Kirkland & Ellis has dropped mandatory arbitration agreements for non-attorney staff members, several weeks after eliminating them in employment contracts for associates, according to a memo obtained by Bloomberg Law.
The change comes amid mounting pressure from elite law school students leading a nationwide campaign to eliminate mandatory arbitration, which they believe hides workplace misconduct and unfairly favors employers.
Kirkland previously eliminated arbitration agreements for associates after a group of Harvard Law students urged their peers to boycott the firm’s recruiting efforts. Thursday’s policy change follows Sidley Austin’s announcement that it will be eliminating mandatory arbitration for both attorneys and non-attorney staff.
“Following a recent review, the Firm Committee determined that the Firm would no longer require arbitration of any employment disputes that may be brought by associates or summer associates,” firm leadership wrote in a Thursday memo to all law firm personnel. “The Firm Committee has now also determined to extend that policy so that the Firm will no longer require arbitration of any employment disputes that may be brought by any employee who is not an attorney.”
A representative for Kirkland declined to comment on the policy change.
The campaign to eliminate mandatory arbitration is being led by the Pipeline Parity Project at Harvard Law, a student-led initiative to end harassment and discrimination in the legal profession.
“We’re very glad to see Kirkland take this step,” Molly Coleman, one of the student organizers, told Bloomberg Law. “They’ve recognized that if a policy isn’t good enough to subject attorneys to, it is not morally defensible to subject non-attorney staff members to the same policy.”
In multiple conversations with Bloomberg Law, Coleman and others have made it clear that their goal is to eliminate mandatory arbitration in all employment contracts, not just for attorneys and not just at law firms.
“We hope that lawyers at Kirkland, Sidley, and others will consider their moral responsibility to not enforce these types of coercive contracts on behalf of their clients as well,” Coleman added.
Students say their campaign will continue and that they have plans to launch more initiatives soon. The Pipeline Parity Project is currently leading an effort to boycott DLA Piper under the hashtag #DumpDLA, until the firm removes arbitration from employment agreements.
At the beginning of December, nearly a dozen student-led women’s law associations, including Yale Law Women, Women of Stanford Law, and Harvard Women’s Law Association, announced they would no longer accept any sponsorship funds from firms that require arbitration or refuse to say whether they do.