Exploitation or Experience? Why Unpaid Legal Internships Are Rocking The Legal Profession

Sponsored Guest Post by Hibberts Solicitors, Crewe

 Experience is very important in the legal profession. Training-contract applicants who have failed to undertake any relevant work experience stand little chance of landing an interview with a magic-circle law firm. Prospective lawyers often spend their summers working for legal organisations as paid interns, but not all internships come with a salary – some undergraduates are required to gain experience without earning a penny.

Minimum Wage

 Under UK law, all interns must receive a minimum wage unless they are volunteers who expect to gain no benefit from supplying work for nothing. This is obviously not the case for legal interns, who can at the very least expect to learn a few skills from working alongside practising solicitors. They might also expect to be given an interview upon successful completion of an internship. Indeed, plenty of law students who obtain training contracts are likely to receive interviews from employers with whom they have completed a period of official work experience.

Many solicitors and other towns or cities in the UK will probably appreciate the benefits of an internship, but should young lawyers expect to be paid for their efforts? According to the law, they should probably receive the minimum wage, so why are some legal firms and organisations failing to pay their interns?

The answer is that there are too many law graduates in the UK. If demand cannot cope with supply, the surplus will fall by the wayside. As universities across Britain continue to produce thousands of lawyers looking for work, many law firms are thinking about downsizing their operations amid continued economic difficulty. This imbalance allows legal practices to be far more selective with candidates and applying for unpaid internships has become extremely competitive among students and graduates because everyone wants an opportunity to be noticed by a big firm. Unfortunately, that is simply not possible.


 News emerged last year that unpaid internships in the legal sector were becoming more common. Even interns at Justice, a law reform charity, were found to be unpaid. The question is, should legal interns expect to be paid for being given an opportunity to learn the ropes at a law firm? Aside from the point that unpaid internships are possibly illegal, what drives the argument that interns ought to be paid? On what ethical grounds should interns expect to receive money for what is essentially an opportunity to join one of the most prosperous professions in the country? The answer is simple: the minimum wage is the only effective measure to prevent the vulnerable from being exploited.

To put it more bluntly, the legal profession risks exploiting workers by capitalising on the oversupply of law graduates. Just because interns are willing to work for free does not mean that it is right for firms and organisations to avoid the minimum wage. Some would even argue that the minimum wage is insufficient for the kinds of role undertaken by legal interns, many of whom are expected to work long hours for several weeks or months at a time.

The problem for interns is that they need work experience to put them in a position to stand out from the thousands of other training-contract applicants. Desperate people do desperate things and legal organisations ought to be responsible enough to limit the desperation of their interns and not promote an environment in which desperation drives the illusion of success. After all, there are still too few full-time legal positions available regardless of how many interns are willing to work for nothing.

This post has been written by Denver on behalf of Hibberts, solicitors in Crewe who help people receive the claims they deserve – they also want to activity present and provide an opinion on any changes in the legal sector which may impact current or future activity so that you are kept informed.

Michael Scutt, Employment Solicitor