ABA Moves Toward Allowing Paid Student Externships

, The National Law Journal

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An American Bar Association panel has recommended the organization drop its prohibition against law students receiving both academic credit and money for internships and externships.

The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar still must approve the idea, but it would represent a significant departure from existing rules that forbid students from receiving monetary payment for field placements.

The proposal was among a series of reforms on the table during an ABA Standards Review Committee meeting over the weekend. The most controversial would have toughened law schools’ bar examination passage rate standard, but committee leaders concluded they needed more time to develop the proposal and opted not to act. The move effectively kills the proposal for this year.

The pay-for-field-placement rule is intended to open more opportunities within the private sector, said committee chair Jeff Lewis, a professor at Saint Louis University School of Law.

“Law schools won’t place students in the private sector because those employers are required under federal law to pay,” Lewis said. “That’s what everybody seems to believe, and they weren’t willing to risk violating the law. It cuts off large swathes off the world for student field placements.”

In September, the ABA sought and received clarification from the U.S. Department of Labor that the Fair Labor Standards Act does not prohibit law students from performing unpaid pro bono work at law firms, subject to certain restrictions.

The ABA’s Law Student Division has been lobbying for the rule change, enlisting support from student bar associations around the country. The division argued in a letter to the committee that changing economic realities no longer allow students to pass up opportunities to be paid for their work.

In a survey of students, 95 percent said they would be better encouraged to pursue externships if they could be paid and receive academic credit.

“I’m glad that that this is the committee’s recommendation, and I think law students around the country will be very glad to learn that this is the next step in the process toward achieving our goal,” said Mathew Kerbis, chairman of the division’s board of governors and a student at DePaul University College of Law.

The Student Bar Association at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago signed the division’s letter, and students universally agreed that the old rule should go, association president Melissa Soso said.

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