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The Pipeline Parity Project has scored another big victory in the fight to eradicate the scourge that is arbitration for law firm employees.
This week, Kirkland and Ellis announced that it would no longer require arbitration for staff, adding on to their announcement last month that it would no longer require arbitration for summer and regular associates. Curiously, there's still no word about whether the arbitration clauses at Kirkland will apply to partners with gender discrimination or sexual harassment claims.
The Pipeline Parity Project is student group out of Harvard that is fighting for gender parity in the legal profession, and doing it from the top down. The group set its sight on Kirkland because the firm has the highest revenue nationwide, and despite the financial prowess of the firm, it buckled to the social pressure. However, unlike other firms that are heeding the call of the Pipeline Parity Project, Kirkland has not admitted any wrongdoing by requiring arbitration.
The student group called for a boycott of the firm, and other firms, by law students seeking employment, and the group seems to have inspired the Harvard Women's Law Association to reject a $25,000 donation from Kirkland, as well as denying the firm the chance to be a sponsor of their annual conference (at least until it ditched the mandatory arbitration clauses).
For many law firms, it may be scary to ditch arbitration clauses. The big benefit for law firms that require arbitration isn't really cost savings, but rather is the confidentiality of the process, especially when it comes to gender discrimination and sexual harassment claims, as these can be very damaging for a firm's reputation.
However, when it comes right down to it, law firms are facing increased pressure not just from student groups and other associations, but also from clients, to provide a diverse team of associates that includes both men and women and minorities. Thanks to the Pipeline Parity Project, law firms are starting to get the message that in order to get the best lawyers, arbitration clauses could be a deal breaker.
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