Law firms should pay interns real money for the real work they must do

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 August, 2011, 12:00am


It is troubling that local law firms seek to avoid paying even the minimum wage to interns ('Law firms find minimum-wage loophole', August 8).

When I was a summer intern in a law firm (admittedly more than 15 years ago, and not in Hong Kong), I was paid more than five times the current minimum wage of HK$28 per hour. Yes, I received training and experience, but much of the work I completed was client work and was therefore charged to clients at a paralegal hourly rate. I would be very surprised if these law firms are not also billing clients for their interns' work.

During my internship I worked much longer than the official 40 hours a week in order to gain as much experience as possible but also to impress my employers and get a graduate job offer. My employer was paying me real money and expected me to perform real work.

I agree that work experience is invaluable for students in their graduate job search. Indeed, as an employer of graduates, I am acutely aware that without work experience on their r?sum?, students are unlikely to get an interview, let alone a job.

However, I believe it is essential that Hong Kong employers provide paid internship opportunities to local students and hire them to do real work. Many large banks and corporations do have paid internships, but there are not nearly enough positions for the 80,000-plus university students in Hong Kong.

Interns need training and can require a significant time commitment from employers. However, investing in interns builds a pipeline of talent for the future. Are the firms who object to investing in interns the same firms who complain that there is a talent shortage in Hong Kong and that it is difficult to find experienced staff?

Unpaid internships limit social mobility: if your parents cannot support you, or you need to contribute to the family finances, taking an unpaid internship is just not feasible. If students cannot get graduate jobs without relevant industry work experience on their resumes, we are restricting access to graduate employment to wealthier families. The recent unrest in Britain is a reminder of the risks in a society where there is no social mobility, where the top jobs are only accessible to those who are already well-off or well-connected.

Let's hope we do not see any more employers and universities finding loopholes.

Josephine Mazaraki, chief executive officer, Graduate Foundations Ltd