Why your internship is worthless…

The first handful of days I’m probably going to make a ton of posts. Just so I can write out my experiences thus far that keep bouncing around in my brain.

Due to a rather ridiculous recent email exchange I had with a potential employer I figured I would start with this.

Your internship is worthless.

Don’t get me wrong, if you happen to be a summer associate and are offered a job this is not directed at you precisely, but it is still good to know in case you leave your job, or as happened to me and many people in my class and those before me — the job offers were rescinded.

Most reputable law schools will tell their students that an internship is absolutely necessary. If you happen to be in the 3rd / 4th tier as some of my friends were, it seems that what little career guidance you get is mostly garnered from fellow students, but the gist is the same. To be competitive in the job market, you need to have been involved with a substantive internship.

In the past, most internships were paid. Legal interns (or as many offices call them: Law Clerks) do the job of an actual attorney and are theoretically overseen by a senior attorney at the office. I say theoretically because most everyone I know was involved in a free-range internship with the concept that you would either pick it up or you wouldn’t, but no one was going to go out of their way to teach you because they had their own work to do. The work product you do is reviewed by the senior attorney and then they sign their name and number to it. In previous years, if an intern was brought on for the summer and their work was good, they were offered a job once they got out of law school. You could look forward to starting at low pay with a big bump once you passed the bar exam and were admitted.

I am not sure when this stopped. It stopped quite a while ago from what I understand. These days you are considered incredibly lucky if your internship is paid. In effect, you put in your time for free and often pay (in some way – parking, gas, etc) a decent amount to volunteer for the benefit of ‘learning the ropes’ of becoming an attorney in whatever niche field you are interning. Law firms and government law offices know that they can get free labor, and therefore don’t need to hire someone to do extra legal paperwork… instead they just ‘hire’ an intern.

 NPR РUnpaid Interns ; USAToday РThe Blurry line between the unpaid internship and free labor ; Atlantic РWhy free internships are immoral ; NYT РThe unpaid intern, legal or not

National Law Review – Unpaid internships ; Poynter – internship vs abuse

It isn’t hard to find things written about it online. When times get bad is when internships are abused the most. Law firms laid off associates and they picked up free interns to pick up some of the slack. Government offices have freezes or RiF and suddenly you will start seeing the unpaid interns walking the halls. A lot is said about Labor standards in previous links, but most interns can’t afford to enforce these because you will essentially be blacklisted (your local legal community is smaller than you think). And potential interns can’t afford to pass up an internship because as previously stated… everyone in law school has already told you ‘to be competitive in the job market, you need to have an internship on your resume.’

So… basically most law students are told to get an internship anyway possible, paid or not. Here’s where the real catch comes though. Once you graduate and pass the bar, your internship experience amounts to nothing. Employers specifically state that only post JD experience is applicable, even if they don’t explicitly state it — your experience will be dismissed regardless of what you did. I’ve been in interviews where I start off talking about my experience in a particular legal field and the interviewer interrupts me and said, “but not significantly post JD…” Check any federal job listing on USAJobs. It stipulates strictly post-JD experience only counts.

So what was the point of working at an internship and taking on an extra workload concurrent with your studies for your 2 eligible internship years in law school? (for those not yet in massive crushing debt law school, the ABA sets guidelines stating that during your first year you are not eligible for internships, and it highly suggests law students do not hold any job during their first year.)

I would love to know what 2 years at an internship has gotten me that counts for something.

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