- Internships can be a valuable way for law students and graduates to obtain experience. Internships also provide benefits to employers.
- Whilst the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) recognises that certain internships may be lawfully unpaid, there are concerns surrounding reports of the exploitation of interns.
- The Law Society of New South Wales, in consultation with its Employment Law Committee, has reviewed current employment practices and legal frameworks to produce a fact sheet which will assist employers in meeting their obligations, whether in private practice, in-house, public sector, community legal centres or not-for-profit organisations.
Internships can be a valuable way for law students and graduates to obtain experience. Whilst the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) recognises that certain internships (in the Act referred to as ‘vocational placements’) may be lawfully unpaid, there are concerns surrounding reports of the exploitation of interns. Those concerns include interns undertaking work for which the employer derives a financial benefit, interns paying a fee for the ‘privilege’ of undertaking an internship and interns being paid a commission to undertake work which legally may be defined as work performed by an employee. A study undertaken by the Federal Employment Department in 2016 referred to the costs associated with unpaid internships and found that 13 per cent of unpaid interns had paid a fee to a broker, agent or employer.
Internships and work experience are important for law students and law graduates, and law practices play a significant role in providing these opportunities. The Law Society of NSW is aware that aspects of this area of law are complicated and that this may present difficulties for some interns and law practices seeking to understand how the law applies to their own situation. While there is no precise definition of the term ‘intern’ in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), the legislation clearly stipulates that unpaid internships will only be legal if they are part of a vocational placement, or where an employment relationship does not exist.