It’s great to see the Law Society – in partnership with the Junior Lawyers Division – coming out in support of minimum wage payment to work experience students. Summer placements are a critical part of the recruitment process for most City firms now – I know that some firms rely on these schemes for most if not all of their trainee recruitment needs.
Far too many businesses rely on unpaid interns as part of their operating model. There is a common perception – not rooted in any law – that, if the role is an internship, it does not need to be paid. This is just not right. If your intern – or summer student, in a law firm – carries out valuable functions and work for the business, he or she is entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage. It is only where the role is genuinely just experience – work shadowing – that you can avoid paying them the minimum wage.
There’s a general point to be made as well. Businesses and law firms should generally think carefully about what they pay summer students, interns or those on work experience placements. This is especially true where such schemes are used for recruitment. If your business wants to recruit top-quality talent from across a broad spectrum, it will need to make sure that people from all different backgrounds can participate in these schemes - not just those who can afford to live and work without income – especially in a city like London.
Work experience should be paid to at least the national minimum wage. [...] If your organisation needs an individual to perform tasks for a particular period, you should consider the needs of your business. Engaging an individual as a paid employee may serve your purposes better. You may be able to recruit and retain someone who can assist you efficiently because they are familiar with your business needs and systems and ensure that you comply with relevant legislation and conduct issues.