By Joseph KellardLong Island Business News

When Joe Campolo, managing partner at Ronkonkoma-based Campolo Middleton & McCormick, started his law firm in 2006, the first person he hired was a legal intern from Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center in Central Islip.

That intern, Arthur Yermash, remained with the firm and is now a senior associate.

As with many other private firms across Long Island, Campolo Middleton continues to work with interns and externs during the summer and school semesters.

“We think that the firm’s interns are critical to the firm’s growth as well as to the legal education process,” Campolo said.

Each summer the firm accepts one to three interns or externs from Touro or the Maurice A. Deane Law School at Hofstra University in Hempstead, and an attorney liaison manages their workflow and has them rotate to different departments throughout the summer. The intern’s primary role is to perform legal research and write first drafts of legal briefs, motions, transactional documents and the like, providing them hands-on experience not found in the classroom.

This fall, Campolo, Middleton, & McCormick will keep two summer interns on board throughout the semester in a part-time capacity. Historically, the firm hires one intern upon completion of law school per year. The firm currently employs five former interns.

“It’s a good way for us to get a good sense of the talent pool that’s out there – folks that fit a need both in personality and work ethic and in areas where we have a need for particular legal work,” Campolo said.

While internships are mostly unpaid, not-for-credit programs that have no academic or time requirements for students, externships are for-credit and require them to perform 200 hours of work during the summer or at least 12 hours per week during the 14-week semester.

Touro and Hofstra have various internships and externships, including legal services at private firms, both large and small, government agencies such as district attorney offices, and in-house counsel at businesses, including Melville-based Canon.

Jennifer Gundlach, Hofstra’s senior associate dean for experiential education, said that when placing students at law firms, she has the students formulate goals based on what they want to learn and communicate these to the supervising attorney. Hofstra requires of students a substantial amount of legal writing and drafting, she said, and through a memorandum of understanding, the school requires participating firms to offer these opportunities.

“So maybe it’s meeting with clients or going into court with the lawyers, doing negotiations and mediation with an opposing counsel of some kind, doing client interviews or counseling clients about different issues, doing legal research memos,” Gunlach said of the tasks it wants students to learn.

Hofstra has between 30 to 60 summer interns and externs, and 60 to 80 students perform externships each semester. The school tends to place students in solo practices and small firms because they typically provide the necessary educational and real-world experiences.

Howard Gilbert owns a small firm with his son, Jason, in Melville that specializes in labor, employment and educational law and has worked with students from Hofstra and Touro for the past few years. During summer, Gilbert works with two or three interns or externs; this fall three students will work at his office.

Gilbert said he feels a heavy responsibility to give them first-hand experiences and substantive knowledge. He has them perform various duties, whether it is interacting with government officials or judges, or investigating claims with a client, writing legal memoranda or preparing motions. Gilbert and his son interact with the interns and externs on the substance of law procedure.

“Actual experience in a law firm, I believe firmly, provides interns and externs with these real-world applications of problems and disputes involving real people,” said Gilbert, who frequently recommends the students to fellow attorneys and firms.

Myra Berman, associate dean for experiential learning at Touro, said the law school’s externship program in the past year has shifted, from a focus on academic substantive law to professional development.

Touro offers two extern programs that are judicial clerkships. One is in the chambers with Judge Leonard Wexler at the Eastern District Federal Court in Central Islip. The other is with Judge Fern Fisher, chief administrative judge for the New York City courts, who places the students in various city courts.

“In the past we had externship seminars for three hours a week that dealt more with what the court was dealing with substantively, rather than the experience of being in a judge’s chambers and what it means to be a professional in judges’ chambers,” Berman said.

During summer, Touro has as many as 20 interns and externs, and up to 70 of each throughout the entire school year. Berman said that while a large number of students remain interested in criminal law, many are eager to find jobs with businesses instead of law firms. Touro is developing an in-house counsel externship for them.

Campolo has found that as the court system has become overburdened with cases, most law schools are teaching students that mediation, arbitration and business solutions are good alternatives to litigation.

“I think that’s pushing a lot more interest into corporate transactional work than there is into litigation,” he said. “Every force out there is trying to push people out of litigation.”