“Honest work won’t let you live in a stone palace.” (Russian proverb)
After having completed one’s exams at the Bar school (École du Barreau), all students wishing to pursue the profession of lawyer must complete an internship. To become an intern, the student must find a lawyer, a member of the Barreau du Québec who has been in good standing for at least five years, who will accept to become their internship supervisor for a period of six months. As for myself, I have accumulated twelve months of internships, a quarter of which were done in Quebec, and I spent six months of time searching for an internship.
Let us first look at some interesting data drawn from various studies and reports:
- Number of lawyers registered with the order (2014): 25 095;
- New registrations with the Bar (2013-2014): 949;
- Applications for the Bar school (2013-2014): 1 300;
- Graduates of the Bar school (2013-2014): 1 022;
- Population of Quebec (April 1st 2014): 8 191 946.
Barreau-mètre 2015 – La profession en chiffres
- Proportion of unpaid internships (2016): 1 out of 23;
- Average weekly salary of interns (2016): 543 $;
- Proportion of lawyers unemployed after their internships (2016): 18.2 %
Rapport sur la situation de l’emploi chez les jeunes avocat.es du Québec
- Increase of the Bar’s student clientele (between 2005 and 2013): 42 %;
- Proportion of students starting their internships in the 3 months following their eligibility (2015): 60 %;
- Proportion of students starting their internships in the 6 months following their eligibility (2015): 83 %.
Le Journal du Barreau du Québec – Mai 2016 (Vol. 48 n° 4)
- Proportion of unpaid internships: nearly 1 out of 10 .
Extrajudiciaire – Octobre 2017 (Vol. 13 n° 5)
The amount of 543$ may seem high: that being said, this amount is far from being widespread. We could indeed point out that the majority of internships advertised on the École du Barreau’s website are rather to the order of 250$ per week.
In a similar vein, the great imbalance between the annual number of graduates from the École du Barreau and the small amount of internships offered as well as the lack of legislation prescribing an obligatory minimum wage for interns promotes cheap labour. On top of these circumstances, there is the obligation to complete an internship within the three years following the completion of the École du Barreau’s exams. It is therefore comprehensible that students should accept to work under abysmal conditions to complete their training.
This situation is not only detrimental to the lawyer profession’s reputation, but also degrading for the student population to whom a prosperous and sustainable judicial career is promised by the universities, with the help and encouragement of major law firms.
France as a model?
“The Bar school deems it desirable that internships should be paid, so long as it is possible, in accordance with the context of internship.”
While I would rather not linger on the pusillanimity of the aforementioned principle, the time has come for Quebec to follow in the footsteps of France with regards to the working conditions of interns, and it should go even further. Thanks to the Union des Jeunes Avocats (Young Lawyers’ Union), the French cousin of the Jeune Barreau de Montréal (Young Bar of Montreal), the student lawyers in France benefit from a mandatory minimum gratuity since January 1st 2008. It is to be noted that this policy would never have seen the light of day if it were not for the mobilization of the Génération précaire collective which lead to the adoption of law n° 2006-396 through the intervention of Dominique de Villepin’s government. In reality, the minimum monthly wages for law interns varies according to their employer’s scale between 60% to 85% of the SMIC (French minimum wage) in accordance with the 2007 Agreement.
After the Maple Spring, Quebec 1789?
While groups such as Intern Aware in England, or La Repubblica degli Stagisti, in Italy, denounce the working conditions imposed on interns and have been fighting for a legislative intervention in the form of a minimal retribution during vocational training programs for nearly 10 years now, many similar initiatives are taking shape in Quebec. Indeed, a call to form unitary committees on student work (comités unitaires sur le travail étudiant, or CUTE) was put out in 2016, and regional coalitions for paid internships have been organizing since June 2017.
Being unaware of the issues regarding access to the labour market for the wider array of trades and training programs requiring an internship, I will focus on the main financial obligations imposed on future lawyers.
In addition to the registration fees for the École du Barreau du Québec which are continually rising (between 5500$ and 6400$), many interns will also need to acquire a gown to wear in court (starting at 450$) and will be required to pay a membership fee as well as a liability insurance premium upon their entering the Order (the entire fee adds up to around 2600$). On top of that, we could also add the professional expenses which hundreds of young lawyers will need to cover as self-employed workers, for lack of job opportunities offered at the end of their internships.
In view of this, Quebec’s legislator must regulate the working conditions of future lawyers, in the same way as it has done for other fields of study. In that respect, Montreal and Sherbrooke’s coalitions for paid internships have adopted demands this year in favor of the repeal of the exceptions contained in the Labour Norms Act, exceptions which allow for unpaid internships. Therefore, interns would no longer be subjected to a particular legal framework, but would instead gain the same protections and rights provided for other workers.
Labor debet esse respectari
One of the many things I learned as a student lawyer in Paris had to do with the human value of labour. My internship supervisor told me: “When we work, we must get paid, or else we will not be respected.” This observation unambiguously reflects the spirit of a reform required to ensure respect for the human dignity of thousands of future interns who will access the labour market in the coming decades.
That is why I am convinced that a struggle for the recognition of the work of interns is consistent with the principle of rule of law upheld by the legal community and would greatly benefit all future lawyers.
Translation by Paolo Miriello
As for the Bar, they declare an average pay of 614.50 $, including unpaid internships. ↩︎
Chapitre II. Section II 6. – Énoncé de principes par le Comité de la formation professionnelle le 18 mai 2016. ↩︎
In France, one third of students must complete an internship, but less than half receive a gratuity. This information was found in Séverin Graveleau, Stages étudiants : de fortes disparités selon les cursus, Le Monde, 27.10.2017 : http://www.lemonde.fr/campus/article/2017/10/27/stages-etudiants-de- fortes-disparites-selon-les-cursus_5206784_4401467.html ↩︎
Accord professionnel du 19 janvier 2007 relatif aux stagiaires des cabinets d’avocats – Brochure n°3078 et Avenant du 21 décembre 2007 à l’accord professionnel du 19 janvier 2007 relatif à la gratification des stagiaires. ↩︎
Law n° 2006-396, March 31st 2006 (equal opportunity). ↩︎
Around 1500 euros, or 2255$ (around 563$ per week). ↩︎
Maintenance and service staff are not counted among the non lawyer employees. ↩︎
On February 20th 2018, the CUTE joined the call to action for an Intern Strike launched by the Global Intern Coalition, made up of organizational committees for interns in the United States, in Europe and in Australia, and will organize interventions on university campuses all over. ↩︎
To learn more about the issues around this demand: https://dissident.es/quand-lexception-devient-la-norme-est-ce-que-la-norme-est-dexception/ (French text). ↩︎