Advice

Do I stick it out in a job I hate or do an unpaid internship in an area of law I love?

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Fight or flight, I need to make my decision by the end of the week

lead1

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one unhappy GDL student asks whether she’s better off being paid to do something that makes her miserable, or keeping up an unpaid internship in an area of law she enjoys.

areer

Im a part-time GDL student and an aspiring criminal solicitor-adovcate. Crime is what I want to practise, and this has always been the case. Last year while studying part-time, I managed to pick up an unpaid internship (I had to start somewhere) at a firm in their criminal department, and managed to keep this up for about seven months. Then earlier this year I started another criminal law internship (also unpaid). I was meant to do this until November, but then I got an offer for a very junior position in a City firm with their conveyancing team (an area of law I wasn’t particularly keen on). As I was financially struggling (borrowing money off parents, etc), I decided to take up the offer. I have now been there for three weeks and have been so miserable. I’m incredibly unhappy, the job is so deathly and admin-based. I dread going in every morning! I’m not sure whether I should return to my internship (to top up my experience) and finish it off so I’d be in a better position to secure a paid position in crime, or to hold on to my current job and look for paid work in crime at the same time. I do know how difficult it is to get a paid job anywhere these days so I’m in a huge dilemma! Any help is appreciated.

If you have a career conundrum, email us with it to careers@legalcheek.com.

27 Comments

Anonymous

It sounds like you have all the unpaid experience you need.

Keeping an unpaid ‘intern’ for 7 months is quite frankly exploitation and the firm involved should be ashamed.

(94)(0)

Anonymous

100% agree with the above.

(20)(0)

Anonymous

I agree. An internship that long is exploitative.

Ultimately a lot of law is admin based, form filling, filing ….. The boring stuff is the bread and butter stuff …..

(15)(0)

Anonymous

3 months is okay but 7 is way too long for an unpaid internship….Leave that place!

(7)(0)

Lols @ LC

Ah, solicitor-adovcates, those are the best.

(4)(10)

Anonymous

Always easier to find work when you are in work. Also, you’ve done a metric-f-tonne of unpaid interning so what use would there be in doing more? Have some confidence and start looking for work without putting yourself under more financial hardship.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

I can’t believe companies still expect people to give up their time and energy for free. I understand a week but for 7 months! Disgraceful.

(20)(0)

Anonymous

I am not personally that knowledgeable about being a criminal solicitor, but it seems like given the extent of experience you already have, it might be best to just focus on passing the GDL with good marks and getting work anywhere that pays (maybe even outside the law) and if you have time volunteering with the FRU or a criminal legal charity, then once you have a law degree you might be able to find paralegal work in the criminal sector or get a training contract. Don’t give up and do conveyancing!

(10)(0)

Not Amused

Stop interning. Get a paid job. This exploitation has to end.

(20)(1)

Anonymous

Probably better to look for paid work in the area of law you like, but the reality is that it’s just ridiculously hard to secure anything. I can’t get unpaid, let alone paid experience in my areas of choice (crime and human rights) despite an LLM and being Called.

Persistence and robustness is the key. Stick to your crappy job until something crops up. That’s what I’m doing.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

“to top up my experience” – what do you mean by this? You were in the job for 7 months, what did you not do that you want to do now?!
Spend your time wisely. It’s great to want to work in your ideal area of law but spread it wide, find out new areas and don’t just be stuck in one niche area even if its where you want to specialise in.

I’m sure you have enough experience now to stay at your dead job whilst applying for a new role in your preferred area. Don’t stick with unpaid work because theres much better out there!

(7)(0)

Anonymous

Almost all work in city firms is tedious paper pushing. Read the accounts of trainees in Legal Cheek’s career pieces: however much they enthuse about life at a city firm the jobs are transparently dull.

If you want to practise more interesting law in the long term, stay where you are, focus on the GDL and then the LPC and leave for a TC at a suitable firm. Don’t do more unpaid work though. It won’t help you.

(3)(0)

Criminal barrister

You don’t need anymore ‘internships’ . However, you should try and find a paralegal role that is paid in crime. They are not that difficult to find but almost never advertised. Start by calling and asking firms. Most criminal firms don’t have an HR department so will take as and when. The money is not very good but isn’t unpaid. You need to keep asking. Start by asking all the firm’s listed for crime/extradition in the directories.

(3)(0)

CriminalPupil

I would advise doing anything that pays the bills, whilst continuing to look for firms that are hiring in your preferred area of law.

I stuck it out at a firm doing commercial finance and acquisitions for 2 years, absolutely hating it, but spurred on by the knowledge that I was saving enough doing something I hated, to assist with finances as a criminal pupil (which as we all know is next to nothing), which I love.

Besides money, a wide experience of different areas of law is no bad thing when it comes to applications season.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

If you’ve been working (i.e. doing work, not shadowing) as an intern without being paid for any period of time – let alone seven months – in Firm 1 and some time in Firm 2, then you’re right – both firms specialise in criminal law. Unfortunately, they appear to specialise in committing the crimes – specifically, section 31(1) National Minimum Wage Act 1998 – not defending those accused of committing crimes. You have a right to be paid for the work you do. You should be demanding back pay from both firms and, if not paid, reporting the matter to the SRA and HMRC (the body that enforces NMW).

