Ralph Nader to Dean Minow: Inform Students About Firm Violations

Dear Dean Minow,

I am writing to request your response, on behalf of Harvard Law School (“HLS”), to the important issues raised by an article published in the Harvard Law Record: Oliver Hall’s What HLS Students Should Know About the Law Firms Recruiting Them…and What the Law Firms Won’t Disclose. Although the article was published at the start of the 2015-2016 school year, HLS does not appear to have issued a formal response. I think you will agree, however, that the issues it raises not only merit a response, but also remedial action that should be undertaken without delay by HLS and law schools across the country.

Oliver Hall, the author of the article, is an attorney who has represented me in several matters. He tells the remarkable story of how he came to the conclusion, in one such case, that a law firm representing an opposing party “not only committed serious ethical violations, but also engaged in conduct which – knowingly or not – enabled a criminal conspiracy to succeed and evade detection.” Nonetheless, Mr. Hall reported, the law firm, Reed Smith, LLP, continues to participate in the On Campus Interview (“OCI) program at HLS, and “according to Assistant Dean for Career Services Mark Weber, the firm is expected to return to HLS this fall, when it will resume recruiting students who likely have no inkling of the relevant facts.”

The main question this article raises is whether HLS is doing enough to protect students who understandably wish to avoid accepting offers of employment from firms that engage in unethical or even illegal conduct. Mr. Hall suggests that the answer is no. As he notes, “HLS does not even require law firms participating in its OCI program to disclose violations of the law or rules of professional conduct. Instead, students are simply advised to ‘conduct their due diligence’ before accepting any job offer.” Thus, Mr. Hall concludes,

…law schools, including HLS, can and must do more. When they invite law firms to recruit on campus, they provide the firms with an implicit, if not explicit, imprimatur on which students inevitably rely. Law schools therefore have an obligation to conduct their own due diligence. At a minimum, they should require law firms and other potential employers to disclose recent violations of the law or rules of professional conduct. After all, according to HLS Director of Admissions Tom Robinson, students are required to disclose their own disciplinary infractions – both academic and behavioral – when they apply for admission. Law firms participating in OCI should be subject to the same standard.

Dean Minow, don’t you agree that this proposal is reasonable, and long overdue for implementation? The power and influence of large corporate law firms over the legal profession is perhaps greater today than ever, due in no small measure to the financial pressure the increasing cost of a legal education imposes on students. Many law school graduates now feel compelled to seek lucrative positions with corporate law firms – eschewing careers in public service and the non-profit sector – because they believe it to be the only way to pay off their exorbitant debts. But despite inviting such firms to campus to recruit their students each fall, HLS and other law schools fail to hold them to the same ethical and legal standards that the students themselves must meet in order to join the profession. Apparently, law school deans have few occupational incentives to regularly inform themselves of the many dark sides of these giant law firms in conceiving, participating in and defending the mischief of their global clients. (See Ralph Nader and Wesley J. Smith, No Contest (Random House 1998) and regular reports of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, and investigative teams such as Pro Publica and the Center for Public Integrity – to name a few outlets documenting parts of the corporate crime wave.)

We will be contacting law schools across the country to ask that they adopt a disclosure policy that applies to any employer invited to recruit students on campus. The policy would require, as a condition of the employer’s participation in the program, disclosure of recent ethical or legal violations by the firm, its management or partners. It would not impose any sanction, but rather would establish a standard for the admission of prospective employers to campus, similar to that which law schools currently impose on students. We recognize that such a policy cannot guarantee prospective employers’ compliance – particularly with respect to allegations or violations that remain confidential – but in a profession that is largely self-regulated, the default standard should be one of openness and transparency. Accordingly, the disclosure policy might also apply to other areas of interest to students that prospective employers may not currently publicize, such as their racial and gender diversity, the identity of their clients, the extent of their pro bono practice, and the degree of professional autonomy they afford to lawyers who wish to decline assignments on ethical grounds, among others.

As the enclosed article demonstrates, law students searching for employment need all the help they can get when it comes to vetting potential employers, and law schools are in a unique position to provide it. Moreover, implementing a disclosure policy for prospective employers would cost the law schools nothing. Will HLS be the first law school in the nation to do so?

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your considered response.

Sincerely,

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader was the Green Party candidate for president in 2000 and a former editor-in-chief of the Record.

Comments