Currently, the U.S. Department of Labor allows attorneys to hire unpaid interns. Is there a correlation between wage and good work product? Or is it possible that employees separate their work quality from wage? Most likely, the amount an intern is paid has a direct effect on the work they produce.
The price of a paid intern starts at minimum wage. And to find a competent intern, you must spend the time recruiting and training them. If you cannot afford to pay an intern, then you may not be able to afford to train them or have enough work to give them. An intern is merely an attorney-in-training; an intern is not a person to lessen your load of work. With that said, you cannot give her a pile of work without any training and expect the intern to know what to do. The intern has a learning curve. Unless you spend the time to give the intern directions and guidance, you are wasting yours and your intern’s time.
The quality of an unpaid intern may be less than the quality of a paid intern. The pool of applicants competing for an unpaid position is much smaller. Most students cannot afford to work for free, therefore most do not bother applying to unpaid positions. More qualified students compete fiercely for paid and more lucrative positions. Moreover, some law schools such as Boalt Hall have a policy that forbids law firms from hiring students for free.
Lastly, a paid employee will be happier than an unpaid employee. The paid intern will value her work more and will do a better job. She knows her work is valuable because it is attorney work product that can be billed out to the client. And if the intern can receive compensation for hours you are billing, she will gain work satisfaction. A happy (and compensated) intern is more likely to produce quality work than an unpaid intern.