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    « The bold and the bashful | Main | Unreasonable suspicion »
    Tuesday
    Jul142015

    Interns - throw off your chains

    An oversupplied market where interns are asked to pay whopping fees to law firms ... When is an intern really an employee? ... Barely Legal embarks on an internship and wrestles with the "work thresholds"   

    UNPAID internships are the new norm, which is an unfortunate development for young people seeking employment in the professions. 

    Law students feel the pinch more acutely than most. Due to the well publicised oversupply of law graduates (as if we're produced on a factory floor), more often than not students are shoved into unpaid internships out of necessity.  

    Law students also bear the brunt of some of the more challenging incarnations of market rationalism. 

    Take, for example, the recent case of Adlawgroup - a start-up firm in Adelaide that plans to charge a fee of $22,000 to allow an intern to intern at the firm for two years. 

    "For most employees the cost of the investment is $22,000 for the two year program. This cost includes the cost of the practicing certificate and the comprehensive continuing education program."

    Welcome to the new way of getting a foot on the career escalator. 

    If any nascent lawyers want to sample the wares of this exciting business model, Adlawgroup is still accepting applications through its website. 

    Interns of the world unite 

    Concerned about the traps for young players, I undertook my own unpaid internship. 

    It turns out the Commonwealth Fair Work Ombudsman has my back. All I have to do is make sure my "employer" organisation doesn't breach certain thresholds of work, which may deem me worthy of a wage. 

    What is the reason for the engagement? 

    "If the work is more about being productive than about observation or learning, it is likely the intern is an employee."

    This is simple enough - simply work less. This might come naturally to some, but not most law students, who are driven by a ravenous hunger to compete and win. 

    In my current intern role I was told that I would be performing the work I otherwise do for money while studying. Some threshold. 

    What is the significance to the organisation? 

    "If the intern plays a role that is important in the organisation completing its work, the intern is more likely an employee."

    Many of the internship programs in which young law students partake are conducted on a rolling stock basis. When old interns leave, new ones fill their place, continuing the same work. 

    In some cases, such as the organisation for which I am currently an intern, if the steady trickle of interns were to shut off, the grunt work of the organisation would grind to a halt and so too major casework. The intern is a replaceable unpaid cog. 

    Is the intern too productive in the organisation? Who gets the benefit of the internship? 

    Interns get the benefit of a recommendation from the organisation, but they won't get a good recommendations if they aren't productive. 

    The key to an internship is to work less

    If the intern is too productive, they may meet a threshold of productiveness that dictates they are doing the work of an employee, and should be paid accordingly. If they ask to be paid, they get a bad recommendation. Such is life in an oversupplied graduate market. 

    Interns have little recourse to pay-packets, little ability to protest, and little access to the law. But what about organised labour? What about uniting and throwing off our chains? 

    When you're told by an Ombudsman that what you do isn't really labour, it becomes grievously apparent you don't have any chains to throw off. Perhaps a $22,000 intern fee is the next logical step. 

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