This sort of exploitation is disgraceful, and the SRA should be coming down with the full fury of the law on those firms / solicitors that refuse to pay their staff. I simply don’t care that the sector is struggling – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if your business model relies on your not paying staff to produce your products or provide services, then it’s not a proper business model.

(10)(1)

Observant (In-House)

‘the SRA should be coming down with the full fury of the law on those firms / solicitors’

Which in SRA’s case is long official report along the lines of ‘Ok, noted’

(5)(0)

Anonymous

How true this is depresses me.

(2)(0)

cynical legal aid paralegal

completely agree. No matter how worthy the work you’re doing is, you should start with paying your staff a decent wage.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

If I’ve learnt anything from my time as a paralegal for 3+ years, its do what you love and make sure you are at a good firm with friendly people and good progression opportunities.

However, 3 weeks isn’t very long in a new job, stick at it for a bit and if you really can’t bear it and it doesn’t improve look elsewhere. You have enough internship experience in criminal law to be able to get a paid role. Or even a role in another area of law but with a firm that does criminal law so you have room to progress.

Good luck!

(7)(0)

Anonymous

Hold on to your current job and use every spare hour at your disposal to find a paid job in the area that you want work in. You’re still young and inexperienced, an internship ‘top up’ won’t prove anything or take you anywhere and you will find a low level job in crime within a year.

(3)(0)

Scouser of Counsel

Any criminal law firm offering unpaid internships that long are exploiting you, frankly.

I love criminal law, but anything other than very short placements akin to work experience, or pro bono work for worthy but unfunded cases really ought to be paid for.

(4)(0)

snowball

internships don’t count for much – what does count is hands on case work and that is only ever going to sound credible if you are being paid a wage. internships are exploitation. fine if its with a charity or ngo but lawfirms should be an absolute no no – a few weeks work experience is fine but these long term internships are being used to get in labour for free. that’s a disgrace.

(0)(1)

Conveyancing administrator

Agree with the above. 7 months is utterly shambolic – don’t settle for conveyancing

(2)(1)

cynical legal aid paralegal

I’m also an aspiring legal aid lawyer. It doesn’t seem like you’re going to add more to your CV doing more of the same work as you’ve done before, so what’s the point if it’s unpaid? Look for a paid criminal paralegal position. Or get a part time job (either in law or out of it) that allows you to take enough time off to volunteer at places like FRU or the CAB, to add to your CV. I particularly recommend FRU, since you are basically running your own cases in the First Tier Tribunal – work which was done by proper solicitors just a few years ago (when you could still get legal aid for it), so it’s excellent experience. This type of part time volunteering is valued by legal aid firms as much as paralegal work, I’ve found, so it’s a way of getting experience without making money. Also consider getting an admin job in a law firm which works in crime – people have moved from these sorts of jobs to paralegal positions and training contracts within the firm before. From what I can tell, working in a City firm doing conveyancing work will be valuable to legal aid firms – it is legal work experience in a proper professional environment and they will value that even though it’s not in the same area of law.

Do remember that if you get an admin or paralegal position at a criminal legal aid firm and they make promises of a training contract/moving from admin to paralegal down the line, these are *just* promises and not guarantees so continue looking for criminal training contracts elsewhere. Have you started applying for training contracts? You seem so dedicated and like you have a lot of experience already.

This website has lots of jobs – http://www.younglegalaidlawyers.org/jobs but it’s not an exhaustive list so don’t rely on it exclusively. Have a look at their website, they have a mentoring scheme that you might be interested in as well. There’s also some good jobs posted on their website – https://twitter.com/YLALawyers. Maybe consider getting a job in some area of legal aid besides crime, while you’re looking for a criminal position? You’ll probably find it more interesting than conveyancing and it will be useful experience for crime which firms are likely to value.

I really hope you manage to find something, you seem like a strong contender.

(6)(0)

ANON

I have already considered EVERY angle listed in these comments, guys. But massive thank you for your comments. I have been applying for criminal paralegal positions since May/April this year and have been told REPEATEDLY by 4 recruitment agencies and 6 criminal firms that they need a minimum of 12 months experience OR police station accreditation. The firm that I was at for 7 months is a different firm to which I will be going back to now (a city criminal firm), to FINISH my internship, which will be for the next three and a half months. It is all well and good telling me to find pro bono work outside of my full time conveyancing job, but the reality is there is no time. I am a part-time GDL student with four modules and a mini dissertation to complete this year, as well as looking for TCs. What I didn’t mention in my email was that the department I am in this firm (im not going to name the particular area) is a VERY VERY VERY niche area in conveyancing, and even if I did want to pursue this route, it wouldn’t help me. The turnover for the particular role I am in is incredibly high.

I am not going to stay forever at the firm I am going back to, I am just going there to finish my learning.

Please note that the firm I am going back to, I was only there for 3 weeks. Travel and food expenses are covered , so nothing is coming out of my pocket.

Thanks once again everyone for your comments and thoughts, but I have made a decision and I am going to firmly stick to it. I may indeed be taking a huge risk/making a big mistake but I’ll deal with any benefits and/or consequences that my decision brings with it.

(4)(0)

ANON

Also @cynical legal aid paralegal – would I be able to speak to you privately by any chance?

(1)(0)

Katie King

Hi cynical legal aid paralegal,

Is there anyway you could email me, katie.king@legalcheek.com

Thanks

(0)(0)

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