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The Labor Department Tells ABA It Recognizes Unpaid Internships
In May, the ABA had sought guidance from the Labor Department as to whether law firms could hire law students as unpaid interns for pro bono matters.
In response, the Labor Department sent a letter from its solicitor to the ABA last week, holding that the agency would interpret the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow such internships. However, conditions of unpaid internships include that the internship must offer training and the experience must be for the benefit of the intern.
The letter sent to the ABA mentions, “Generally, the FLS does not permit individuals to volunteer their services to for-profit businesses such as law firms. In most instances, individuals who are suffered or permitted to perform work by a covered for-profit entity are considered employees under the FLSA and entitled to minimum wages and overtime … The FLSA does, however, permit individuals to participate in unpaid internships or training programs conducted by for-profit entities if certain criteria are met.”
According to the letter sent to the ABA from the Labor Department, internships at law firms could be unpaid if the internship involves pro bono matters that do not generate any fees, and it is structured to provide professional experience to the student to further his or her education.
Other conditions of unpaid internship indicate that the hiring of unpaid law student interns should not displace regular employees, and there should be mutual consent between the law firm and the law student in the matter of the unpaid internship.
The letter also mentioned that conditions of such unpaid internships do not need to include any entitlement to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
Though the letter did not elaborate, it mentioned that in case of unpaid internship a different analysis would be applicable to law graduates. However, the letter indicates sufficiently that if law graduates want, they can work in unpaid internships without law firms violating provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.