We all know those typical movie scenes where the intern brings the boss her morning coffee, right? Maybe some of you have been that intern; but was it legal? The answer is: it depends.
Internship opportunities have been an integral part of higher education for many years. Law firms, the state legislatures, marketing firms, and campaigns are just a few of the places you might find an intern answering the phone, shadowing a meeting, or drafting documents for review by superiors. When you meet an intern in the office environment, you might ask yourself if they are being compensated for their work. Often times they are not. Why is this?
Noting differences. Let’s consider how interns differ from full-time paid employees. Full-time employees are trained in or have received a degree for the job they are performing. On the other hand, interns are working toward that degree and wish to further their knowledge and gain experience to use after graduation. In addition, interns are temporary positions. They make work for the summer months between semesters, or they may work just one or two half-days in the office before or after class. It is hard to see a project start to finish on this schedule.
What is the law? The Department of Labor has established a test to determine if an intern must be paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). If the internship meets the following criteria, the intern is not legally entitled to compensation. Generally, this test applies to interns who receive training for their own educational benefit. The DOL.gov website contains the following:
The determination of whether an internship or training program meets this exclusion depends upon all of the facts and circumstances of each such program.
The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:
- The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
- The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern.
So why do students work for free? Chudi Echetebu, one of our fall legal interns at Collins Law Firm said, “Interning means you are paid with experience.” Chudi drafts many legal documents for our Partners and Associates, like memorandums in support of law and initial complaints. His documents are not just immediately sent to the courts or opposing counsel, however. After Chudi or any other intern submits a document for review with the case’s managing attorney, the attorney provides feedback and can make significant changes to the project, whether it be formatting, legal tactics, or additional case law. As Chudi has worked at the firm longer, his need for feedback has decreased because the experience has made him a better writer, and someday a better lawyer. While we are thankful for the hard work of our interns at Collins Law Firm, our main goal is to help them grow in their future legal careers.
Our internship program at Collins Law Firm is approaching its fifth consecutive term. Our interns have the opportunity to follow attorneys through every step of the legal process: from writing and filing a complaint to collecting on a judgment. Are you interested in furthering your legal education by interning at Collins Law Firm?