The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

"On The Need For Diverse Viewpoints In Biglaw," by David Lat


An excerpt from David Lat's Original Jurisdiction newsletter (and also earlier published by him in the Boston Globe), though the whole thing is much worth reading:

On the morning of June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, holding that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home. You might have expected the lawyers who won the case, celebrated Supreme Court litigators Paul Clement and Erin Murphy, to receive congratulations within their firm for such a major victory.

Instead, they received walking papers. That afternoon, Clement and Murphy announced in the Wall Street Journal that they were leaving Kirkland & Ellis, the nation's highest-grossing law firm. Why? Because Kirkland presented them with an ultimatum: withdraw from representing clients in Second Amendment cases, including existing clients in ongoing representations, or withdraw from the firm.

"We couldn't abandon our clients simply because their positions are unpopular in some circles," the lawyers wrote. So they left Kirkland to start their own litigation firm.

It's not just representing unpopular clients; even articulating an unpopular opinion might be a fireable offense today in the world of large law firms (aka "Big Law"). Take support for the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade and sent abortion back to the states. At least two antiabortion women partners allege — one in the Wall Street Journal and one in Original Jurisdiction, my newsletter about the legal profession — that their support for Dobbs played a major role in their being forced out of their firms….

Of course, it's not a recent development that large law firms are overwhelmingly liberal (as reflected in, for example, their lopsided contributions to political campaigns). What's different today is not only the partisan intensity but the possibility that you might lose your job for holding the wrong views. Simply put, Big Law — the nation's largest, most prestigious, most profitable law firms, which in many ways set the norms for the rest of the legal profession — is currently seized by ideological intolerance and groupthink. (There are some exceptions — most notably Jones Day, which gained notoriety for its work on behalf of Trump.) …