The Australian Law Students’ Association (ALSA) has asked the Productivity Commission to address “predatory or exploitative” business practices targeting “desperate” law students.
In a submission made on Friday, ALSA detailed the rise of unpaid internships in Australia and their impact on law students.
The association called on the government to “discourage unscrupulous organisations from taking advantage of the desperation of students in seeking employment”.
Speaking with Lawyers Weekly, ALSA vice-president Marie Iskander said the number of unpaid internships and opportunities has increased in recent years.
“What we are really concerned about is the unpaid opportunities actually ending up being quite exploitative or just a substitute for free labour,” she said.
The submission points to one recent example where an Adelaide law firm asked law graduates to pay $22,000 for a graduate placement.
“What is concerning are reports that suggest there are indeed a number of students who are willing to pay for such a position,” ALSA writes in the submission.
Ms Iskander said this might be because the market is responding to an oversupply of graduates by providing unpaid opportunities.
One quarter of law graduates who wanted a full-time job could not find one within four months of graduating in 2014, according to a report by Graduate Careers Australia.
“But, in saying that, we are aware that unpaid internships aren't a new phenomenon,” she continued.
The submission cautioned against “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” by limiting opportunities for law students to do unpaid work in the community legal sector.
“[It’s] absolutely accepted, if not encouraged, for students to undertake that kind of work,” said Ms Iskander.
“What we are more concerned about are the firms and the businesses who are now responding to this oversupply.”
In the submission, ALSA recommends that the Law Council of Australia conduct a comprehensive study of the nature and prevalence of unpaid work in the legal profession.
ALSA also called for the development of clear guidelines relating to the rules and codes of unpaid work and recommended that a formal complaint channel be established to address reported breaches of the Fair Work Act 2009.
Like this story? Subscribe to our free newsletter and receive Lawyers Weekly every day straight to your inbox.