Designing Law School Externships That Comply with the FLSA
Clinical L. Rev., Vol. 21, Issue 1, pp. 79, 2014
49 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2014 Last revised: 6 Oct 2015
Date Written: February 28, 2014
Recent debates over the best way to educate lawyers have led to an increasing focus on providing “experiential” education in law schools – and with it, a noted growth in law school externship programs. Externships provide a valuable way of giving law students real-life legal practice experience by allowing them to earn academic credit for training in a variety of actual legal settings, from prosecutors’ offices to corporate counsel departments. Because current ABA Standards for the Accreditation of Law Schools do not permit students to be paid for activities for which they earn academic credit, law school externships are unpaid, raising questions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which bars covered employers from offering unpaid positions unless those positions qualify for one of the specific exceptions recognized by the Department of Labor. This Article demonstrates that the interests of the law schools and the Department of Labor are aligned in this area, both seeking to ensure that unpaid externships genuinely provide meaningful education and training for the law student externs who participate. The Article derives a set of “best practices” for designing FLSA-compliant law school externship programs, highlights some pitfalls that may arise, and suggests specific steps to be taken both by law school externship program directors and host organizations who may participate in legal externship programs.
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