Fewer top U.S. law firms require associates to sign forced arbitration agreements in their employment contracts following student-led pressure campaigns to end the practice.
Seven firms responding to a Harvard Law School survey said they require arbitration for summer associates compared to 18 last year for summer or first-year associates. Four other firms that required arbitration agreements last year didn’t respond to this year’s survey.
The survey data was analyzed by the People’s Parity Project, law student initiative at Harvard dedicated to ending harassment and discrimination in the legal profession.
Students said arbitration agreements unfairly keep employment claims out of court and make it easier for employers to keep misconduct hidden.
“This is definitely good news,” Beth Feldstein, a rising second-year Harvard Law student, said of the latest results. “Over the last year we’ve seen a number of firms drop forced arbitration for a number of employees. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Harvard Law School required all law firms recruiting in the early interview program in 2019 to disclose whether they require summer or first-year associates to sign mandatory arbitration contracts, and whether they require any employees, including non-legal staff, to sign them, too.
Approximately 92 percent of the law firms that responded said they didn’t use mandatory arbitration agreements with associates, and 86 percent said they don’t use them at all.
The seven firms responding to the survey that still require summer associates to sign mandatory arbitration include Arent Fox; Cooley; DLA Piper; Herbert Smith Freehills London; Hueston Hennigan; Knobbe Martens; and Wyche.
“We’re hoping to amp up the pressure on those firms,” said Feldstein.
PPP organizers said their ultimate goal is to eliminate mandatory arbitration clauses as well as non-compete and non-disclosure agreements across legal and non-legal workplaces.