On April 24, the Harvard Law School Student Government unanimously passed a resolution in support of requiring all employers that recruit at HLS to disclose if they mandate arbitration of employment disputes.
Authored by representative Josh Martin, a first-year student at HLS, the resolution asks that all law firms disclose to the HLS Office of Career Services if they require their associates—or non-attorney staff—to sign forced arbitration provisions.
“Today, I am proud of Harvard Law School Student Government for unanimously standing on behalf of our peers and future attorneys to promote their interests regardless of where they choose to work, with the goal of eliminating the practice throughout the industry,” Martin said.
In May 2018, the HLS Office of Career Services, along with many other law schools, issued a survey to employers about their use of forced arbitration for summer associates and full-time associates. Unfortunately, almost half of the employers that received the survey failed to respond, including DLA Piper, which requires forced arbitration even for summer associates.
Since then, the Pipeline Parity Project has been collecting information about law firms’ forced arbitration policies and making it publicly available. In February, it was revealed that mere weeks after informing HLS that it didn’t subject incoming summer associates to forced arbitration, Venable LLP changed its policy mid-summer. A mass email on July 17, 2018, informed all Venable employees that their continued employment would be subject to a forced arbitration policy.
“Law students embarking on their careers should know whether the firm interviewing them insists on archaic mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts that close off recourse for their employees should an issue arise during their tenure,” Martin explained. “We are glad that there has been movement to remove these clauses, but there remain a minority of hold-outs.”
In 2019, all employers participating in the HLS Early Interview Program will be required to answer the following survey questions, with space to provide additional information on their forced arbitration policies.
1. Does your firm require summer associates or first-year associates to sign a mandatory arbitration contract, regarding certain or any types of disputes, as a condition of employment?
2. Does your firm require any employees to sign a mandatory arbitration contract, regarding certain or any types of disputes, as a condition of employment? This includes both legal and non-legal employees.
The Pipeline Parity Project believes that disclosure of forced arbitration provisions is an important first step in eradicating these types of coercive contracts. “The movement we’ve seen in the last year makes clear that there is an emerging consensus within the legal profession that nobody should have to choose between their civil rights and their jobs,” said Molly Coleman, a second-year student at Harvard Law.
“As future lawyers, we believe that your workplace rights should not depend on whether or not you have a J.D., which is why we’re calling on firms to drop forced arbitration for all employees, not just attorneys. We’re delighted to see our student government taking a stand on such an important issue.”