Monday, February 22, 2010
Three students separately came to see me last week because they were in the running for an unpaid internship at a labor and employment firm in Manhattan. They had all been invited to an "informational session" about the internship, which involves six weeks of unpaid work at the firm. To be clear, Seton Hall doesn't currently have externship program with this (or any other) law firm.
Given that the firm does labor and employment law, it had to have been aware of the fair labor standards act issues, but was probably also aware of how these can, arguably, be dodged by having a law school offer credit as part of a formal externship program. Check out David Yamada, The Employment Law Rights of Student Interns, 35 Conn. L. Rev. 215 (2002), for more on this topic.
But the firm had not contacted Seton Hall about such an externship. So I went to its website, where I learned that the program has been in existence for 10 years. It started "at the request of one New York law school" but now involves students from eight such schools. Presumably, Seton Hall would be the ninth. There are 20 interns each summer. .
Now, I have no way of knowing about the quality of the internships as an educational experience. I am admittedly a little suspicious that the firm didn't reach out to our externship supervisor before inviting (through resume referral) our students to the informational session -- but maybe that's just a glitch on one side or the other.
In any event, I told the students who asked me about the firm that I saw no benefit to students in any law school awarding credit in circumstances such as this. Our current externships are almost all with public, or at least, non-profit entities. I'm not clear how,if we approved this externship, we would be able to say no to other firms. In pretty short order, it seems to me, the market for paid employment for law students would dry up -- both in the summer and during the school year. There's been some talk about the law biz moving to an apprentice model, and this would be a giant step in that direction.
Now maybe I'm just out of the loop and this has been going on for years -- obviously, at least at some level, it has for this firm. Plus, record companies have been using this strategy for a while (they are the only exception to Seton Hall's bar of externships with for-profit entities). Finally, I may be over-rating the value of student assistance -- law firms typically claim that even first year associates don't pay for themselves, so why should we expect even free student help to be of much value? In that case, the incentives would not lead to a race to the bottom and only education-minded firms will offer such programs.
But is this something we should be abetting? Any comments -- both on what's going on out there and the what the law school response should be -- would be appreciated.