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Unpublished Paper
Shining The Spotlight On Unpaid Law Student Workers
ExpressO (2013)
  • Susan Harthill, Florida Coastal School of Law
Shining the Spotlight on UNPAID LAW STUDENT Workers Susan Harthill Abstract Law students who ‘intern’ at for-profit law firms across the United States do a fair day’s work but do not always get a fair day’s pay. Unpaid student interns have long been a well-utilized labor source in the non-profit world, public agencies, and in certain for-profit sectors, such as entertainment and media. Indeed, some unpaid internships are mutually beneficial arrangements for the student and the employer; the student gets hands-on training in an industry that might be difficult to break into, has useful work experience on her resume, and may be able to engage in valuable networking during the internship. This mutually beneficial arrangement is also common in the legal field. Law students across the United States, for example, earn law school credit while undertaking supervised externships in non-profit legal service organizations and federal, state and local government agencies. But, this source of free labor has become increasingly prevalent in for-profit law firms, both in credit-bearing school-sponsored externship arrangements and in private non-school sponsored arrangements. The two-fold reasons for the uptick in the latter private arrangements are perhaps self-evident: (1) the economic downturn has led employers to adopt lean hiring practices; and (2) there is a glut of law students desperate to get a foot-hold in the labor market by offering their services for free in exchange for a networking and resume-building experience. But this combination of a desperate free labor supply and lean hiring principles makes the situation ripe for abuse. This Article examines the legality of private arrangements between law student workers and for-profit law firms, in unpaid ‘internships’ where the law student is not sponsored through a law school and does not earn any law school credit. The Article ultimately concludes that these arrangements violate both the statutory terms and the Congressional purpose of the minimum wage and maximum hour requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Although the focus of this Article is on the wage theft of law students by law firms, other legal and ethical implications are also briefly addressed. The Article proposes a number of solutions, ranging from the most obvious - law firms should pay their law student workers – to the increasingly popular expansion and utilization of law-school experiential-course offerings.
  • FLSA,
  • unpaid interns,
  • law students,
  • experiential learning,
  • employment law,
  • fair labor standards,
  • wage and hour
Publication Date
March 14, 2013
Citation Information
Susan Harthill. "Shining The Spotlight On Unpaid Law Student Workers" ExpressO (2013)
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