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Unpaid internships are standard practice at the White House, on Capitol Hill, and in political campaigns. Should they be banned for private-sector employers? I answer “no” in a new U.S. News “Debate Club” also featuring a contribution by Dan Rothschild of R Street Institute as well as contributions by three advocates of a ban. Excerpt of mine:

With eyes wide open, students with many options have long sought out voluntary unpaid internships because they’re an arrangement that can rationally benefit both sides.

In an Auburn University working paper last month (via), four economists reported on a study that found internship experience was associated with a 14 percent increase in the rate at which prospective employers request interviews of job seekers. As a predictor of the rate of callbacks, an internship on the resume actually worked much better than a business degree itself.

Yet class-action lawyers and labor activists now attack internships as — in the trendy, elastic new term — “wage theft.” These same lawyers and activists go to court demanding millions of dollars retrospectively over arrangements both sides understood perfectly well at the time to be unpaid — and think shakedowns like these should *not* be called “theft.” …

In modern America, it’s never more than a short jump from “this set-up isn’t for everyone” to “let’s ban it.”

I go on to discuss the sclerosis of the European job market, especially when it comes to youth employment, and observe that the “campaign against internships is part of a wider campaign against low-pay work options in general — call it a campaign to get rid of any stepping stones in the stream that aren’t sturdy enough to support a whole family.” And I note the curious contrast with higher education pointed out by my colleague Andrew Coulson: “Paying to Learn Nothing = Legal. Paying Nothing to Learn = Illegal.” Earlier coverage here. And adapted with additional material into a longer Cato version here.


“Paying to Learn Nothing = Legal; Paying Nothing to Learn = Illegal” [Andrew Coulson, Cato, contrasting internship ruling with the general lack of a legal or political remedy against educational institutions should you “go into serious debt [but] learn nothing of value”; more on the absence of “educational malpractice” relief; earlier here, etc.]



Unpaid internships have long been a path of opportunity for students and recent grads looking to get a foot in the door in the entertainment, publishing and other prominent industries, even if it takes a generous subsidy from Mom and Dad.

But those days of working for free could be numbered after a federal judge in New York ruled this week that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying interns who worked on production of the 2010 movie “Black Swan.”

More: Dylan Matthews, Washington Post, and earlier here, here, etc.

P.S. “There will still be one place to still get unpaid internships — Congress, since they exempt themselves from these laws.” [Coyote]


Ilya Shapiro has the details at Cato at Liberty about a way to soften the discomfort of a still-weak job market for law grads:

…the Cato Institute invites graduating (and recently graduated) law students and others with firm deferrals or post-grad funding—or simply a period of unemployment—to apply to work at our Center for Constitutional Studies. This is an opportunity to assist projects ranging from Supreme Court amicus briefs to policy papers to the Cato Supreme Court Review. Start/end dates are flexible.

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Gee, thanks, lawsuit-filers: “Internships can be the key to the start of a successful career, but the positions are getting harder to find because a lot of employers are now nervous to offer them.” [KHOU] A New York attorney has filed a much-publicized series of suits seeking class action status to represent unpaid interns at organizations including Harper’s Bazaar magazine and the Charlie Rose show. [Atlantic Wire]

Relatedly or otherwise, a federal judge has dismissed the class action filed by social activist Jonathan Tasini alleging that the Huffington Post was violating the rights of its unpaid bloggers by basing a profitable media platform on their work. [Reuters, AP]


Mark Cuban is taken aback at the federal rules [via HR Capitalist]


Mallory Musallam had been a plaintiff in a class-action suit seeking minimum wage and overtime against the talk-show host on behalf of former interns. Now she has apologized and withdrawn her name, saying “lawsuit-hungry attorneys” had approached her at “a weak vulnerable time, facing student debt” and talked her into taking part in an action whose exact nature she didn’t recognize. “I cannot apologize enough for this debacle. I do not believe in getting something for nothing — that’s not how I was raised.” Her “now-former lawyer, Lloyd Ambinder, did not return a call for comment.” [N.Y. Daily News]

Maryland roundup

by Walter Olson on February 22, 2014

  • Reminder: SB 353, which would ban bringing of knives and other weapons onto private school property whatever the school’s wishes, up for hearing at 1 p.m. Wed. Feb. 26 [text, Senate, related Virginia] With Ninth Circuit’s Peruta decision, Maryland now one of only six holdout states to resist any recognition of gun carry rights [David Kopel]
  • Slew of labor proposals moving through Annapolis would require employers to offer paid sick leave, push unionization on community college employees, and require employers to pay interns’ transportation costs. Study finds boosting state’s minimum wage would cost jobs [WaPo]
  • Supremely irresponsible: state already hobbled by nation’s slowest foreclosure process, but NAACP, Casa de Maryland and Legislative Black Caucus demand six-month foreclosure moratorium on top of that [Washington Post; earlier on Maryland foreclosure law here, here (couple spends five years in million-dollar home without making mortgage payment), here, etc.]
  • Review of recent developments in asbestos litigation in the state [Lisa Rickard, Chamber Institute for Legal Reform]
  • Goodbye to another Free State tradition? Senate votes ban on sale of grain alcohol, with urging from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg nanny crew [Washington Post]
  • Just say no to the Maryland Small Business Development Financing Authority [Mark Newgent, Baltimore Sun]
  • Sen. Zirkin “litigates dog-bite cases on behalf of plaintiffs” and is player on dog bite bill [Insurance Journal]


