Law Firms

Nonlawyer staff members at Kirkland no longer will be required to arbitrate workplace disputes

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Kirkland & Ellis has once again announced an end to a policy requiring mandatory arbitration of workplace disputes.

In late November, Kirkland announced it would no longer require mandatory arbitration for associates and summer associates. Now, the firm has gone further and announced it is also dropping its mandatory arbitration requirement for nonlawyer staff members, the American Lawyer reports.

Both decisions were made after pressure from students at Harvard Law School. The Pipeline Parity Project, an organization that describes itself as a group of Harvard Law students focused on ending harassment and discrimination in the legal profession, had called for a student boycott of Kirkland before the firm dropped mandatory arbitration for associates. The group focused on Kirkland because it has the highest revenue of any law firm in the nation.

Then the Harvard Women’s Law Association said it won’t accept $25,000 annually from Kirkland to be the primary sponsor of its spring conference as long as it required mandatory arbitration for any employees.

The Harvard Women’s Law Association was among eight female law associations at top law schools that signed a Dec. 3 statement that pledged not to accept funds from or to promote any law firms with mandatory arbitration agreements.

It is unclear whether Kirkland still requires mandatory arbitration for partners and of counsel, according to Isabel Finley, president of the Harvard Women’s Law Association. Finley told the American Lawyer that she’s disappointed that the firm’s new announcement doesn’t address those two groups.

“Unfortunately, the ways in which law firms have sought to enforce these contracts against partners in gender discrimination suits seem to continue to be overlooked in this conversation,” she said.

Other law firms that have dropped mandatory arbitration include Sidley Austin (which dropped the agreements for staffers and associates); Munger, Tolles & Olson (dropped for all employee disputes); Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe (dropped for all employee disputes); and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom (dropped for nonpartners).

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