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The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has called for an end to “unfair” unpaid work experience after seeing an increase in calls from distressed would-be lawyers worried that they are being exploited by law firms.
The JLD has lambasted firms that make students desperate to land a training contract do what would be considered by most as fee-earning work for months on end without paying them a penny.
Chair of the JLD Pro Bono Awards Committee Kevin Poulter said: “We hear stories about people who are working for weeks or months on end with little or no pay and only occasionally an oblique promise that one day there may be a training contract, paralegal position or some ‘time to count’ available. Other people have recounted suggestions of a ‘trial period’ to prove that they’re a suitable candidate or good fit with a firm.”
Poulter argued that the trend toward making students work for free for long periods of time under the “guise of work experience” is ruling out those who cannot afford to take unpaid employment, creating an “elitist” profession.
Law student Grace Salmern, who is studying at Queen Mary University of London, said: “Law firms are taking advantage of the desperate situation many students are finding themselves in. I think at the moment students would do anything to get their foot in the door.”
Meanwhile, universities minister David Willetts has said he will be looking at putting guidelines in place for work experience providers, with help from The Institute for Public Policy Research and the Low Pay Commission.
“Law firms just have to be careful they’re not taking advantage of the willingness of students to work for free by calling it ‘work experience’, which to me is often a sexy and acceptable word for slave labour,” added Poulter.