October 2, 2022

LEGAL INTERNSHIPS: TOYING OR TEACHING?

When a law student applies for an internship, what s/he expect from that internship? That s/he will learn something in that internship which will help him/her as a lawyer in future. But what happens, if these expectations break?

It seems that legal internships become the tool to use the students. Recently, LinkedIn flooded with posts where female interns were complaining about harassment by advocates under whom they were interning during the lockdown period.

And it was looking like a new type of #metoo has started in legal field When #metoo started in movie and television industry, actresses were complaining about casting couch. And in legal field, this is almost same. Casting in cinema and internship in legal field are the gateways to get jobs in these fields.

Although we have used to see posts where females were used to complaining about casual and creepy LinkedIn messages which they get from their connection.

But this time, it was about internships. It was started when some women law students shared some screenshots of creepy messages. In starting this was all related to Chandigarh-based law firm, whose managing partner was sending “good morning messages with love emojis”, “cute dp/pick”, and other creepy and highly inappropriate messages to female interns.

When interns shared these posts on LinkedIn, it was shocking to many people however this was not new for many of them. As expected, people condemned such behavior of that advocate. Some others female interns of that firm also got the courage to share their stories. And when these interns shared experiences other female advocates also shared their experience of harassment by different advocates. There are also other stories in which post creator did not disclose the names of those advocates but is clear that how much harassment was faced by female advocates and interns.

Interesting thing is that when #metoo started in film industry, celebrities used Twitter and Instagram to share their stories and when this is started in legal field, interns are using LinkedIn to share their stories.

And after these incidents, almost everyone of legal field started to talk about this, many of them extended support to these female interns that they are available if they want to file any police complaint or any other help. That managing partner of that firm disappeared from linkedin and also resigned from the post of managing partner with sending the apology message to interns.

This is harsh reality that no matter how much a woman is strong she faces at least one incident of sexual abuse in her lifetime.  It can be at the workplace or in day-to-day life, it can be in the form of eve-teasing, inappropriate messages on social media handles, sexual abuse by neighbors or relatives, etc.

To stop the sexual harassment at workplace, vishakaha guidelines came and government also enacted The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. However, it is sad reality that many workplaces don’t resolve complaints quickly and that woman comes at the target of employees and employer.

At such a time when you have to do cutthroat competition to achieve a place in male overcrowded legal field but you also face such incident, it breaks the confidence of a person.

Legal field is notoriously known as the field for men. Many people think that this field is like politics where a woman succeeds only if she belongs to legal family or she has extraordinary courage and it is obvious that everybody doesn’t have it. There are so many harsh realities of hiring process which is too disgusting and disappointing. It is sad to say but this is reality that Law is such a graceful profession and these people just maligning it.

It is high time when guidelines for hiring interns should be created by the authorities. And it should be included everything like, “Guidelines on paid and unpaid work, maximum limit of interns, number of instructor or mentors for a number of interns, professional ethics for hiring manager, which work can be given to interns, who can hire interns, what should be the procedure while giving internship such as receiving the CV- interview- giving offer letter to interns, and the rules of which organization at which stage can hire interns, especially where can interns report if anything happens to them and above all what can be done if that organization doesn’t give certificate despite taking all work.”

In these guidelines, law school should be added, if law schools do just formality on the name of internship (which they actually doing) then students can report that anonymously. I am recalling when our seniors told us that internship through law department is just a formality. They just need to go to high court daily and advocates used to take attendance and then they were free to go anywhere, to roam anywhere. you can assume what could be the situation in a compulsory virtual internship which was done by law schools in lockdown period.

If internship is so important for law students, then there should be compulsorily and proper guidelines for it.

Advocates are toying with interns. Law students are ready even to pay money to get internship under any renowned advocate. Law firms and advocates office’s email inboxes are always full with the internship applications. And that is why many law offices and advocates take unnecessary advantage of interns.

I saw many law firms hire interns in bulk and there are more than 5 groups (remember a WhatsApp group strength is 250) and only one or two people are instructing them. How is it possible to teach such a large number of people by only two or three-person?

My junior told me that in one internship they asked to prepare two or three topics to 100 interns and when they prepared they don’t know what happened with those articles. some advocates just used interns as the free researcher tool, they just throw the facts in whatsapp groups and instruct interns to find case laws on it.

When I interned in my first year with solicitor general of India I secured my internship through think India that time when I asked my co-intern about stipend he told me very interesting thing that if they will give stipend they will get hard work from you, you have to do everything at specified time what they asked to do.

Therefore, if internship becomes paid then such exploitations on the name of some piece of certificate or digital certificate can be stopped.

So what will happen if internship becomes paid in advocates offices-

  1. Law firms will hire only good law students who actually did something and who actually are qualified to do their work. They won’t hire interns in bulk nor they tell them to do only research work and preparation of topics.
  2. We know that in first year one should focus on understanding the legal field, how advocates and courts work, how law firms work, how to write legal articles, what are different legal documents etc.
  3. And instead, to work in two or three offices at one time, law students will work only with one office because there they will get actual qualitative work.
  4. And there will be a healthy competition between interns because advocates will focus on what interns can do for them rather than take the look of a number of experience which actually are quantitative, not qualitative.

Harassment, which interns faced, were horrible, authorities should wake up from their sleep otherwise internship for female interns will become inaccessible and horrible.

This article is written by Arshi hayat Gnagohi. She is a lawyer, blogger at ababeelfolks and writes on laws, culture, books, cinema, food and literature.