Law firms issue statement saying they won’t hire haters or bigots

November 3, 2023 • 12:15 pm

I got an email and a link from Alex, a retired lawyer who said this:

At this link there is a letter that a bunch of law firms sent to the Deans of law schools – likely triggered by what happened at Harvard and other schools.
It’s a “get-your-act-together” letter.  And the statement “your students who hope to join our firms after graduation” implies that they may not want to hire students from certain law schools.
I was on the hiring committee of a major law firm (which wasn’t a signatory here) and I never saw such a joint statement issued before.  The firms are clearly concerned that the schools might be fostering an ideology that the firms don’t want to be associated with.

Alex said a bit more, but first I’ll show the letter, which was signed by 41 law firms

November 1, 2023


Dear Deans,

Everyone at our law firms is entitled to be treated with respect and be free of any conduct that targets their identity and is offensive, hostile, intimidating or inconsistent with their personal dignity and rights. We prohibit any form of harassment, whether verbal, visual or physical.

Over the last several weeks, we have been alarmed at reports of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism and assaults on college campuses, including rallies calling for the death of Jews and the elimination of the State of Israel. Such anti-Semitic activities would not be tolerated at any of our firms. We also would not tolerate outside groups engaging in acts of harassment and threats of violence, as has also been occurring on many of your campuses.

As educators at institutions of higher learning, it is imperative that you provide your students with the tools and guidance to engage in the free exchange of ideas, even on emotionally charged issues, in a manner that affirms the values we all hold dear and rejects unreservedly that which is antithetical to those values. There is no room for anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism or any other form of violence, hatred or bigotry on your campuses, in our workplaces or our communities.

As employers who recruit from each of your law schools, we look to you to ensure your students who hope to join our firms after graduation are prepared to be an active part of workplace communities that have zero tolerance policies for any form of discrimination or harassment, much less the kind that has been taking place on some law school campuses.

We trust you will take the same unequivocal stance against such activities as we do, and we look forward to a respectful dialogue with you to understand how you are addressing with urgency this serious situation at your law schools.

Very truly yours,

[41 law firms, see at the the link]

Alex added this when I asked him if he approved of the letter:

Do I approve?  I would have voted to sign the letter and was surprised/disappointed to see my 800-plus lawyer firm not on the list.
However, I hope that the ““your students who hope to join our firms after graduation” sentence isn’t meant to say that the firms are threatening to forego hiring all students from those schools, since that would be too broad of a stroke.  That’s how CNN interpreted it – “Top law firms signal they won’t recruit from college campuses that tolerate antisemitism.” 
Surely there are students at the schools who decry antisemitism and are appalled by the actions of their fellow students and their administrations.  I don’t think they should be punished for the sins of others.  Rather, I think the burden falls on the law firms to vet the students carefully to make sure that they are hiring those that are qualified, fit into the culture of the firm, and won’t become a P.R. burden. 

I agree with Alex. Note that the statement decries all forms of bigotry, not just antisemitism but Islamophobia and other forms of racism. As a private corporation and not a university, law firms can choose any criteria they want to hire new lawyers, and that means they’re free to reject applicants who have proven to be bigots. Colleges and universities are more constrained in their hiring because, after all, even the most vile bigotry is still freedom of speech, protected by the First Amendment. But I don’t make the rules for private businesses and corporations, and if they wish they can delve into an applicant’s past and reject them if they show signs of “violence, hatred, or bigotry.”

This is going to have law students shaking in their boots. While they are free on campus to say whatever they want about issues like the war, they also know they have to live with the consequences. So in the end this may reduce the amount of hatred on American campuses. After all, money talks, especially to lawyers.  (This is not to slur the good lawyers I know!)

Give your take below. While firms can refuse people like the ones they describe, should they? This does impede their freedom of speech on campus, but of course nobody denies that freedom of speech comes with consequences.

28 thoughts on “Law firms issue statement saying they won’t hire haters or bigots

  1. The elite universities are making societal dysfunction worse by fostering and encouraging these children to suppress speech they don’t like and engage in anti-Semitism without being made to feel shame, without being made to feel they’re dead wrong on this issue.

    We who are in the working world or who’ve retired therefrom have to do our parts to help the young people mature. One would have thought universities would play a big role in this; but to a great extent, some of them have abdicated their responsibility here. I applaud the donors who’ve withdrawn their financial support of these elite universities, and I applaud this group of law firms.

  2. “This is going to have law students shaking in their boots. While they are free on campus to say whatever they want about issues like the war, they also know they have to live with the consequences.”

    I hope so but, having once been a college student, I have doubts about that.

    On your final question, in my opinion, yes, they should. Or at least, I think it is okay and appropriate if they choose to do so.

