At USD, you won't just learn about the legal profession; you will experience it.
Practical experience during your education
All students at the Knudson School of Law participate in the experiential learning program, which provides intensive, professional development training as students prepare to embark on their careers. From performing legal work under the supervision of a licensed attorney to providing pro bono legal services to clients in South Dakota, you'll have opportunities to gain invaluable real-world experience and serve clients as you complete your education.
For more information about the experiential learning program, please email Experiential@usd.edu or call 605-658-3512.
Experiential Learning Opportunities
Let us help you tailor your JD to meet your goals. Experiential learning allows you to gain practical and enjoyable experience while gaining exposure to the law profession throughout your education.
Experiential legal education is an active method of teaching that integrates theory and practice with actual hands-on legal training. Students perform the work of practicing attorneys by working on real cases and legal projects. These opportunities allow students to exercise and develop judgment, gain practical knowledge, and develop professional skills and professional identity.
All students at the University of South Dakota Knudson School of Law must participate in the experiential learning program.
USD Law’s curriculum provides an extraordinary range of opportunities for students to apply what they learn in the classroom in the real world. The end goal of experiential learning is to equip our students to hit the ground running as a new lawyer.
These opportunities may take the form of a clinic, practicum, or externship (field placement).
An externship (or field placement) is a for-credit course in which a significant part of the learning relies on students either representing clients or performing other lawyering roles under the supervision of practicing lawyers or other qualified legal professionals outside of the law school. In addition to earning credit for their field work, students in field placements take a class led by a faculty member, designed to maximize and supplement the experiential learning.
Many types of field work may satisfy the Externship Program requirements. Including judicial, private practice, public sector, legislative, ect. When deciding whether to do an externship, it is important to consider how an externship experience fits within the student’s given student’s educational goals. Students are responsible for securing their own placements in consultation with the Director of Experiential Learning. .
Students who have completed thirty-two credit hours may participate in the Externship Program. Externships are offered for 1 to 3 (variable) academic credits during the fall and spring semesters and 1 to 6 (variable) academic credits during the summer semester. Students must complete at least 42.5 hours of field placement work per academic credit per semester
Students may receive no more than a total of 9 externship credits and may not enroll in the same field placement for more than two semesters or for more than one summer or one semester.
Students who wish to enroll in the Externship Program must complete the Externship Application and receive approval from the Director of Experiential Learning.
Externship Program Requirements:
- The externship direct supervisor must be a licensed attorney or judge;
- The externship placement must provide the opportunity for students to engage in substantial legal work;
- No student may be placed (firm, agency, government body, etc.) where it has been indicated or established that the supervising entity has entered into an agreement to employ the student after graduation;
- No compensation can be paid by or requested from the client for the activities and work of the student;
- Students must complete a corresponding class along with their field placement (and related coursework); and
- Students must complete at least 42.5 hours of field placement work per academic credit per semester
Legal clinics and practicums are for-credit courses in which a significant part of the learning involves students assuming the role of a lawyer representing actual clients, or performing other lawyering roles, under the supervision of a licensed attorney.
These opportunities allow students to develop a wide-range of skills, including:
- Hands-on legal experience interviewing, counseling, and advising clients
- Conducting legal writing and research
- Legal drafting
- Court presentation
Law clinic and practicum courses include a classroom seminar that may address substantive or procedural areas of law, ethical rules, lawyering skills, and theory.
Second-year and third-year students may participate in legal clinics and practicums during the academic year, as well as during the summer. These credits count toward completion of the experiential learning requirement for graduation.
Clinic and practicum opportunities afford students extremely valuable opportunities to serve the community.
Students may receive no more than a maximum of 12 total clinic/practicum credits and may not enroll in the same clinic/practicum for more than two semesters or for more than one summer or one semester. Students may not enroll in multiple clinics, practica, or externships during the same semester. Students may receive no more than 15 total combined experiential credits.
Students who would like to enroll and participate in a clinic/practicum should complete the USD Law Clinic/Practicum Application.
Low Income Taxpayer Clinic
Students enrolled in the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) receive a student attorney designation from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Tax Court. This designation permits students to represent low-income taxpayers in tax controversies before the IRS, IRS appeals, and the IRS tax court.
This clinic serves the community by representing taxpayers who are unable to afford legal representation in federal income disputes with the IRS. Services may include:
- Assisting with an audit or helping to obtain an audit reconsideration
- Filing a U.S. tax court petition or appearing in U.S. tax court the client’s behalf
- Preparing a settlement offer to settle a tax debt
- Requesting a pause in collections
- Helping to set up affordable payment plans with the IRS
- Disputing employment tax classification status
The LITC does not require prior IRS experience or training. However, students must complete or be concurrently enrolled in Federal Income Taxation.
The LITC requires a classroom component.
The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) is traditionally offered in the fall and spring semesters.
Professor Rebecca Stavish
Tax Practice and Skills Practicum
Students enrolled in the Tax Practice and Skills Practicum permits students to prepare tax returns for lower and moderate income taxpayers who have traditionally not filed returns. Prior to the practicum activity, students must successfully complete training and pass Internal Revenue Service (IRS) exam certifications. Students must pass several IRS exams to become certified as an advanced level Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) preparer.
Students work with the Alaska Business Development Center (ABDC) organization to assist taxpayers in Alaska. The trip traditionally occurs in February of the spring semester.
To participate, students must
- Have completed the fall Low Income Taxpayer course;
- Be enrolled in the spring Low Income Taxpayer course;
- Have completed Federal Income Taxation course; and
- Be an enrolled agent (EA) or certified public accountant (CPA) prior to this course
Professor Rebecca Stavish
Criminal Defense Practicum
The Criminal Defense Practicum, a partnership with the Minnehaha County Public Defender’s Office, affords students an opportunity to work sibe-by-side with public defenders in Minnehaha County South Dakota. Through the practicum students will gain a practical understanding of the importance of ensuring justice, fairness, and fulfillment of the legal profession’s responsibility to provide adequate legal services to those who cannot afford counsel. The practicum empowers students to improve their lawyering skills through advocacy.
