Law students concerned with the use of mandatory arbitration agreements in law firm employment contracts are taking action this week to pressure law firms into eliminating the practice.

Hundreds of students have signed an open letter to the National Association for Law Placement asking it to add questions to its Directory of Legal Employers about firms’ use of forced arbitration.

Law students resorted to the letter after more than half of firms surveyed by over 40 law schools about their policies surrounding the use of forced arbitration and non-disclosure agreements refused to disclose their policies, according to the Pipeline Parity Project. The Pipeline Parity Project was formed by Harvard law students last year to fight harassment and discrimination in the legal profession.

The law students hope that NALP will use its influence to collect and distribute this information, the Project said in a statement.

“We believe these contracts are harmful because they shift claims related to mistreatment at work, such as discrimination, sexual harassment, or denials of family leave, out of court and into secretive proceedings that often unfairly favor the employer,” the letter says.

It adds that many who sign these agreements may not know of these policies until after they have accepted their offers. At that point employees have no meaningful power to negotiate these terms or seek alternative employment.

NALP‘s directory is widely consulted by students and attorneys researching law firms when making employment decisions.

Protests

Law students also organized protests March 26 in front of the offices of Venable and DLA Piper in Boston and Washington, two firms that use mandatory arbitration agreements, distributing leaflets about the harms the practice poses.

The Pipeline Parity Project was able to help out because of the organizational infrastructure it’s built over the last year but it was “certainly not something that we did on our own,” Molly Coleman, a member of the group’s organizing committee and a Harvard Law student, said.

“Both efforts have been a part of cross-school organizing efforts led by law students who are committed to ending forced arbitration,” Coleman said.

The protests are “meant to put firms on notice that if they continue to stand by these practices as we move into the law student recruitment and interview season, we’ll make sure that all students who go to the firms to interview know that accepting an offer at a firm like DLA or Venable means forfeiting their civil rights,” she said.

The letter to NALP urges the group to include the following questions in its directory:

  • Does your firm require any employees (including summer associates, first-year associates, paralegals, or other non-lawyer staff) to sign a mandatory arbitration contract, regarding certain or any types of disputes, as a condition of employment?
  • If yes, does this mandatory arbitration agreement include a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement which encompasses workplace misconduct?