Maybe Big Law Firms Should Just Keep Their Big Mouths Shut?
Major law firms demand leading law schools condemn "antisemitic" protests on their campuses.
Twenty-seven major law firms recently sent a letter to 14 of the top-ranked law schools in the U.S. complaining about how they are addressing “antisemitism” on their campuses in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.
“As employers who recruit from each of your law schools, we look to you to ensure yours students… are prepared to be an active part of workplace communities that have zero tolerance policies for any form of discrimination,” the letter states.
I have some issues with this letter, not the least of which is that it was sent by big law firms, which are hardly bastions of righteousness and fair play.
Let’s just say big law firms work in glass offices.
Do big law firms have “zero” tolerance for discrimination?
The National Association of Women Lawyers estimates that about 22% of equity partners in big law firms were women in 2020, even though women make up a majority of law school students (55.6%) in U.S. law schools. Female equity partners received 78% of the compensation of men, on average. Only 2% of law firms said their highest-paid attorney is female – and that number dropped from 8% in 2005.
When asked Monday how many of Sullivan & Cromwell’s 166 equity partners are female, firm spokesperson Karen Brown hung up.
Sullivan & Cromwell, a New York City firm that is among the highest grossing in the world, circulated the letter among the law firms. It reportedly has 166 equity partners. When asked in a telephone call on Monday how many of its equity partners are female, Sullivan & Cromwell spokesperson Karen Brown said, “We don’t give out that.” Then she hung up.
Women often are bumped off the partner track when they become mothers and caregivers, while their partners continue to rise up the ladder.
A current lawsuit against Jones Day, a big law firm that didn’t sign the letter, accuses the firm of discriminating against biological fathers by denying them the same amount parental leave as mothers, thus perpetuating the status of women as caretakers and men as providers.
The big law firm letter signatories claim they do not tolerate discrimination. If that’s true, do something about the obvious discrimination against women practiced by big law firms.
Though the current crisis has spurred action, big law has been missing in action for decades with respect a major problem of access to justice in the U.S. - a problem that big law perpetuates to preserve big fees.
About 80% of poor people in the U.S. cannot afford an attorney to represent them in major life-altering legal crisis such as eviction, foreclosure, divorce, child custody, domestic violence, etc.
Every effort to innovate to provide greater access to justice has fallen flat
A recent paper by the Center on the Legal Profession at Stanford Law School points to “mounting evidence” that lack of access to justice “is caused in no small part by the monopoly conferred upon lawyers” to regulate the profession through state bar associations.
Instead of safeguarding the public’s interests, the Center continues, bar advocates “champion their own business and market value.”
It is obvious that poor women / minorities are disproportionately impacted by lack of access to justice. That’s called disparate impact discrimination and big law firms need to stop practicing it.
The First Amendment?
It seems ironic that big law is asking law schools to stop what is essentially the right to freedom of speech and assembly under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
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