- Students develop fact investigation, witness interviewing, and case evaluation skills
- Students develop trial advocacy skills
- Students identify, analyze, and apply relevant criminal law, case law, and local rules and procedures
- Students develop and improve client management and interviewing skills
- Students develop and apply an understanding of the various ethical responsibilities as representatives for their clients
- Students identify and respect diverse perspectives and backgrounds that may impact their work as professional advocates within the criminal justice system
- Students hone their research and writing abilities
The Criminal Defense Practicum requires a classroom component.
The Criminal Defense Practicum is traditionally offered in the fall semester.
Innocence Project Practicum
The Innocence Project Practicum, a partnership with the Great North Innocence Project, affords students with hands-on experience assisting with the screening, investigation, and litigation of post-conviction cases in state and federal court. The Great North Innocence Project provides post-conviction representation for incarcerated individuals claiming to have been wrongfully convicted of crimes in state or federal court in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota.
This practicum affords students the opportunity to assist with factual development directed toward uncovering new evidence of innocence, including witness interviews, review of court records and legal documents, consulting with experts, and identifying physical evidence. Students also assist with researching and developing legal theories directed toward post-conviction litigation. In some instances (depending on the stage of a given case), students may assist with drafting briefs and other legal documents in connection with litigation.
The Innocence Project Practicum requires a classroom component.
The Innocence Project Practicum is traditionally offered in the fall semester.
The WORKS Practicum provides 2L and 3L law students training in the areas of family law, alternative dispute resolution, and client relations. Based on training, students are permitted to assist with the WORKS Clinic. The WORKS CLINIC is a free service to qualifying individuals. It helps self-represented couples and families within South Dakota through the divorce process through assistance with necessary forms and mediation. The WORKS Clinic assists eligible self-represented litigants to achieve access to courts and conclude divorce and custody proceedings efficiently and Improves congestion of court calendars, which allows judges time to focus on cases and controversies that require judicial resolution.
The WORKS Practicum requires a classroom component.
The WORKS Practicum is traditionally offered in the fall and spring semesters.
WORKS Clinic Website: https://www.worksclinic.com
South Dakota State Bar Newsletter Feature by 3L Student Promise Costello (pg. 24): https://www.statebarofsouthdakota.com/assets/pdf/December/
Professor Marilyn Trefz
Tribal Wills Practicum
The Tribal Wills Practicum offers a unique student opportunity to draft, revise, and oversee the execution of a comprehensive estate plan for pro bono clients on one of South Dakota’s nine Indian Reservations. Students learn how to review and oversee representation agreements, interview clients, draft complex documents, and supervise the proper execution of the various documents under the formalities demanded by law. Students also gain familiarity with the American Indian Probate Reform Act (AIPRA) and division of interest on Indian trust land.
The Tribal Wills Practicum also requires a classroom component.
The Tribal Wills Practicum is traditionally offered in the fall and spring semesters.
Professor Tom Simmons
- Completion of at least four semesters of law school (or the equivalent)
- Receive certification by the dean of the law school as a person of good character, competent ability, and adequately trained as a legal intern;
- Prior introduction to the court in which they are appearing by a lawyer authorized to practice law in South Dakota;
- No compensation directly from the client but only from the student’s employer/contractor nor receive compensation if receiving credit; and Certification in writing of familiarity with the rules of professional conduct of the Supreme Court of South Dakota and relevant practice rules of the jurisdiction.
Student certification forms for both the South Dakota state courts and the federal district court can be obtained from the Director of Experiential Learning. A certification for the particular court may remain effective for a period up to eighteen months. A supervising attorney who is a member of the State Bar of South Dakota also must approve the temporary certification of the law student. Each time a student changes supervisors or positions, re-application for practice eligibility must be obtained.
To determine your eligibility, please consult South Dakota Codified Law 16-18-2.2.
For further information on the parameters and requirements of student practice please consult SDCL 16-18-2.21 to SDCL 16-18-2.10 and related rules. All supervising attorneys and student attorneys must be familiar with ensuring the student meets (and continues to meet) all the requirements outlined in South Dakota Codified Laws.
Pro bono opportunities are designed to inspire and to enable students to engage in pro bono service, while in law school. The primary purpose of these programs is to teach students why pro bono service is an important professional value and to introduce them to the ways in which they can contribute in their practice as attorneys.
While pro bono activity does not satisfy experiential requirements for graduation, student participation in pro bono legal services is strongly encouraged.
USD’s student run-organizations currently offer several opportunities to serve the community through pro bono.
R.D Hurd Volunteer Law Society
RD Hurd Volunteer Law Society, a partnership with East River Legal Services, permits students to provide legal services to low-income residents of South Dakota. It is an opportunity for law students to get hands-on experience of working with clients and supervising attorneys and to gain confidence through experience.
Veterans Legal Education Group (VLEG)
The Veterans Legal Education Group (VLEG) provides free legal advice to veterans, active and reserve duty service members, and their families. VLEG coordinates with volunteer attorneys in the state, the State Bar of South Dakota, and various veteran’s groups to organize drop-in legal clinics where veterans can obtain free legal services. Typical tegal services provided include trusts, will drafting and execution, real-estate advice, end-of-life documentation, child custody, and more.
Volunteer Income Tax Clinic (VITA)
The Volunteer Income Tax Clinic (VITA) is a service which offers free tax help to people who need assistance in preparing their own Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax returns. Students who volunteer with VITA must take and pass IRS tax training.