American Bar Association

Do unpaid pro bono internships violate the law? ABA says they should be allowed

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The ABA wants to pave the way for law students and recent grads to work on pro bono matters in unpaid internships with for-profit law firms and corporate legal offices.

ABA President Laurel Bellows, in a letter (PDF) to the U.S. Department of Labor, seeks assurances that the agency will interpret the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow such internships, according to a press release.

“The ABA agrees that exploitation of law students and other interns is unacceptable; however, the FLSA uncertainty inhibits law firms from offering students the opportunity to work on pro bono matters in a real-life practice setting,” Bellows writes in the letter to the solicitor of the Labor Department, M. Patricia Smith. “Furthermore, in the current economic climate with shrunken employment opportunities for law school graduates, hindering the ability of law students and recent graduates to work side-by-side with experienced lawyers who could provide both strong mentoring and favorable substantive references unnecessarily reduces access for future employment prospects.”

The letter outlines conditions when such internships should be allowed. They include:

• The intern should be a law student or a law grad who intends to take the bar exam within a year or who is awaiting bar results.

• The intern’s law school should be an intermediary between the firm and the intern.

• The intern should work only on pro bono matters for which the firm does not expect or derive economic benefit.

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog (sub. req.) also has coverage.

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