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"I can't afford an internship." : A take on Unpaid Internships in India

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Funny picture on Unpaid internship
Internships.
Arguably the most important part of a student's CV.
Internships in India are hard to get in spite of there being so many law firms, companies, NGOs, LPOs and other such organisations. An internship at a 'reputed' place is like a star on the CV. If you have 5 or more stars then you either have a CGPA worth killing for or are an awesome jugaadu.
Whatever be the reason, I can safely say that internships are very very important. Not just from the CV point of view. Also from the experience of the practical experience of a specific field.
In India, majority of the internships are unpaid.
So, students get: cut throat competition, shady PGs to stay in, work during vacations, time away from parents and home city, rigorous office hours and NO PAY.
Organisations get: FREE labor, temporary clerks/secretaries and no responsibility.
A majority of the students are not from the metros but most of the internship places are in metros. It means, students have to spend money on travelling to the city, accommodation, food, travelling to the office and other misc expenses. All this and what do we get in return? Experience? Knowledge? Chance to get coffee for the boss? Chance to pass around files? Old cases to read?
Just because interns are not 'workers' and do not have a union of sorts, organisations feel that they can exploit them. Interns are not given enough importance. They are students who are facing a lot of difficulty and trying to learn and sustain themselves. The least organisations can do is dedicate an hour a day to actually teach them something and pay them something which can offset their expenses for that time duration.
LegallyIndia pays its interns Rs. 10k/month. It is seen as a very 'handsome' amount. Considering what other organisations in India pay (or don't pay), yes but not quite handsome when you consider the expenses of staying in Bombay for a month. It just covers all expenses which in the present Indian scenario is a very big thing.
I have heard interns being paid Rs. 2k for a 6 week internship in Delhi. Yea, 2k might just cover food expenses for that time. So effectively, the intern is spending money to do free work.
I can understand non-profits not paying their interns. Although its not completely alright, but its understandable. They have their own fund raising problems. But firms/companies who work for profit should pay their interns.
It doesn't matter if you get work done from the intern or not. You are calling him/her to your office and he/she is incurring expenses because of you. You have all the right to get work done from them. Make them do substantial work so that they can actually learn and contribute and rightfully earn their stipend.
There are always things that interns can do. Maybe not a first year or a second year student but definitely from third year onwards students are well trained and can surely reduce some work load of the employees. They deserve to be paid.
Unfortunately, interns fall into the unorganised category of the free labour sector.
A lot needs to change. Some organisations are starting to understand this. A lot more are still not sensitive enough to understand this problem. Not paying interns is not illegal but in my view, it is unethical.
Dear organisations,
There are so many brilliant students out there who are willing to work for 12 hours a day but are unable to do so because they cannot afford an internship. Pay your interns. Make them work. They'll contribute to your organisation in a small way. They will spread the word if you treat them well.
Sincerely,
A student looking for an internship in Delhi for May-June2012.
___________________________________________________________________________
This article is also published on my personal blog here.
Other interesting posts written by me:
Thanks
Napster
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Comments

  • Guest
    Lawyer Tuesday, 29 Nov 11

    Agree. Firms should pay at least the ones they choose. However, some interns would rather have the internship than pay, but firms should not even imagine getting interns for free. At least 5k a month should be paid.

  • sss
    sss Tuesday, 29 Nov 11

    Good job with the post. Feels good to be back ;-). Underrated your post by mistake. Won't matter though I suppose. Cheers!

  • kianganz
    kianganz Tuesday, 29 Nov 11

    Hi sss - have deleted your accidental '1' rating - please feel free to re-rate. :)

  • Guest
    Black Tuesday, 29 Nov 11

    The Bar Council is least bothered about this, whereas other bodies like the ICAI have clearly laid down such policies relating to articled clerks :-/

  • sss
    sss Tuesday, 29 Nov 11

    Thanks Kian. I have re-rated the piece. Napster, do take note :-).

  • Guest
    vishesh Wednesday, 30 Nov 11

    What a way to demand internship dude!!. But please understand this law firms/companies etc are not required to give internships under any rule. Its the internship that counts. Pay is always an additional perk

  • Guest
    someone Wednesday, 30 Nov 11

    we as new generation lawyers too much. we intern for our one benefit and experience. we as interns rarely and hardly contribute to the revenue earning of the firm. its better that we should be grateful for all those who pay and thankful to all provide knowledge of law without pay. so we work harder and grumble lesser. This approach was taught me by a senior counsel at the supreme court who is an extremely famous lawyer whom i can not name. this approach will surely take the young lawyers to the top.

  • lawstory
    lawstory Wednesday, 30 Nov 11

    I think we should pay the law firms or who ever we are interning under because its we who are learning and not them and its not the other way round. Though i disagree with you its a really nice post.

