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No Money, Mo' Problems: Why Unpaid Law Firm Internships Are Illegal and Unethical
University of San Francisco Law Review (2013)
  • Eric M Fink

The practice of law firms offering unpaid internships in lieu of paid employment should concern law students and law school graduates who face an increasingly tight market for entry-level legal jobs. This article argues that such unpaid internships are impermissible under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). It further argues that lawyers who illegally hire unpaid interns should be subject to discipline under the ethics rules of the legal profession.

While law students collectively have an interest in ending this exploitative practice, they have a disincentive against taking action themselves, lest they hurt their prospects in the already unfavorable postgraduate job market. To address this collective action problem, this article urges an institutional response. First, the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) should exercise its authority under the FLSA to bring enforcement actions against employers whose use of unpaid interns violates the law. Second, state bar authorities should take disciplinary action against lawyers and firms whose practices regarding unpaid law student interns violate legal ethics rules. The article concludes by suggesting that the American Bar Association (“ABA”) also join in the effort to raise awareness about the problems with unpaid internships and to discourage the practice within the legal profession.

  • wage & hour,
  • internships,
  • law students,
  • law firms
Publication Date
Winter 2013
Citation Information
Eric M Fink. "No Money, Mo' Problems: Why Unpaid Law Firm Internships Are Illegal and Unethical" University of San Francisco Law Review Vol. 47 (2013)
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