‘Unpaid Law Firm Internships Are Illegal’: U.S. Law Prof

In the wake of a controversial Ontario decision that allows law students  to take unpaid internships instead of paid articling positions, one U.S. professor has chimed in with a novel, if extreme, position on the matter.

Eric Fink, associate professor of law at Elon University in Greensboro, North Carolina, has just released a paper outlining reasons behind his assertion that such placements are not only unseemly or ineffective or unethical — they are actually prohibited under U.S. law.

In the abstract to Fink’s paper, “No Money, Mo’ Problems: Why Unpaid Law Firm Internships Are Illegal & What To Do About It,” he writes:

“Unpaid internships for law students appear to be on the rise in law firms, as in other sectors of the economy. I argue that such unpaid internships are illegal under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and raise ethical questions under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Moreover, the practice of law firms offering unpaid interships in lieu of paid employment substantially harms law students and law school graduates, who face an increasingly tight market for paid legal employment.”

Lexpert contributor Sandra Rubin recently spoke to Law Society of Upper Canada Treasurer Thomas Conway on its decision to allow such co-ops.

While Conway admits that the program may do little to correct the underlying problem — namely, a lack of demand for new lawyers — he suggests that such issues are outside the Society’s mandate.

“The pilot project allows them to become licensed. The Law Society doesn’t have an obligation to find people jobs. What we have, we think, is an obligation to provide fair access to the licensing process and, if there’s a way of providing good-quality experiential training that doesn’t involve the traditional articling pathway then, in order to make a fairer process, we’ve developed this alternative.”

-David Dias

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