The Volokh Conspiracy

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David Lat on Hogan Lovells' Firing of Semi-Retired Equity Partner for Comments on Abortion and Race

"[T]here is increasingly no place for social conservatives in many large law firms."


An excellent column, as usual ("Biglaw's Latest Cancel-Culture Controversy"), which starts with Robin Keller's Tuesday Wall Street Journal op-ed on the incident, but adds a good deal more.

On Tuesday, Robin Keller, until recently a retired equity partner at Hogan Lovells who was still serving clients, wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed about how the firm fired her…. After the Court issued its Dobbs opinion in June, Hogan Lovells organized a Zoom call in early July for female employees. Keller joined the call, which mostly involved women expressing anger over Dobbs, and offered a dissenting view:

I noted that many jurists and commentators believed Roe had been wrongly decided. I said that the court was right to remand the issue to the states. I added that I thought abortion-rights advocates had brought much of the pushback against Roe on themselves by pushing for extreme policies. I referred to numerous reports of disproportionately high rates of abortion in the Black community, which some have called a form of genocide. I said I thought this was tragic.

To say these remarks did not go over well would be a massive understatement. The speaker after Keller condemned her as a racist and told her to leave the meeting, other participants said they "lost their ability to breathe" after her comments, and yet another attendee told Kathryn Rubino of Above the Law ("ATL") that she was "traumatized and hurt" by what Keller said…

After Keller's op-ed [about her having been fired based on this incident] was published, I heard from a Biglaw equity partner who's in the process of parting ways with her firm after she refused to embrace the post-Dobbs order. Because she's in the delicate process of negotiating her exit, she asked me not to name her firm or office (although they are known to me), and I did not contact the firm for comment. She does not want the firm to know she's speaking to the media, for obvious reasons (and the firm is suffering no reputational injury anyway, since I'm keeping it anonymous). [UPDATE (2:31 p.m.): As I mentioned to a Twitter skeptic, emails and other documents support this partner's account of events—although I'm obviously not going to post them here.]

Here's what happened, according to this partner. After she declined to take on pro-bono work of a pro-choice bent or to get involved in other reproductive-rights initiatives post-Dobbs—saying she was too busy, not mentioning any opposition to abortion or to Dobbs—her office managing partner asked her, "Am I correct in assuming you're pro-life?" After she didn't deny this (because she actually is pro-life), he called her racist (because of the disproportionate impact of Dobbs on minority communities), let her know she was not going to be working with his clients, and started undermining her in various ways, large and small.

It became increasingly difficult for this partner to build her practice without the support of leadership. Eventually she was told she was not a good fit for the firm, despite her large book of business. The firm initially offered a few flimsy pretexts for firing her, which it eventually abandoned after they were refuted by this partner and her counsel. Because both sides now acknowledge that she is not being terminated for cause under the partnership agreement, she is being paid a seven-figure sum to leave. Credit where credit is due: the firm is willing to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to its social-justice commitments, showing the door to a profitable partner because it sees her views as unacceptable.

Some might be skeptical of this account, but in the current day and age, I'm not surprised. In a poll yesterday, I asked: "Should telling co-workers that you support the #SCOTUS decision in Dobbs be a firing offense in Biglaw?" Most respondents said no, but 25 percent said yes. The office managing partner who fired my source because she refused to get with the post-Dobbs program simply falls into the 25 percent….

I don't know if I'm entirely there yet, but I think I'm coming around to the following view: Biglaw isn't a big tent, and it's naive, maybe even downright silly, to believe otherwise. It's fine to be economically or fiscally conservative—Biglaw defends Big Business, after all—but there is increasingly no place for social conservatives in many large law firms, as well as elite circles more generally….