The New York Times ran a "Room for Debate" feature, with differing opinions answering Do Unpaid Internships Exploit College Students? The way they framed the debate seems to suggest their opinion, doesn't it? It's not, Are Unpaid Internships Freakin' Awesome!?... it's Do Unpaid Internships Exploit College Students?
As usual, Lawffice Space was ahead of the curve with The 6 Requirements for Unpaid Internships back in April 2010. I won't make you click through, here they are:
1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction;
2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees;
3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded;
5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and
6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.
You can also read guidance from DOL's Wage and Hour Division: Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act.
I worked at an unpaid internship in law school (at a non-profit). I absolutely loved it and it led directly to a paid position with that employer later in school. I was in the middle of transitioning careers (from IT to law) and the internship gave me some legal experience on a resume that was predominantly IT-related. Apparently they're not for everyone...
Image: DOL Wage and Hour Division seal used in commentary on wage and hour issues. Not official use.
Posted by Philip Miles, an attorney with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania in the firm's civil litigation and labor and employment law practice groups.