Many young people every year choose law school for their further education in the hope of contributing to the rule of law. Still, soon after graduating, they realize that they are the ones that are on the disadvantaged side. Even during their studies, they face many challenges, but the real problem starts when they graduate. To start working as a lawyer, recently graduated law students need to pass an exam. But to gain the right to take the exam, they must do an internship for one year. Then they face several challenges, such as finding internships, whether they will be paid for their work, whether that payment will be enough for them to survive, or have to find another job and balance it all. That’s how they enter the precariat.
I talked with one graduate student from the Faculty of Law in Skopje about all of the problems that law students in North Macedonia face during their studies. Currently, she is gaining that one year of experience through an unpaid internship to take the law exam, which is the first and necessary step for further acquisition of higher titles. I started the interview from the very beginning, i.e., from the reason why she chose the law faculty. “My choice of faculty was based on the opportunity for a large selection of professions in the field of law after graduating. But also, it was something that I always wanted to study. I like that in the field of law, you have a large selection of professions. You can be a lawyer, notary, bailiff, judge, public prosecutor, lawyer in a company, lawyer in a bank, etc. So, you have a great choice. Also, suppose you do not find yourself in one profession. In that case, you can easily switch to another, of course, in the field of law, and that is one of the advantages that this faculty offers, which others do not.”
During her studies, she told me that she faced many problems and challenges, from learning materials that were old and inadequate to professors’ attitude and their favors of specific students. But despite all these problems, she emphasizes that what bothered her the most was that she did not have an internship during her studies. “I gained enough theoretical knowledge because I studied and I was committed, but I think I did not gain enough practical knowledge, which I think is more important for easier inclusion in the labor market. So I have knowledge, but I do not have enough practice.”
Because the faculty offers them internships, my interlocutor decided to find one by herself. I asked her how the search for practical training goes, and I was surprised by the answer. “Mostly, it goes through a recommendation. In my case, I was first recommended by a friend in a private Facebook group where lawyers often ask their colleagues for an intern recommendation. In another case, a relative recommended me. Suppose you do not have someone to recommend you to the lawyer. In that case, you can hardly find an internship yourself which is another big problem in Macedonia.”
But when they succeed and find a practice where they will gain the necessary practical knowledge and the right to take an exam, they face another problem—the problem of survival. When acquiring the required one-year internship after graduating from the faculty, the lawyer is not obliged to pay salary to the intern, despite the workload performed by the intern. And often, they need to have an additional job so they can cover their expenses. When asked about the opportunities for learning and training during the internship, my interlocutor answered that if they do not have an internship, they will not acquire the necessary practical knowledge and skills. She stressed that to find a job, you must first be an unpaid intern. “No one is interested in hiring someone without experience.” But it is tough to live an entire year without any salary, while you are working and often students must find additional jobs to cover their expenses. “The law does not protect us at all. On the one hand, we must have one year of practical experience to gain the right to take a law exam. On the other, for that practical training, we are not legally entitled to any financial compensation. It all depends on the lawyer and their will.”
This is a perfect example of young worker exploitation, their fresh new knowledge, and skills. All this above explained points to the precariat. That group in society has insecure, temporary, unpaid, or underpaid work. That group puts in a lot of effort to be able to cover their basic expenses. Very often, students are part of it. That is why we consider it necessary to provide loud, uninterrupted information on this topic, especially to young people, to involve them in this fight. We believe that young people are the ones who can contribute a lot in the fight against precariousness. So at the end of our interview, I asked my interlocutor if and how she thinks it would be appropriate to present the term precariat among the young people to attract their attention? Her answer was, “The best way is to explain that with simple and understandable words. I think that young people would be more interested if it was presented to them in different words, for example, now you will have a lecture on what it is like to work unregistered, without being paid and without any rights. With some broader terminology, than only with a word that is incomprehensible to most, such as precariat. I think it is essential to inform all students, not only from law schools, about the problem of precariousness because it is becoming more and more our reality, and we are not even aware of it.”