  3. Good on the law firms. I think it’s about time deans and other administrators get a handle on the extremists perpetrating hate on their campuses. I don’t follow campus shenanigans (unless I read about them on WEIT), but it seems the strategy of administrators in dealing with said shenanigans is the head in sand tactic. I think it was also important that the letter didn’t single out antisemitism. Telling deans their students could be barred from a multitude of law firms, or even hinting that students from their particular schools would be vetted more carefully has to be an effective stick.

  4. For a more depressing take, I doubt the law firms’ efforts here — laudable as they are — are going to make any difference. Eventually, this generation of students are going to need lawyers, and if the established law firms don’t align with their values, I’m sure they’ll be happy to start their own gen-Z-aligned law firms. Are we ready for a partisan schism in the law profession?

    1. I think there’s already a partisan schism in the law profession if the number of lawyers involved in the Jan 6 coup attempt is any indicator.

  5. This is excellent, and I wish groups of employers in other sectors would do the same. Living in an echo chamber as they are, most students have no reason to put a brake on their their extremism, since they receive approbation for it from peers and faculty alike. Being made to realize that the consequences of their positions may follow them in later life and have consequences for their employability will certainly give them pause for thought, especially as they reflect on the performative nature of their posturing and how much it really achieves, and whether perhaps it matters to them as much as they like to think …

  6. I’m glad to see that there are finally some adults in the room. I’ve been very annoyed at various stories/videos I’ve seen over the last decade where administrators have cowed down to students, rather than taking charge and explaining how the students are wrong in their presuppositions:
    – a university student screaming at an admin about “how this is supposed to be a home”, and not wanting their beliefs challenged
    – the whole Eric Weinstein/Evergreen University fiasco
    – the South African university students shutting down someone who challenged their belief that there are people who can command lightning to strike people
    – similarly the employees at a book publisher demanding that a book they hadn’t read not be published

  7. Islasmophobia is a difficult one. I positively oppose the tenets of fundamentalist Islam, does that make me an ‘islamophobe’?
    I think those demonstrating with ‘death to those who mock Islam’ are to be arrested. Facts have shown these are not empty threats, but direct threats. I guess I’m an ‘Islamophobe’. A badge I’ll carry with honour. But then, I guess I’m a ‘Christianophobe’ or ‘Judaismophobe’ too.
    Everything you dislike in Christianity, Islam excels at with a little star.
    It is just that it appears (correct me if I’m wrong) that Islam is more prone than the other 2 Abrahamic religions to turn up large mobs of heated demonstrators (99% male, of course).
    Note I have 2 Muslim registrars working in our service now, both from Libya, they are good. No hassles, we don’t discuss politics or religion. I just give them off Friday afternoon, when they feel it necessary to go to the local mosque.

    1. I couldn’t agree more, I am phobic of Islam and I do not think that’s a bad thing. Islam is built on fundamental tenets that are not only demonstrably false but often barbaric and/or deeply bigoted. Opposing fundamental principles of Islam should be encouraged and celebrated by any enlightened person.

      Like you, I am also a ‘Christianophobe’ or ‘Judaismophobe’, but to a much lesser extent. That’s not because they are any better, as I do not see much difference between the bad bits of any Abrahamic religion. It’s just that in much of the world, the moral progress of Islam seems about level with where Christianity was 400-500 years ago during the Spanish Inquisition.

      Another important factor is that (apart from in the US at least) Islam tends to be more overtly political in terms of its aims and how it is organised. This makes it far more dangerous than the other two, and therefore more deserving of fear. I’m avoiding using phobia here, as unless one is preoccupied with it, it seems a perfectly rational fear to me.

  8. I am not sure I agree with the refusal to hire because of speech, although there is a point where a person can become a poor representative of their organization. However, law firms shouldn’t be hiring people who advocate civil violence, and that should be an issue for being admitted to the bar.

  9. Everyone at our law firms is entitled to be treated with respect and be free of any conduct that targets their identity and is offensive, hostile, intimidating or inconsistent with their personal dignity and rights. We prohibit any form of harassment, whether verbal, visual or physical.

    Although they give a fair example of the form of bigotry and hate they’d exclude —“ anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism and assaults on college campuses, including rallies calling for the death of Jews…” — the language re identity worries me a bit because I’ve seen it taken to such ludicrous extremes. As we know, “any” form of harassment can include explaining that you promote based on merit or saying there are only two sexes. And while I personally deplore the support of Palestine, I recognize that it’s a legitimate political disagreement.

    I’m guessing that at least some of these law firms include DEI departments just looking for new ways to root out the Critical Social Justice forms of bigotry. Signing an official letter which specifically targets violent antisemitic assaults but speaks in generalities might give them encouragement.

