Unpaid Internships; Somewhere between Opportunity and Exploitation

Diary of a young lawyer...
5 min readApr 27, 2022

In every Law student’s life, there is a phase where they have to do more than just updating their social media account’s bio to “Lawyer to be” and “Sue you soon” Where they realize posting legal maxims as the caption on their random pictures doesn’t make them an expert at their work.

Having this in mind, Law students start mapping the area of their interest and begin developing skillsets accordingly. As it is said, you must learn to crawl before you can walk. That being so, undergraduate students start looking for internships to dive deep into the area of their interest, usually in the final year of degree.

Is it as easy as it sounds?

Generally, Internships are considered as an ideal entry into the workplace; young students are able to learn from experienced lawyers, gain hands-on legal experience, enrich their academic knowledge and enhance their skills, over and above it bulk up their CVs.

But there is far more to this story, finding an internship opportunity is itself a challenge. And that too a paid? It’s bed of thorns. It’s almost impossible to get internships in leading Law Firms without any influential reference.

The journey of aspiring first-generation lawyers from underprivileged backgrounds is filled with obstacles, struggles and complications they have to come across many difficulties. As compared to the second or third generation of lawyers who have decent backup due to their family background.

But this is no justification for “not trying” It’s neck and neck for both as both have to begin from the ground up. At the end of the day, what matters are your skills, knowledge and hard work.

Should You Do an Unpaid Internship?

It gets so hard when you have to choose between an unpaid internship for the “experience you need” or a part-time job to pay for your expenses. As is usually the case, numerous law students work part-time in fields other than the legal profession simply because they can’t afford to gain hands-on legal experience in Law firms in cities with a high cost of living.

Truth be told, as someone who did an unpaid internship for a while, I can clearly say that unpaid internships aren’t just unpaid, they cost money.

Precisely, your CV will look good but does your pocket and bank account? The answer is No.

Unpaid internships substantially benefit privileged students. It allows those students who don’t need money to get ahead of those students who need to be paid to afford rent, food and other such commodities.

No need to refer to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, Simply, this is how a capitalist system works.

I’m leaving this question for you to answer. What choice do you take if the choice is an unpaid internship or no internship at all?

In the legal field, the concept of unpaid internships is so normalized that for young law students, the low amount of money or even no amount of money seems like a good opportunity, to get a foot in the door and get work experience and exposure. Under the guise of work experience, interns are expected to work above and beyond all, whether it is miscellaneous work, maintaining a court case diary or doing all the efforts from drafting plaints to finding out relevant case laws.

In the end, it’s up to you whether you decide to accept an unpaid internship or not. It will be contingent on each individual’s personal state of affairs.

In the words of Babu Rao from Hera Pheri (an Bollywood movie): Teray pas koi aur rasta hai?

The fact remains that, we shouldn’t justify anything simply because we had to do it.

How hard is it to provide an adequate stipend?

Interns should be valued and respected for their contribution to the workplace. How much they should suffer financially and emotionally just to have “Experience” on their CVs?

To put that in context, An intern who is rushing up and down the stairs, trying to make it from one court to another, one office to another, tolerating rude behaviour of “true copies walay uncles”, managing bail application of complicated cases like 6/9(c), if god forbid, feel fainting (lose consciousness), at least he can afford “CaC” from his hard-earned blood and sweat money. Is it too much to ask for?

In case some of you don’t know about 6/9(c), whoever keeps in possession or traffics narcotic substance exceeding one kilogram shall be punished with death or imprisonment as provided in Section 9(c) of the Control of Narcotic Substances Act, 1997. And CaC? It is a Calcium supplement that is used for vitamin deficiency and conditions like fainting etc. Hope I conveyed my point effectively.

In a developing country like Pakistan, “Experience” is not a form of payment when the cost of transport and goods rises almost weekly. Interns should be paid minimum remuneration and expenses like food and transport should be covered when interns give their time, energy and effort. It would be a great motivation for young people trying to make their way into the world of work. It will give them the enthusiasm to push and work harder to reach where they want to be.

With an eye on the coming Bar Council Elections, Next time, When you are raising slogans and putting banners, panaflex and stickers on the walls of the court and in its surroundings make sure to whisper in the Candidate’s ear that the Policy for an end to the exploitation of interns is required along with a mechanism to help young students in finding internships. Need I say more?

For that, Legislation and clear and effective policy in this regard is the need of the hour. Government and Bar councils should play their role in protecting students from this unending exploitation.

International Workers’ Day, also known as Labor Day is coming up on 1st May. It is an opportunity to raise awareness against the exploitation of young students. Civil society organizations and Student Unions, Take Note.

In Conclusion:

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Diary of a young lawyer...

I'm Abdul Qadeer, Student of Law by day and a writer by night. My talent is words. I am an aspiring writer with a huge passion for writing and researching.