Tuesday, June 28, 2005

(Il)legal Experience

One rite of passage in the legal profession I have always found absurd to the point of insulting is the internship. (Okay, so it's definitely not the only rite of passage that deserves that title, but I'm sure I'll hit on the rest at some point.) For those of you who don't know, the internship is the last acceptable form of slave labor, and by accepted I really mean encouraged. I think that, logically speaking, the idea of requiring people who are already paying $50,000 a year for school to work for free is pretty much indefensible. Even worse than the standard internship, though, are the ones where you actually pay your school for a credit for working for free. That way, not only is the employer getting free help, the school actually gets to make a buck, too! Genius! The only way people can make this idea sound more like charity and less like Amistad is by relying on everyone's favorite euphemism: EXPERIENCE.

I'm sorry, but experience? Really? Is that the best everyone can come up with? Only law students - and future law students - are dumb enough to fall for that one. Can you imagine a prostitute giving it away for free because she's getting good experience? What about a drug dealer? Or, to keep it legal, a secretary? I don't think so!

At my current firm, there's a guy who is an "intern" named D. He seems to mostly concentrate on the clerical end of things, and the other day I idly wondered whether they paid him for his efforts. Today paychecks were distributed, and he got one. Of course he got one! Silly me. Why the hell would anybody choose to spend a perfectly good summer filing and making copies if they weren't getting paid? Unless...you throw a little (non-legal) Internet research into the mix and then, lo and behold, you have N, an unpaid college intern getting EXPERIENCE. Never mind that my cats could do what she does (and given their affection for pretending to type, often do pretty much exactly what she does). Never mind that she is not learning a single skill that will help her, either as a law student or as a practitioner. Never mind that she could work at Kinko's doing the same shit and at least make minimum wage.

My first summer, I worked for free for a firm doing exactly the same stuff the 2Ls were paid (very poorly) to do. Memos, motions, blah blah. I would have been okay with the arrangement, since I was getting EXPERIENCE and had been told that no one was making any money that summer, but then I looked more carefully at my billing program. Hmm. It seemed that the firm was billing me out to the clients for a tidy sum! Let me get this straight! Not only do you not pay me, but you are actually making money off the sweat of my brow? Why, in that case, why not hire ten interns? A hundred? What a sweet deal! How come the Professional Responsibility code doesn't speak to this ?

Look, I'm not saying that there are no benefits to a legal internship. And I'm just some dumb kid out of college with my whole life to pay back my loans. But since the average age of law school entry is going up, and I have friends who are working for free this summer and actually have families (and better grades than I do), perhaps it's time to reconsider this system. Or maybe I should have just been a drug dealer.

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