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Lawyers Beg Government : Please Let Us Work for Free


Law school students should have the right to work for no pay. So argues American Bar Association President Laurel G. Belows, who urged the Labor Department to stop scrutinizing law firms for taking on unpaid interns. The Wall Street Journal reports:

[Belows] also said a ban on such internships would curb “access for future employment prospects” and squeeze the “potential supply of legally trained women and men willing to spend their time working on behalf of persons without the resources to pay for legal counsel.”

Alan B. Morrison, associate dean for public interest and public service at George Washington University Law School, told Law Blog that the reluctance of the labor department to take a softer position has been “a significant impediment to my effort to get law firms to work with us.”

Law firms have become wary of hiring law students as interns due to the government’s crackdown on legal internships. This leaves law students in something of a bind. There is a wide feeling among lawyers that law schools aren’t good enough at teaching the practice of law, leaving firms to pick up the slack. This isn’t anything new, but in the past, firms generally passed the cost of training students and recent grads onto clients, who didn’t ask questions about the big bills they received. But as the economy has soured, clients have become more vigilant about the bills, and law firms aren’t inclined to pay new lawyers for on-the-job training.

We would like to see the government back down here, but even more importantly, we want law schools to focus more on preparing students to be ready to hit the ground running on day one of their post-graduation jobs. Given the price tag of a law degree, it’s the least they can do.

[Blind Justice Image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Anthony

    Right on Professor!

  • michaelj68

    It is the ABA who insists that one needs a JD to be eligible to take the bar exam. Historically many lawyers in the English speaking world were first articled clerks, for example, Guppy from Dickens Bleak House. Instead of going to a school they would serve as an apprentice to a law firm.

  • Anthony

    WRM, there’s more here than meets the eye: professional transformation and more law grads than demand.

  • Pete

    I have zero sympathy for lawyer or lawyers-to-be.

  • Douglas Levene

    I am happy to see the Government is finally turning its eye to the abuses presented by the unpaid internship racket. For years, the Government has vigorously enforced the minimum wage laws against industries that hire poor minority youths (retail, food service), even if that means some young people never get a chance to get started on the employment ladder, while ignoring industries (media, law, arts, publishing, fashion) that take on the sons and daughters of the privileged classes in unpaid positions. What’s sauce for the goose, etc.

    However, the particular case described in the posting is not one subject to abuse. Here, the law firm is working for free on behalf of a poor client, and is offering law students or recent law grads the chance to also work for free and learn something. Since lawyers are encouraged by bar ethics rules to take on pro bono assignments, I don’t see a problem in this instance.

    However, I recall reading about a year ago about one of the US Attorney’s Offices that was seeking unpaid legal interns to help out with its ordinary business. That was clearly abusive even if not technically a violation of the federal minimum wage laws.

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