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Why Is a Firm With Dozens of Lawyers Seeking Unpaid Labor?

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

It's a heck of a business model: Start your own firm. Then hire unpaid interns and post-bar clerks, many of whom are so desperate for a few lines of experience on their resumes that they will gladly take anything.

If they quit, hire another intern or two. If they stay, have them handle your research, writing, and other grunt work, preferably with their school-provided research accounts. And if an intern proves to be truly valuable, hire them at something approximating a living wage once they pass the bar, and provide them with their own set of interns.

This may sound unethical. It may sound like a labor law violation. It's probably both. But guess what? Everybody's doing it!

An 'Opportunity' to Work for Free

Carolyn Elefant's post on "Solos and Smalls Using Slave Labor" pointed me in the direction of, a fancier alternative to craigslist for finding soul-sucking, unpaid crapternships.

I picked an ad at random, one from the Thomas J. Henry Law Firm, providing this opportunity:

"Thomas J. Henry Injury Attorneys, a national law firm, is offering virtual writing internships through which individuals with an interest in English, Journalism, or Law can translate their knowledge into published work, with authorship credit. This internship program pairs students with a variety of legal and news-related editorial assignments and research projects and gives them experience and published writing credits to add to their resume/professional portfolio."

Oh boy! A writing opportunity? It's unpaid, of course, and asks writers to be familiar with search engine-optimized writing. On the bright side, you'll get a byline! And you can work from home!

In the interest of fairness and disclosure, our company, FindLaw, also has people write SEO-friendly articles about the law, except we actually pay.

And if you're curious about the firm that is so strapped for cash that it can't pay the people who fill its website with search-optimized articles about law and recalls, check out the firm's website -- it's freaking gorgeous. And the firm has more attorneys than I care to count, but it's more than a couple dozen.

We're with Elefant here: Have you no shame?

It's Illegal and Unethical

Last year, I wrote about unpaid internships and why it makes you a terrible person if you offer them. Generally, I try to avoid repeating myself, but those ads really struck a nerve.

Law grads typically have six-figure debt. They can't afford to "pay their dues" by working unpaid for a few months, let alone a few years. It's also a near-certainty that an unpaid internship is illegal, unless it provides little to no benefit to your firm, it's for educational credit, and it doesn't displace regular employees. Penning Web-optimized blog content probably doesn't qualify.

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