Under Student Pressure, Kirkland Drops Arbitration for Associates

Nov. 21, 2018, 6:06 PM

Kirkland & Ellis will no longer require associates to sign mandatory arbitration agreements, apparently yielding to pressure from Harvard Law School students who’d urged prospective summer associates nationwide to boycott the prestigious law firm.

“Following a recent review, the Firm Committee has determined that the firm will no longer require arbitration of any employment disputes that may be brought by associates or summer associates,” according to a firm memorandum to all Kirkland attorneys on Wednesday.

The memo was provided to Bloomberg Law by the Harvard Law student-led Pipeline Parity Project, which aims to end harassment and discrimination in the legal profession and led the boycott.

“I’m obviously very glad that they’ve ended their use of forced arbitration for associates, but their four-sentence email doesn’t address whether non-lawyer staff will have to sign forced arbitration agreements,” Vail Kohnert-Yount, a Harvard law student with the Pipeline Parity Project, told Bloomberg Law.

Kirkland didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kirkland employs approximately 2,500 attorneys and is the world’s largest law firm by revenue. For years, it has required associates to sign arbitration agreements in which they waive their right to sue it over a range of employment concerns.

Mandatory employee arbitration agreements, which have become increasingly common over the past two decades, are typically imposed on employees across many industries as a condition of employment.

Unlike litigation, arbitration proceedings are private, making it easier for employers to keep workplace misconduct hidden from the public, according to critics who also say outcomes tend to favor employers.

In a recent survey sent to Big Law firms by law school career services deans, several law firms said they require employees to sign arbitration agreements. Those included, Cooley; Drinker Biddle & Reath; Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear; Paul Hastings; Stoel Rives; and Varnum, according to the Pipeline Parity Project.

Nearly 200 firms declined to answer the survey, but students at the Pipeline Parity Project say they have proof that several require arbitration agreements.

“If they’re not going to own up to what they’re doing, we’re going to have to educate ourselves and our peers, and I’m not sure they’re going to like the way we do that,” said Kohnert-Yount.

“We’re going to keep putting the pressure on until no one in the industry is subjected to these,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft in New York at srussellkraft@gmail.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com and John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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