  • kianganz
    kianganz Wednesday, 30 Nov 11

    Good post, I thought. One thing that hasn't really been raised is this - isn't it inherently discriminatory to pay nothing or very little for an internship? The point is not whether students should pay to learn in internships but that law firms should enable anyone, irrespective of economic background, to get a start in the profession.

    Low paid internships will always exclude those who are less well off or from non-traditional backgrounds, or those without family in the metros, who can not afford to live in Bombay or Delhi for a month barely able to cover food expenses.

    No?

    Interestingly, in the UK 'vacation placements' at law firms can pay rather well. Back when I did mine, it was around Rs 20-25,000 per week, if I remember correctly... That happened, I think, because the competition for good graduates is high, also vis-a-vis banking, consulting and other professions.

  • Guest
    Anon-E-Mouse Wednesday, 30 Nov 11

    I agree with lawstory. Unless one is in the senior years of lawschool (4th and 5th), one does not contribute much to the firm/organisation except tagging along and doing leg-work. Even in the senior years, contribution is limited. The intern stands to gain much more, non-monetarily. Further, if it is a 'reputed firm' then chances are that one (a past intern) may land a job there in the future due to the internship. Probably this could be seen as an investment, rather than an expense for the intern.

    So i disgree with the author, yet, a well written piece. Keep the posts coming!

  • lawstory
    lawstory Wednesday, 30 Nov 11

    Kian, I think the real problem is accessibility of legal education/ professional services in rural or background areas. If a student from a background region cannot find a good firm/advocate to intern in the immediate vicinities than what about people living in those regions? How will they access the services of a decent lawyer when needed? It becomes impossible for them to access a decent lawyer for the same monetory reasons you mentioned!

  • napster
    napster Wednesday, 30 Nov 11

    SSS: Thank you :D

    Vishesh: I thought of the last line after completing the post. :D FYI, No internship offers till now. :P

    Kain: I agree. The problem in India is that good graduates don't matter because interns are generally not 'made use of' enough to matter to the firm. If you are planning on giving good work then only will the quality of the intern matter.

    Anon: The contribution is limited because firms don't know how they can make maximum use of the interns. If given work, both the intern and the firm stand to benefit. Sitting in an office and self learning for a month in the hope to get a job is, according to me, the worst way to land a job. Wouldn't it be nicer and more satisfying if you knew that they choose you because of your work?

    Lawstory: Accessibility to good internships will solve accessibility to good lawyers. It will increase competition and reduce fees as well.

  • akaushiq
    akaushiq Wednesday, 30 Nov 11

    Well, read ur article..what u write is so so agreeable !! I presently an interning in DSK Legal, n God knows, i have slogged my arse to get in here!!..but, if u would like, i can put sum mailing address online!!...I hope it helps us all!!

  • Guest
    ND Friday, 2 Dec 11

    gr8 article!

  • napster
    napster Saturday, 3 Dec 11

    FYI, The Law Commission of India and the UN also offer internships and guess what, they all are unpaid internships!

  • Guest
    @ Kian .... swine flu Wednesday, 7 Dec 11

    Indian law firms typically have no sense of CSR like in the UK and hardly do pro bono – and there is no social pressure for them to do so. As the partners started their careers at very low pay (as you pointed in your article), some of them even believe that young lawyers have consciously chosen to work for no pay. The young partners at biglaw are no better (or maybe their hands are tied?). Even biglaw mostly pay interns peanuts unashamedly and thereby exclude the poorer kids (some like S&R have the decency to pay and also treat interns like in the UK i.e. with respect). Some smaller firms do not pay (they do not even pay their associates as much as biglaw) but at least have the decency to treat interns well. BUT most firms do not pay and even treat interns like shit even if they want to recruit them - *&%&^$. Forget pay, the behaviour of most associates and partners are …..

    I think firms feel that it is the privilege of the interns to spend time with them – and their duty ends at providing internships (while they observe interns and form opinion on the lawschools).

    Bottomline: Top NLUs usually have well off kids (the fees in the NLUs are high enough to exclude the not-so-well-off) and firms know that a kid from lower middle class would rather take a non-paying internship and fund his food/ acco than not having an internship. Internships leads to CV leads to job – the Indian NLU dream.

    But Kian, kudos to you - I see that you understand India quite well - very impressed by your work in general.

  • Amarendra
    Amarendra Thursday, 22 Dec 11

    Hey Napster, that was a nice way to demand that you get an internship and at the same time get paid. Its called saanp bhi mare aur laathi bhi na tute. Great one, written so simple and crisp. Keep blogging.

  • Guest
    AN INTERN Saturday, 14 Jul 12

    YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT LAW FIRMS & ORG?..........THE LAW COMMISSION ITSELF DOESNT PAY THEIR INTERNES...........!!

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