Venable offices in Washington, D.C. Photo: Diego Radzinschi.

 

A group of Harvard law students pushing to end mandatory arbitration in Big Law have set their sights on a new target—Venable.

The Pipeline Parity Project, as the student organization is called, on Monday through its #DumpVenable campaign called for classmates and law students across the country to boycott interviewing for summer associate positions at Venable in an effort to pressure the firm to stop using mandatory arbitration for any of its employees. Those agreements prohibit employees from suing over workplace issues such as harassment and discrimination. Additionally, the group is asking all law student organizations to refuse sponsorships from Venable and any other law firm that uses mandatory arbitration.

“Over the last year, firms around the country have recognized the damage done by policies that require employees to forfeit their civil rights as a condition of employment, and have made the decision to no longer force employees into arbitration,” reads a statement from the student group. “By making the decision to expand the use of forced arbitration at a time when the harm of these policies is clearer than ever before, Venable stands in stark contrast to the growing consensus within the profession.”

The students noted that, a week ago, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates passed a resolution opposing mandatory arbitration by legal employees.

A Venable spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

The firm isn’t the first to be targeted by the Pipeline Parity Project. The student group in November unleashed its #DumpKirkland campaign, and within two weeks the firm dropped that practice for summer associates and associates. (The students zeroed in on Kirkland because it was the largest law firm in the country for which they had proof of its use of mandatory arbitration, they said.) Shortly thereafter, Sidley Austin pre-emptively ended its use of mandatory arbitration for associates and staff without be singled out by the Pipeline Parity Project.

DLA Piper has thus far resisted the calls to do away with mandatory arbitration, despite being the subject of the student group’s #DumpDLA campaign. (Student organizer Molly Coleman said Sunday that the Pipeline Parity Project will continue to press DLA Piper amid the upcoming summer associate recruitment cycle, which takes place at the end of the summer.)

The student movement to end mandatory arbitration by legal employers is nearing the yearlong mark. Last March, it was revealed that Munger, Tolles & Olson used them. (The firm quickly did away with the agreements amid a slew of criticism.) Students from 50 law schools surveyed large firms and legal organizations about their use of mandatory arbitration for summer associates, but fewer than half of the firms responded.

The Pipeline Parity project claims that Venable was deceptive about its use of mandatory arbitration, having told the group in last summer that it doesn’t require summer associates to sign away their rights to sue. But the group circulated a memo, purportedly from Venable partner G. Stewart Webb, Jr. dated several weeks later stating all firm employees are subject to mandatory arbitration.

“It’s unacceptable for any business to make its employees or customers sign away their legal rights,” said Beth Feldstein, a first-year law student at Harvard. “Venable publicly claimed to be doing the right thing, then turned around and deprived its workers of their day in court. We’re not going to let them off the hook.”