INTERNSHIPS IN LAW SCHOOL: FREE LABOUR OR ACTUALLY WORTH IT?

In Present
October 8, 2021

The law is mostly seen as a binary between boardrooms and courtrooms, the students are seen as nothing more than free labour. The tragedy, however, is that even with the cognizance of the same, it’s often diluted down to the level of passing humour in random conversations that discuss how the internship is going. 

You’re most likely introduced to these internships in the first year of law school, with an easier job such as that in an NGO, but even here, you’re mostly not taught these things too well. Often, you lack guidance about what your work is or how to go about it, as a result of which you’re often treated as a volunteer for the NGO rather than a part of the administration. However, you do get some work delegated to you, even if it is often an extension of this volunteering only, in the form of handling social media for the NGO. This is primarily done for two reasons- first to get exposure to work that is being done and secondly to inculcate empathy towards the ones you’re working for. The work ethic that you get from these smaller starting steps goes ahead and culminates into various other sectors as well. 

Starting with the corporate sector, we’ve always seen them as money-hungry sharks with the best brains and a silver tongue to get the best things done. At least that is what Harvey Specter has us believe. 

But the catch is- no one probably talks about the Temp at his firm. The guy who is delegated to mundane work like making innumerable copies of documents made to do work that he’s not even educated for like getting coffee and driving people around and at best, being delegated to heaps of regular work that is mostly just dismissed off as unintuitive and error-prone in a yell from Harvey himself, maybe. This is the reality of interns everywhere in the corporate sector- which demands that you have the best of credentials to even dream of a job in the saturation that exists.

But even worse is the non-acknowledgment of the work done- let alone reimbursement, for the most part, an intern is someone who can be relegated to the most demeaning of works and more than a learning experience, it becomes a downpour of frustrations because of how expendable you are. Let alone being valued, often your mere existence is trapped between the never-ending hours of work and a transition to the moniker “corporate slave”.

But it’s not just the corporate sector that engages in these practices- the litigation sector is perhaps even worse. Moreover, the drafting of contracts which may be mundane and error-prone, sure, perhaps carrying an umbrella and just arranging files for your advocate to carry the same in Court the next day is even worse. Not to mention, the constant rush you must do things for the one person in charge- from tracking appointments to making dinner even- most of the same that comes under the guise of learning is nothing more than a glorification of caregiving. 

But not all is lost. While it may seem from the things written that these experiences are to be avoided, often they result in some benefits. Firstly, in terms of the corporate sector, you get to know the life you’re probably going to lead right away- meaning you can have realistic expectations for yourself in the personal sphere. Possibly the very reason that individuals end up shirking their interpersonal relationships in Favor of short-term ones, giving rise to Situation ships. 

But even more than that, you can impress and express yourself at your work- because corporate is probably the only sector that more than anything else values your ability to network. Perhaps you’re a temp now, but with a steady stream of impressive work or even conversations with those above you, maybe someday you could be a Mike too. Finally, let’s talk some tangible stuff- in terms of a job and pay scale, you’re more likely to be better off than someone who doesn’t have a ton of these internships in the first place, so the chances are that you are having a steady flow of income after continuous devaluation is much higher than someone who didn’t face the same. 

Even in the advocacy sector, you do gain some benefits of the same. Firstly, you get direct engagement with someone who is more experienced and can guide you in the matters of what you wish to do further. You also get a first-hand experience of how tough practice is in general- because it’s not a Moot in an air-conditioned room anymore but work in a Courtroom- where you don’t have luxuries. Where things are gritty and rough and not sanitized the way people around you assume them to be. Finally, you get some work done as well- maybe not as meaningful as making a million copies of some document- but researching cases and error corrections even to understand the arguments that would perhaps be made, giving you a broader purview of the scope of the field as well as the etiquette within it. 

Finally, while it is true that most internships in India result in disillusionment and dejection for students who have been pushed around as free labour and ridiculed to a great extent, especially if they come from a lower-tier college, it is also the most authentic representation of law as a field you’re ever going to get. It’s not about reading books in a comfortable chair- it’s about applying the things you’ve learned and doing them properly. It’s about engaging with others and etiquette. And all those things are only learned with experience, something that only these internships provide you with.

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