This morning, Kirkland & Ellis announced in an email to its attorneys that the Firm would no longer require its associates and summer associates to sign mandatory arbitration agreements. The statement reads as follows:
Today is a good day for the legal field. @Kirkland_Ellis has announced that, after ten years of subjecting associates to forced arbitration, they will no longer include these provisions in their contracts. Thank you to all who fought with us to make this happen! pic.twitter.com/DMdOJNY4XV
— Pipeline Parity Project (@PipelineParity) November 21, 2018
With this email, Kirkland reversed a ten-year-old policy of requiring attorneys to waive their rights to sue over harassment, discrimination, and other workplaces abuses—a policy that the firm maintained despite widespread scrutiny. Two weeks after the Pipeline Parity Project’s #DumpKirkland campaign brought renewed attention to Kirkland’s unjust policies, the Firm officially dropped its requirement for arbitration of employment disputes brought by associates and summer associates.
The Firm’s four-sentence-long message does not address if non-lawyer staff including paralegals, secretaries, and custodians will remain subject to forced arbitration agreements. No employee should be forced to choose between their civil rights and their job, and we call on Kirkland to clarify whether these workers will have the same rights in a court of law as their associates.
Kirkland is not alone. Several other prominent law firms recruiting on our campuses make their employees sign forced arbitration agreements. Harvard Law School, along with more than 50 other law schools, issued an optional survey this spring to law firms about their forced arbitration policies. Kirkland & Ellis, along with 180 other employers, did not even respond to the survey.
In the survey, Cooley; Drinker Biddle & Reath; Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear; Paul Hastings; Stoel Rives; and Varnum admitted to requiring employees to sign forced arbitration contracts. But the Pipeline Parity Project has evidence that many of the firms that didn’t respond at that time—including Kirkland & Ellis, DLA Piper, and Sidley Austin—were using forced arbitration.
The Pipeline Parity Project decided that if these firms won’t stop their forced arbitration racket—and indeed, won’t even own up to it—it’s up to us to educate ourselves and our peers. Vail Kohnert-Yount, a Harvard Law School student and Pipeline Parity Project organizer, said, “While we hope Kirkland & Ellis has ended their use of forced arbitration once and for all, the real question is: who are we dumping next?”