The conundrum of free skilled labour in the Legal Profession

Law students
Law students

With lockdown forcing everyone to stay inside and the news of unemployment rates rising, grim and fearful thoughts about the future came to the minds of most law students. For some, there was the fear of not getting desired jobs, while for others it was the fear of missing out on learning experience.

These fears, and the responses of law students to these fears, have given rise to a problem that can be called “The Free Skilled Labour Problem”.

The problem started when many law students started to desperately look out for jobs or virtual internships. Now, there are three aspects of this problem which this article shall attempt to describe in the following paragraphs.

Firstly, since many law firms/lawyers saw the COVID-19 lockdown period as an opportunity for them to boost their digital/online and market presence, they thought of using law students as a tool for their purpose. They floated internship applications through LinkedIn and took in hundreds of interns, who thought joining this internship would be adding golden badges to their CVs.

While there is nothing particularly wrong with firms/lawyers taking in hundreds of interns, it should be pointed out that many of these firms/lawyers are only giving two types of tasks - case briefing and article writing. This article argues that doing such tasks is nothing but an addition to the databases of such firms/lawyers. Something that all law students must realize is that writing case briefs and writing articles by compiling from various internet sources is certainly a skill, but there’s much that they can learn on their own. Doing case briefs/articles to gain a certificate isn’t actually going to add anything new to their skill set.

It is very well known that the law firms/lawyers who are actually interested in making their interns learn restrict the number of interns they take in each month. So, running after any available opportunity isn’t going to help students do well in their respective careers. They should ask themselves what is it that they are going to learn from the opportunity they are opting for.

A facet of the same problem is also that at some places, these interns are not even given credit for the articles. It has been observed that interns are made to submit articles on various topics which add to the databases of their respective internship places. Later, the same articles are published online in the name of the firm/lawyer, and not in the name of the intern who had actually put in the effort.

Secondly, the recent months have seen a spike in the number of self-proclaimed CV/internship experts and internship intermediaries/facilitators who claim to know a lot about how to secure internships. While it would not be wrong to admit that few law students have certainly gained out of it, there is another side to it which needs to be addressed.

The rise in numbers of such experts/mentors has led many law students, especially those in the initial years of law school, to blindly follow such persons. This has also led to an increase in the number of posts about internship opportunities/guidance and comments of many interested students.

A trend of students posting their CVs on multiple posts has also been observed. This article argues that such blind following isn’t really helpful for law students since at times, they end up interning at places where they just gain a certificate at the end and there’s no learning.

Thirdly, another very important aspect of the problem is the prevalence of misinformation and fraud to which many law students have ended up becoming victims. Posts that are made on LinkedIn or otherwise contain a lot of misinformation, primarily of two types, the first being misinformation about internship opportunities. It has been observed that the posts contain misinformation about firms of which vacancies are posted. The misinformation has been to a level that a person was posing as an associate at a firm while that person was actually a law student. The second type of misinformation is about the type of work at internship. Posts calling for applications promise exciting work opportunities, whereas when interns actually join, all they actually get is to do is case brief and article writing.

An instance was observed where a law student posed as an associate of some law firm to command the interns who were actually fellow students, but from different colleges. Such a practice is very harmful as it amounts to playing with the careers of young law students.

The legal profession is a running cycle of which law students are equally a part as much as successful lawyers and partners. They are the future of the profession. To do away with this this problem, law firms/lawyers must authenticate the flow of information about the opportunities/vacancies and the work involved. More importantly, they must also consider ensuring that interns actually learn something during the internship.

The fears of not getting desired jobs, internships or learning opportunities for law students should not give rise to such a problem. Students need to understand which opportunities to go for and which ones to avoid. They should not desperately send their CVs at any opportunity; rather they should first ask themselves what new skill they are going to acquire through this internship opportunity. They must not become free skilled labour for anyone.

The author is a final year law student at Institute of Law, Nirma University.

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