You may have to if you are a young law student/graduate trying to get your foot in the legal industry door in today’s “buyer’s market” for law jobs – though buying may be moot!
With a 9% plus yearly increase in law graduates entering the legal jobs market – nearly 15,000 in 2014 – competition for scarce positions means many are compelled to accept unpaid work. Seen in the context of government-sponsored schemes – Work for the Dole, National Work Experience Program, Youth Jobs PaTH – it is part of a growing trend of employers using free or subsidised labour, particularly of young people.
The attraction for legal employers to use unpaid labour is clear, it keeps costs down. But it is more problematic for law students/graduates. In an article on unpaid law internships in the latest issue of Workplace Review (Summer 2016, Vol 7 No 1), Nandan Subramaniam, articulated the concern: exploitation.
Citing reports from the Fair Work Ombudsman and others, Nandan said “unending hours of unremunerated work” is a source of stress and financial hardship for many legal interns. He argues that unpaid law internships fall within a legal “grey area” – between Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) regulated “vocational placements” and employment.
Nandan acknowledges that unpaid work can have benefits for young lawyers and says it should not be abolished. He calls for law reform to improve the operation of the internship system, including amending the Fair Work Act to provide clear parameters for unpaid work, and requiring mandatory documentation be filed with an appropriate authority specifying the nature of the work to be performed and the duration of the unpaid internship to “deter firms from exploiting law students”.
We may ponder the possible implications should the problem of unregulated unpaid internships not be addressed, including, downwards pressure on pay generally and diminished industrial organizational capacity to challenge exploitative practices.
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