Payment of interns working at law firms has stirred up plenty of controversy in recent times and a LinkedIn article from writer and author Justin Bariso has pointed out some “wage slavery” that may be going on with New York law firms encouraged not to pay interns, but to collect the fees they generate.
There are some complexities around the topic of unpaid internships, which can become complicated.
But Bariso asks about the fairness of refusing to pay interns and then charging for the work they do.
According to an opinion published by The Committee on Professional Ethics of the New York State Bar Association, New York law firms can do just that.
In addressing the topic of “Billing client for work performed by an unpaid student-intern,” the committee deemed that there is nothing wrong with law firms charging for the services carried out by interns who receive academic credit for their work, even if even if they are unpaid.
Apart from the question of whether interns can afford to do unpaid work, they also receive real world experience and academic credits for the work they do.
The New York State Bar’s view is open to interpretation:
“We find nothing in the Rules that would prohibit a sponsoring law firm from billing for the services of a law student-intern on a fee basis, even if the sponsoring firm is compensating neither the intern nor the sending law school, provided that the client has been advised of the firm’s intent to charge for the intern’s services and the basis of the charge (e.g., per task or per hour or some fraction thereof) and provided, further, that the fee is neither excessive nor illegal.”
All of which begs the question of what is excessive.