Last month, several media outlets reported on the growing backlash against employers who violate labor law rules for unpaid internships. Since I’d previously spoken out against use of free labor by solos and smalls from both an ethical and legal perspective, I decided to do a little sleuthing to see whether firms had changed their ways in light of heightened scrutiny of internship practices.
Simply put, I was horrified by what I found.
My research wasn’t detailed or scientific. I simply went to the site Internship.com and typed in the term “law firm.” This produced dozens of listings for intern positions as social media coordinators, research assistants, office administrators and case management experts – on a part-time, unpaid basis.
What’s worse from my perspective is that the vast majority of the postings for free labor came from solo and small firms. By contrast, one of the few paid positions was sought by a 70-person firm. What’s also disheartening is that if you Google some of the firms that posted at the site, you find that they have fairly healthy online presence – so clearly, they do have money to pay for some services (or perhaps “had” money and now want to cut back).
Solos and smalls engaged in these practice make the rest of us look bad. When there are firms too cheap to pay college students or young lawyers and too stupid to know better, it reflects poorly on other solos and smalls by conveying the impression that we’re fly by night, financially unstable operations. If you have solo or small firm colleagues who are hiring law students for office jobs and other tasks without paying them, tell them to stop or report them to the Department of Labor. (Note: I do not include internship-for-credit programs because students receive an educational benefit).