ABA May Allow Law Students to Earn School Credit for Paid Work

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on February 18, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you ever participated in an externship during law school, you'll remember that you were only allowed to earn academic credit towards your J.D. if the position was unpaid. Well, the ABA is considering whether or not it should relax that rule.

Applicable Rules

According to the US Department of Labor, private employers can be forced to pay their interns, while unpaid internships at non-profits are "generally permissible." This is why so many students who struggled to give their time free to that dream private-firm came up empty handed: the firms couldn't indulge students even if they wanted to. That would be a labor violation. In order to stay compliant with federal wage laws, a business must compensate interns.

Traditionally, the presence of pay has usually meant that interns cannot earn academic credit for their experiences at that firm. "Compensation is the hallmark of the employer-employee relationship, not education," chided the Clinical Legal Education Association, one of several organizations standing in opposition to the proposal.

Let's Do This Thing

New York's City Bar Association thinks the ABA proposal to lift the ban on crediting paid internships is great. It's president Debra L Raskin opined that it "makes no sense" to allow one student credit, but deny credit to another student for doing "essentially the same job."

Two for the Price of One!

There's an immediate problem we can see and you've already guessed it. If a student can earn credit and get paid at a firm, then what incentive does that same student have to go and pursue experience at a non-profit? Moral conscience?

That's placing a lot of faith in law students "doing the right thing." Lawyers are generally thought of as being greedy, after all. Apparently CLEA also has similar fears and worries that a lift on the ban would "encourage students from participating in public interest and public service placements which cannot pay them."

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