Many Big Law Firms Won’t Disclose Arbitration Policy

Nearly half of the 374 Big Law firms recently polled by U.S. law schools declined to say whether they require new associates to sign mandatory arbitration agreements.

Dozens of U.S. law schools sent the survey to law firms in mid-May following outcry from students that the firms might require them to give up their rights to sue over employment practices in court.

The schools released the results of the survey June 11.

188 firms—including Kirkland & Ellis, which is known to require associates to sign arbitration agreements—didn’t respond. A copy of an arbitration agreement given to a current summer associate was shared with Bloomberg Law.

“We don’t know how many other firms do this, and it’s hard for people make an informed decision” whether to apply for or accept a position until “they know if they’re going to be forced to sign an arbitration agreement,” Sejal Singh, a rising 2L at Harvard Law School, told Bloomberg Law.

Kirkland did not respond to a request for comment.

“I heard from a student who is thinking about doing corporate recruiting this summer and is asking herself, ‘What are these firms hiding?’” Singh said. “The fact that they couldn’t take this simple step of disclosure does really stand out.”

Only a handful of firms—including Paul Hastings, Gibson Dunn, and Drinker Biddle—disclosed that they do require employees to sign arbitration provisions.

Several firms, including Munger, Tolles & Olson, removed their arbitration requirements following push-back from students this spring. O’Melveny & Myers has also reversed course, according to the survey.

O’Melveny “is continuing to evaluate its policies and practices, including various changes to its arbitration agreement, due to recent changes in state and local law as well as internal and external feedback,” a spokesman said.

Law firm arbitration agreements first came under fire from students upset that such provisions can be used to keep workplace sexual harassment claims out of court.

Cooley said in its survey response that it does require employees to sign an arbitration provision, but “that provision will expressly exclude harassment and/or discrimination claims brought by the employee” unless the employee chooses arbitration.

“I think that it is a good first step but it’s far from enough to exclude harassment and discrimination from these agreements,” said Singh.