    1. I think I agree. The letter is doing a lot of work on three different topics: 1. illegal actions (“assaults on campus”), 2. freedom of speech and how to disagree well, and then 3. “zero tolerance policies for any form of discrimination or harassment”. Well universities and law firms both have to be against (1), and it’s great if law firms are encouraging universities to follow (2), but (3) sounds awfully like moralising EDI speak and not consistent with (2). It’s a sinister phrase that discourages diversity of viewpoint.

    2. Indeed. Aside from a few lines this letter reads like something written by the firms’ DEI staffs. It all depends on which decade’s definitions of “violence”, “hatred”, “bigotry”, etc. one uses.

  10. A small point on nomenclature:

    Re “Note that the statement decries all forms of bigotry, not just antisemitism but Islamophobia and other forms of racism.”:

    I’ve never understood why anti-Muslim bigotry must (apparently) be expressed as a “phobia,” while anti-Semitism is never (so far as I know) expressed as Judo-phobia.

    Tengentially, why is it “transphobia” but (merely, I would argue) anti-gay?

    There is, I think, a subtle difference, and I’d like to see “-phobia” dropped from discussions about bigotry and prejudice. Why *not* “anti-gay … anti-trans … anti-black … anti-Muslim” etc.? Isn’t it more clear?

    Very interested to hear any explanations or justifications for the use of -phobia for certain categories, but not others.

    1. What I’ve come across is that the use of the term “homophobia” — the irrational fear or hatred of homosexuality — was very successful in framing the debate over criminalization and gay marriage, and the style was later adopted by other groups because of this. In the case of homosexuality it makes a certain amount of sense, in that the belief that same-sex relationships are sinful or “against nature” is rooted in an unjustifiable moral disgust, which often lead to exaggerated fears of degenerate perversions and predations.

      Worries about Islam or gender ideology for the most part aren’t derived from the same sense of disgust. Individuals could be caught up in a moral panic or neurotic obsession, of course, but disagreement with actions or precepts isn’t the same sort of thing. As for why we don’t get “black-phobia,” my guess is the history of racism established “racist” pretty well.

  11. I agree with the letter and am glad to see it—just as I’m glad to see big-time donors divest from universities whose students support terrorism, whose professors egg them on, and whose Presidents seem not to know right from wrong.

    This is how the social contract works. Unacceptable behavior has consequences that alters behavior in the future. Without brakes on behavior, society itself spins out of control.

    Speech itself is protected by the First Amendment—the government cannot prohibit speech (with few exceptions)—but law firms can surely deem candidates who publicly call for the destruction of Israel as not a good fit. Even free speech has its costs.

    Law firms should not reject a potential candidate based on its affiliation with a specific law school. But individual candidates who show proclivities toward terrorism should obviously be weeded out of the job pool. Other professions should enact the same hiring practices in my view.

  12. It’s about time. Why didn’t they send such a letter to Stanford Law School when many students and even some administrators there recently showed that they have utter contempt for Constitutional principles and due process? Those attitudes should be even more antithetical for a law firm.

    Given the political trends at American universities, in a few years these law firms may find that all the graduates available violate the hiring principles expressed in this letter.

    But law firms cannot “choose any criteria they want to hire new lawyers”. There are equal-opportunity laws in place. Who knows how those will be changed in the next few years, though.

  13. It’s sad to see so many people support suppression when they don’t like the speech being expressed. Will a similar standard apply to everyone who supports the white supremacist and antisemite named Donald Trump? It shouldn’t. The slogan “free speech has consequences” is the spirit of censorship. The only consequences for free speech should be criticism, not dismissal.

    1. The real world of the wealth-producing private sector doesn’t work that way, John. The employer who pays the wages of her employee has the right to fire him (or not hire him) for any reason, or for no reason at all, provided only that the reason (if there is one) doesn’t constitute an illegal form of discrimination as set out in the employment law of where her business operates. These illegal forms of discrimination are those things that the employee can’t help or control: race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, national origin, and record of offences — the list varies from place to place. An employer has the right to expect that an employee can control his tongue, especially if the employee is wont to say things that harm the employer’s business (by alienating customers, for example.)

      Private sector employers are not required to respect the employee’s constitutional freedom of speech (or expression.) The exception might be if the employee was fired for trying to organize a union, but that’s an issue under Labour Law, not the discrimination statutes.

      You see what would happen if the employer was prohibited from dismissing an employee on speech grounds. She would be unable to fire an employee who insulted customers, made sexually unwelcome comments to other employees, disparaged the business in public, and shrugged off constructive feedback.

    2. Freedom works both ways. In this context, it’s a zero-sum game, and either the employer or the employee has to win. If we were to follow your principle: “The only consequences for free speech should be criticism, not dismissal”, anyone could join a company and destroy its reputation by pronouncing egregious views.