Our most heavily trafficked post in April 2013 was “Overlawyered: Now a Cato Institute blog.” The most commented-on posts were “Teen throws concrete onto highway, truck driver gravely injured“, “‘Lance Armstrong Lied, Cheated, Doped…’,” and “Great moments in law school outreach.” (Kathy Boudin at NYU)

May’s most clicked-on post was “Daily Caller fires a blank at Lois Lerner.” The most commented-on posts were “Government is simply the name for the things we do together…” (IRS targeting scandal), the Daily Caller post above, and “Liability for the Boston Marathon bombing?

The most visited post in June was “Storming the homes of political enemies, cont’d.” The most commented-on posts were that one, “Goodbye to most unpaid internships?” and “It’s alive.” (John Edwards)

“A class action lawsuit has been launched by a small group of Yelp reviewers, trying to make the (laughable and ridiculous) case that reviewers on the site are actually unpaid employees who are now demanding compensation. It appears that they’re hoping the recent success of a few lawsuits involving ‘unpaid internships’ will now carry over to user-generated content sites as well. To put it mildly, this is incredibly stupid.” [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]


  • “What’s Wrong with Domestic Workers’ ‘Bill(s) of Rights'” [Wendy McElroy, The Freeman; earlier here, etc.]
  • More on the implications of supervisory-harassment case Vance v. Ball State [Kay Steiger, The Atlantic, and thanks for mention; earlier here and here]
  • N.J. doesn’t allow workers under 18 near construction sites: “Labor law limits volunteer help for Sandy relief” [Asbury Park Press]
  • Charlotte Garden (Seattle U.) on non-labor litigation by unions [Workplace Prof; a 1999 Ohio case]
  • So classically L.A. Times: in wildly slanted article, reporter Alana Semuels quotes seven lawyers/lawprofs attacking workplace arbitration contracts, none in defense;
  • One unintended consequence of limiting unpaid internships: boosting value of pre-existing social connections [David Henderson]
  • “High Court to review sweetheart deals between unions, management” [Sean Higgins, DC Examiner on Supreme Court case of UNITE HERE v. Mulhall]

A letter to the ABA signed by 67 big names in legal education [Caron/TaxProf] comes to conclusions about the economic organization of law schools very similar to those I reached two years ago in the relevant section of Schools for Misrule (not claiming any particular prescience on my part, others had made a similar case before and the signs were clear enough to anyone who would look). Their recommendations:

Legal education cannot continue on the current trajectory. As members of a profession committed to serving the public good, we must find ways to alter the economics of legal education. Possible changes include reducing the undergraduate education required for admission to three years; awarding the basic professional degree after two years, while leaving the third year as a elective or an internship; providing some training through apprenticeship; reducing expensive accreditation requirements to allow greater diversity among law schools; building on the burgeoning promises of internet-distance education; changing the economic relationship between law schools and universities; altering the influence of current ranking formulas; and modifying the federal student loan program. As legal educators, it is our responsibility to grapple with these issues before our institutions are reshaped in ways beyond our control.


“Judges rejected a bid from unpaid bloggers at the Huffington Post to revive a lawsuit against AOL that contends the company should pay them a third of the $315 million it spent last year to buy the news site.” [Alexander Kaufman, The Wrap] “The problem with plaintiffs’ argument is that it has no basis,” observed the Second Circuit. [Politico, earlier here, here, etc.]

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Classic litigation headlines

by Walter Olson on September 24, 2012

Relating to not counting class members until they’re hatched: “Lawyer: 4 — not 3,000 — interns have joined class action suit against Hearst” [Andrew Beaujon, Poynter; Joe Lustig with more on court's greenlighting of Hearst intern suit; more, Amy Traub and Desiree Busching at Wage Hour Law; lawyers trying similar action against Fox]

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Employment law roundup

by Walter Olson on February 7, 2012

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  • “Off-clock work: Flintstone laws in a Buck Rogers world” [Robin Shea] “NY Times offers unpaid internships after reporting on their questionable legality” [Poynter]
  • Walker labor reforms in Wisconsin get results [Christian Schneider: City Journal, NY Post] “Watch the Walker recall election” [John Steele Gordon, Commentary]
  • No prize for spotting fallacy: complaints that too many Europeans are collecting state disability payments construed as “demonizing disabled people” [Debbie Jolly, ENIL]
  • “What could be worse than a self-righteous TSA agent? Answer: A TSA agents’ union advocate.” [Ken, Popehat]
  • “Why Mitt Romney likes firing people” [Suzanne Lucas]
  • Free speech and union dues: Tim Sandefur on the oral argument in Knox v. SEIU [PLF Liberty Blog] More: Jack Mann, CEI.
  • My book on employment and labor law, The Excuse Factory, is alas still not available in online formats but you might find a bargain on a hardcover [Free Press/Simon & Schuster]