South African Externship Experience Gives UM Law Students Advantage

Oxford, Miss.—The University of Mississippi School of Law continues to broaden the horizons of its students, and this past summer’s South African Externship Program at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa was no different.

The six week program was headed by University of Mississippi School of Law Associate Professor Michele Alexandre.  It provided UM law students with a human rights externship experience, allowing them to learn about law and policy in the culturally rich setting of South Africa.

Specifically, students worked with attorneys at the Refugee Rights Center at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan in Port Elizabeth.  They assisted in giving legal advice and providing support to assess civil, social, economic and cultural rights for clients. They also helped provide pro bono legal services and representation.

Ebonie Adams, Carina Lewis and Brittany Sharkey were the three students selected to participate in the program.

“It was a well-rounded experience,” said Adams, a second-year student.  “I was not getting coffee for the attorneys or sitting behind a computer all day researching or reading. We had clients; we drafted letters; we conducted consultations. I was a lawyer this summer, I surpassed that of an intern.”

According to Alexandre, a Harvard law graduate whose scholarly areas include international law, civil rights law and human rights and gender, a particularly interesting facet for the students was how similar American and South African issues are.

“These students got to see firsthand legal issues that are surprisingly similar to what we see here in Mississippi,” she said.  “It’s interesting because we face the same problems but have different laws.”

“I no longer think about the law in a restricted way because many of the legal principles and rules I learned as a first-year student were reinforced while I worked on cases in South Africa,” said Lewis.

“For instance, I was able to immediately spot and raise a notice issue in a consultation with a divorce client. Although South African law does differ from American law, many basic principles are shared by both systems.”

Students also completed a comparative law seminar, taught by Alexandre, and an internship at NMMU’s family law clinic, where they learned the distinctions between American and South African Family Law.

Adams explains:

“I liked that the internship curriculum exposed us to one component of South African law but different facets of it as well. We dealt with civil matters such as divorce and custody, debt settlement and evictions while working at the Law Clinic. While at the Refugee Rights Centre, we saw the different stages in the asylum seeking process.  It was a well-rounded internship,” she said.

The students worked in the clinic eight hours each day, learning invaluable skills to take into the working world.  The University of Mississippi School of Law is also the only law school to partner with NMMU for such an opportunity.

“This experience will allow me to be more competitive when I am searching for job opportunities,” Lewis said. “In a field that is being pushed to explore other potential viable areas of expansion, I believe having international experience will be highly attractive to potential employers who will be more globally focused.”

“We have been fortunate to develop connections with colleagues there and deepen our relationship with academics in South Africa,” Alexandre said.  “This experience will help students become more marketable in the job field.”