      A business owner who has invested millions and put in years of effort could see their business destroyed by one rogue employee. Say you run a successful business delivering meals to elderly Jews nationwide. I see how much money you make and decide to set up a business providing the same service. You do it better and cheaper than I can, so my friend gets a job with you and starts spewing anti-semitism to your customers, to the media, etc. You won’t fire him because you support his right to free speech. Your business goes down the tubes, and mine does the opposite.

      How could anyone (and why would anyone) set up and invest in a business if that’s how it worked? And apart from that, why should I, who has invested millions in my company, have to let some jerk say what he likes, ruin my reputation and livelihood and make me look like a money-grabbing hypocrite? Is that fair?

      1. “…so my friend gets a job with you and starts spewing anti-semitism to your customers, to the media, etc.”

        I’m guessing John K Wilson would agree that hurling anti-semitic abuse at your customers is a sackable offense – that’s uncontroversial. His point (I assume) is that speech exercised in a private capacity that has no bearing on your ability to do a given job should not be grounds for dismissal.

        I’m with John. The “Hmmm… consequences?” attitude has long been a mark of woke intolerance. It’s a little disappointing how others adopt this intolerance as soon as the wind changes direction.

        1. To reiterate. An employer can fire an employee for no reason at all. If it becomes illegal to fire an employee for pseudo-private statements (on Facebook or at Hamas rallies), then the employer will simply say, “I don’t want you as an employee anymore. Here is your severance. Now security will walk you off the premises. Make an appointment to come back in a few weeks to collect your coffee cups and family photos.” In fact this is what employers mostly do now.

          This is called dismissal without cause. In most jurisdictions you have to provide notice, or severance in lieu of notice. The employee can allege in a wrongful dismissal action that you really fired him for some prohibited reason. Just make sure you don’t hire people protected by prohibited reasons. And make doubly sure that the reason why you want to get rid of him appears nowhere in writing.

          Dismissal for cause is more challenging. You don’t have to do notice or severance but it’s harder to make it stick. Collective agreements with unions can make it very difficult to fire an employee for misconduct or insubordination or theft or violence or failure to cooperate with drug rehab. Whatever cause you write down as the reason for not paying severance can be contested. So dismissal without cause is usually the safest and lowest hassle course. Paying someone a few months salary to make him go away is exhilarating.

          If you say it was wrong for me to fire the employee for what he said, I will reply that I didn’t fire him for that reason. I just fired him, with severance. Period.

        2. It’s a little disappointing that you misrepresented my point, and if you think I’m aligning with ‘woke intolerance’ you are dead wrong. You must surely realise that mine was an example to prove the principle that expressing one’s personal views as a worker is not without consequences, both for employee and employer.

          You claim that speech which has no bearing on one’s capacity to do a job should not be grounds for dismissal. OK, so what if your employee spouts hatred only to the media? This doesn’t remotely impinge on his ability to do a great job, so using your principles he should be able to say what he likes. Even though it might still ruin the business.

          I passionately support the fundamental right to free expression. But I don’t support the right to work wherever you want while saying whatever you want. This isn’t a public body we’re talking of, it’s a private company.

          Also, if hurling anti-semitic abuse at your customers is a sackable offence as you agree, where would you draw the line between harmless speech of no consequence to the employer, and harmful and sackable speech?

          And again, if you think I’m adopting a position of intolerance, you are about as wrong as you could possible be.

  14. Communications like the law firm letter invariably include a phrase like this one: “There is no room for anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism or any other form of violence, hatred or bigotry” etc. etc. After the exploits of Al Qaeda, ISIS, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram, Hamas, Hizballah, the Taliban, and assorted lone wolf Islamist enthusiasts from France to Japan, it would seem that a certain wariness is merely appropriate in regard to Islamic enthusiasms. The obligatory mention of “Islamophobia” in these statements is like associating prejudice against the Amish with a cautious attitude about waters frequented by sharks.

  15. Educational institutions and social media are also fostering student behavior/misbehavior. Teaching kids that every statistical inequality between groups is caused by some “ism“ or other and dividing people into oppressor/oppressed categories both foster division and animus …. by design. Social justice is a disrupting philosophy and these youngsters want to create a better world. The experienced disrupters and professional manipulators of the world have shaped that urge toward perfection in ways that encourage hatred, silencing of disparate voices, and permanent divisions amongst members of society who disagree with each other … sometimes on one issue only. Future employers and all others who care about these young minds need to target the disrupting organizations shaping these philosophies. Teaching youngsters that the world is filled with others rather than us gives people permission to give into that part of our nature that hates, excludes, demeans and kills. It debases in the guise of perfecting. It is a danger to individuals, society, and civilization as a whole. Targeting individual miscreants is a feel good solution to a problem of institutional rot. Folks who agree need to focus their reform efforts on the systems shaping the world views of the students chanting for the death, displacement, and silencing of “the other”.

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