Law Firms Giving Election Day Time Off to Boost Participation

Aug. 20, 2020, 10:30 AM

Bob Bodian, managing partner at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, says long lines at polling places in recent primaries helped convince him the firm should do more to accommodate voting.

That’s why he decided to give the 1,200-person firm a paid day off on Nov. 3 so staff and lawyers could vote without any worry. They can also take part, if they choose, in volunteer activities like poll monitoring or get-out-the-vote drives.

“It always felt odd that voter turnout is relatively low in a democracy which relies on voting, and that election day is a regular workday,” Bodian, who is based in the firm’s New York office, said.

Mintz announced the initiative in June, and other firms like Fenwick & West; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; and Jenner & Block, have taken their own steps.

Presidential races usually generate the strongest turnout. More than 130 million people, or some 56% of the voting age population, went to the polls in 2016, according to U.S. census data and the Pew Research Center.

Still the U.S. participation rate overall lags behind most other developed democracies. And this year, social distancing practices due to the coronavirus pandemic have raised questions how the voting will be conducted and ballots counted in November. Controversy surrounding voter ID efforts has also flared.

Voting Activities

Mintz and many other firms have typically given employees a few hours of paid time off for voting purposes. Several corporations, including Coca-Cola, JP Morgan Chase, Nike, and Twitter, are also giving employees time off on Election Day.

At Fenwick, Chair Richard Dickson has adopted a paid day off for its 1,000 employees in five offices as part of a voting rights initiative. It includes opportunities for the firm’s lawyers and professionals to take part in activities to support the election process.

Dickson said that the firm has worked on election protection efforts since 2016, and before that had sent lawyers to other states to serve as poll monitors.

Fenwick employees can work on efforts the firm sponsors, such as a virtual election protection call center with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, or help people volunteer as poll workers or monitors, Dickson said.

“The plain truth is not enough people vote,” he said. “This is a moment where everyone is called to up their game and we very much hope other firms will do the same.”

Jenner & Block also announced it is offering its employees an optional personal day on Election Day, said Katya Jestin, the firm co-managing partner. The firm has joined a “Time to Vote” group of non-partisan businesses, which includes Madewell and Unilever among many others, to ensure employees have a work schedule that allows them to vote.

“We wanted to make sure people have time to exercise their right to vote, which is a pillar of our democracy. We wanted them not to be stressed because they might have to wait in line,” said Jestin.

The firm is providing the ability for employees to check their voter registration status in their respective states. The firm has offices in Chicago, Washington, New York and Los Angeles—as well as London.

Jenner & Block is also furnishing details about absentee ballots, early voting, and voting by mail via its website.

“We’re just encouraging people to be safe and to vote,” said Jestin.

Mitch Zuklie, Orrick’s chairman and chief executive officer, told employees earlier this week that the firm would close on Election Day this year “to help ensure each of you and your families are able to vote.”

Employees also have the option for a day of service, including pro bono work or volunteering. The firm is putting together a list of local opportunities for how to work on voter registration and poll access, Zuklie noted in an announcement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson in Washington at egolson1@gmail.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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