Don’t Miss Your Chance to be Exploited! * Updated

Help - Or Free Labour?

Help – Or Free Labour?

Legal action in several cases may cool down the rampant use of unpaid interns filling roles that were once paid jobs.

In 2012, former intern Kyle Iannuzzi was awarded almost $1,000 in back wages from Platinum Events Group. Jainna Patel, 24, a McMaster University graduate, has filed a federal labour complaint against Bell Mobility after spending five weeks in its Professional Management Program (PMP). Several successful actions in the United States have given hope to unpaid interns here.

Internships are not directly addressed in the Employment Standards Act.

Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has called for more oversight of the internship phenomenon, saying internships are not helping individuals or the economy. “I think we need to look at stronger oversight and enforcing the regulations that exist.”

Employers continue to flout employment law, using “volunteers” or kinda-sorta “interns” to perform tasks for which they are legally entitled to be paid. Even worse — too many of these employers are in the legal services community, having affirmed an oath to uphold the very laws they seek to skirt.

Employment and internship lawyer Sean Bawden blogs about such issues. “The bottom line is, if what is being done for the ‘employer’ looks like work, then it should be compensated as work,” he says.

When “large,” “established,” “fast-paced” and “respected” law offices boldly advertise their desire to exploit people who are anxious to get law-office experience, where does the internship scourge end?

To be certain, these are not tiny start-ups asking for someone to answer the phones now and then. These are not community legal clinics, or registered charities, or not-profits performing good works. These are not mentors willing to let recent graduates shadow them, to learn the inside ropes.

No. These are very much for-profit organizations. It’s not that they can’t afford to pay; it’s that they choose not to.

And the duties referenced in the ads make it clear that this is work that should be done by paid employees: drafting and filing claims, reviewing documents, interviewing clients.

Given that these “volunteer” and “internship” positions: are not associated with a legal training program; are not components of a formal internship or mentoring system; are not primarily for the benefit of the volunteer; ensure that paid positions are not created; take work away from existing employees; and often hold-out the carrot of a full-time position later on “for the successful intern” — how do they get away with it?

Before their ads are posted at Craigslist, the firm must click-through and agree to certain conditions. These state that only actual, paid, jobs are to be posted at the “Jobs” section. No internships. No commission-based gigs. No business offers. Just paid work.

Yet, the same legal offices post unpaid positions, over and over. Or advertize jobs that pay less than minimum wage, or are little more than pyramid schemes.

Flagging such posts as “miscategorized,” “prohibited,” or “spam” seems to do little more than provide some temporary but ultimately useless satisfaction. Perhaps if more people flagged illegal ads, more often, there would be fewer of them.

Aside from the irksome guile these ads belie, there is this: do these absurd ads serve to raise the public profile of our profession? Increase the regard for legal services providers? Underscore a commitment to justice, fairness, ethical and honest behaviour?

For shame.

Recent “Job” Ads, Typos and All:

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES AT TOP LAW FIRM!!!! (Toronto, ON)

Paralegal Volunteer Needed (Downtown Toronto)
We are a law firm with a large collections practice. The candidate must be eager, diligent and organized. The work would consist of drafting claims, assessment materials, judgment and enforcement materials.

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES NOW ABAILABLE!!

LOOKING TO GET INTO LAW SCHOOL? NEED LEGAL EXPERIENCE AT A PROFESSIONAL LAW FIRM?
TOP LAW FIRM IS NOW ACCEPTING TWO EDUCATED INDIVIDUALS FOR VOLUNTEER OPENINGS.
THIS IS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY, DO NOT MISS OUT.

Legal Student
This is a small paralegal firm but we do multiply legal practice, If you are an entry level and eager to learn and want to gain experience in legal environment, please send your resume to the address above and we will reply.
Compensation: Good reference letter

Legal Intern for Technology Company (Downtown)
Patent/legal Intern for Technology Company
A leading technology start-up seeks an intern for patent related tasks.

More information:

U.S. Intern Certification Decision

ESA Internship FAQ

– E.L.

2 comments

  1. Great Article. I have seen way too much of the come volunteer in my office for the experience and these poor law/paralegal students know no better.

    Thank you!!
    Chris Lafrance-Weston

  2. Elizabeth Fisher · · Reply

    Your point is a very valid one. The article highlights the frustrations many newly licensed Paralegals experience, for law firms who can provide jobs, either don’t want to hire people as they don’t want to pay them, or they will under-employ people with the skills that the law firm could use. It’s sad that they don’t value the work people can contribute, and that the bottom line is profit, not the development of the individual that can become a productive member of the team and enhance the company or firm.

    However, there are those companies and law firms out there that do value the contribution of the person and I would suspect that those companies and firms have a great work environment as the individual is treated as part of the bigger picture and in this case it’s a win-win situation for everyone. It’s sad that it cannot always be a collaborative effort for all concerned for the betterment of all. Is our society becoming de-sensitized to our fellow man???

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