seeking law student externs, summer associates, or semester law clerks, you would likely see similar phrases clearly targeting students of color and students who identify as LBGTQ+ for such positions. A lack of racial, ethnic, and sexual orientation diversity is nothing new for legal education or for the legal profession more broadly. But even before the amplified attention to racial inequities during the summer of 2020, there was heightened interest in recruiting individuals who identify as part of historically marginalized groups for student positions. At the same time, law schools are responding to this call for a greater emphasis on practical learning—making efforts to integrate, promote, and expose students to the day-to-day realities of the art of lawyering.

The challenge is that while legal offices actively recruit students from historically marginalized populations, perhaps with some exceptions, their efforts and programs often do not appear to be directly (or even indirectly) connected to law schools’ experiential education models. In fact, there does not appear to be scholarship, research, or best practices externally published that discuss how to best support the historically marginalized law student during a diversity-based clerkship program or during any other fieldwork, internship, or externship. This is in spite of the challenges, bias, and discrimination that such students will inevitably face when they join the profession. It is also in spite of extensive research documenting that minority students’ law school experience is distinct from majority students’ and that such a distinction is, oftentimes, highly problematic and traumatic. These problematic and traumatic experiences do not simply disappear when minority students leave the confines of the law school building; students will carry those experiences into legal offices. And, depending on what occurs in that new legal setting, the impact of those experiences can be exacerbated or deflated. Law firms earnestly trying to recruit students from historically marginalized groups must be informed about those students’ experiences in law school and work to create learning spaces that support them.