Should Law Students Get Credit & Cash?

The reform idea that law student should receive credit and pay for their externships has been around for awhile

This time, it's the NYTimes Room for Discussion series taking up the issue. As the intro to the series mentions, "[t]he American Bar Association prohibits law students from receiving pay for internships and externships that grant them academic credit. Critics have pressured the organization to reverse this standard, as law students face mounting debt and a slow job market."

A law student, a law professor, and a legal professional all chimed in. The law student argues that law students should get paid and receive credit. "While in school, [law] students have to decide whether to accept an unpaid externship and receive law school credit — which could allow them to graduate and find a paying job more quickly — or take a paid legal position, without school credit, which might extend their time in law school."

The law professor argues that the current ABA standard prohibiting pay should stay in place. "Under the current standards, law students cannot be compensated for work they do for school credit. This policy should remain in place because separating compensation and 'study outside the classroom' is a crucial step toward safeguarding the academic integrity of the externship."

The legal professional argues that law students should receive pay. "Most law school graduates, no matter how well schooled, lack significant experiential learning — the firsthand experience that comes from trying a case, arguing in court and advising a client. A major impediment is the American Bar Association rule that prohibits law schools from giving students academic credit for legal work for which they are paid, no matter how valuable the school might think the work experience is. This makes no sense. Medical schools let interns receive compensation."

As the ABA continues to contemplate changing this standard, it must take law school debt into consideration. With a huge percentage of graduates facing six-figure debt, the ABA should do everything in its power to help alleviate some of the burden. Allowing students to receive pay and credit makes sense. 

The argument that the law professor gives, in essence, that the main focus of the externship should be academic and allowing pay would undermine that is offset by the fact that law students would be paid a fraction of what licensed attorneys are paid for similar work. This ensures that the focus remains on the educational component because the employer understands that by getting a deal on the work, the employer has a responsibility to focus on educating the student. 


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