Law firms need not pay student interns for pro bono work

Anybody see any corporate welfare here? The Department of Labor on September 12 said that law students serving as interns in for-profit law firms need not be paid if they work solely on pro-bono matters. In other words, don't worry about the Fair Labor Standards Act.

[Letter from Solicitor of Labor]

Here's an extract from the Letter from Solicitor of Labor:

Where the program is designed to provide a law student with professional practice in the furtherance of his or her education and the experience is academically oriented for the benefit of the student, the student may be considered a trainee and not an employee.  Accordingly, where a law student works only on pro bono matters that do not involve potential fee-generating activities, and does not participate in a law firm’s billable work or free up staff resources for billable work that would otherwise be utilized for pro bono work, the firm will not derive any immediate advantage from the student’s activities, although it may derive intangible, long-term benefits such as general reputational benefits associated with pro bono activities.

This should be great news for law firms, and the bigger the firm the better the news. It is no secret that law firms employ law students. There can be some immediate benefits to the firms that do so.

However, let's be serious. For the big law firm, often the greatest benefit is that the firm gets a chance to vet the student, see if the student is any good at doing legal work, and see if the student will fit in to the firm's culture. One of the main reasons for having students around is to make future hiring decisions. Now the firms can get all this for free.

Corporate welfare? I think so.