The Unpaid Interniship Issue & Lawyers

During the past month the issue of unpaid internships has been in the media – several people who agreed to be unpaid interns decided that they changed their minds and complained about the status, resulting in some payments being made to them.

As “anti-unpaid intern” as the above sounds, that is actually not the position I generally take. My issue with those who complained is that they knew what they were getting into and chose to take an unpaid internship, then demanded compensation for that internship afterwards.

When our firm hired Articling Students we always paid them. We no longer hire students, but are still frequently contacted by eager Law School graduates, desperate to fulfill the Articling requirement so they can begin paying off their $ 75 000.00 Student Loan debt. Many of those students offer to Article for free. I always refused that offer.

If you as a Law Firm employer will be making money from the free work of another, that individual should be compensated. Law Firms generally bill their student’s work at an hourly rate: no one should work for free, at best, pay the students a percentage of the billings collected. This may not be a lot of money for some firms, but it is better than zero.

A profession is not a “job”. You are expected to pay your dues and frankly, you are expected to work long hours, at times without compensation. However, you are not expected to let yourself be taken advantage of and if an employer is willing to do so, what does it say about that employer?

In this strange and evolving economy of ours, where there is a push to recognize foreign trained lawyers as quickly as possible and have them compete for the few existing lawyer positions there are, the Unpaid Internship is no doubt tempting to students: perhaps the Law Society should step in and just say no?

Inga B. Andriessen JD