Venable LLP can add a new superlative to its marketing materials. In addition to being one of the largest and most lucrative law firms in the world, it can proudly claim to be one of the most deceptive when it comes to its employment practices.
In June, Venable responded to a survey issued by 50 law schools indicating that they did not subject incoming summer associates to forced arbitration as a condition of employment. But just a few weeks later, on July 17, 2018, Venable partner G. Stewart Webb, Jr. announced in a firmwide email: “The Firm has adopted a Mandatory Arbitration Provision that will be applicable to all Venable Personnel.”
Read Venable’s email to its employees:
The revised policy is explicit that the “Mandatory Arbitration Provision shall be broadly construed to the maximum extent permitted by law and shall apply to any and all existing or future claims, disputes or controversies between the Firm and any person included in Venable Personnel.” Who is included as a member of Venable Personnel? The category includes “all employees providing professional services on behalf of clients.”
Over the last year, firms around the country have recognized the damage done by policies that require employees to forfeit their civil rights as a condition of employment, and have made the decision to no longer force employees into arbitration. Just this week, the American Bar Association acknowledged that forced arbitration—particularly in the context of claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation—has no place in the legal profession. By making the decision to expand the use of forced arbitration at a time when the harm of these policies is clearer than ever before, Venable stands in stark contrast to the growing consensus within the profession.
As is typical of employers who determine that their bottom line is more important than their employees’ rights, Venable made sure to do everything they could to eliminate the possibility of pushback, both internal and external. The revised policy states that, “the Firm shall have the absolute right to modify or amend this Governance Manual from time to time and without further notice, including without limitation the right to change, delete or add to any of the Firm’s benefits, work rules and policies, and all amendments shall be effective immediately upon . . . all Equity Partners and Professional Employees.”
Read Venable’s mandatory arbitration contract:
As Webb wrote in his email to the Firm: “The revised Mandatory Arbitration Provision will become effective and be binding on all current Venable Personnel ninety (90) days from the date of this email.” But we think zero (0) employees should ever have to choose between their civil rights and their job.
And although the firm made sure to note in its email, “Please note that these documents are confidential and are not to be released or distributed outside Venable,” we don’t think the fact that Venable forces its employees into arbitration should be a secret. (Nice try, though.) Law students around the country have made clear that this is an issue that their future employers can no longer run from.
As Beth Feldstein, a first-year student at Harvard Law, put it, “It’s unacceptable for any business to make its employees or customers sign away their legal rights. Venable publicly claimed to be doing the right thing, then turned around and deprived its workers of their day in court. We’re not going to let them off the hook.”
Why did Venable intentionally deceive an entire class of incoming associates? What do they have to hide that has caused them to expand their use of forced arbitration at a time when their peer firms are renouncing its use? And what will Venable’s future employees say when they learn they have been lied to?
Until Venable drops forced arbitration for all its employees, we’re asking our fellow law students headed into recruitment season this year: Don’t interview with Venable LLP until they promise to stop making any of their employees—no associate, paralegal, custodian, or contractor—sign these coercive contracts.
We’re also asking student groups at law schools around the country who may be sponsored by Venable or other firms using forced arbitration: Refuse sponsorships from Venable and any other firm until they drop forced arbitration for all of their employees.