This morning, 24 major law firms sent a letter to an unspecified set of law school deans — and, perhaps more importantly, to the press — expressing their concern over reports of antisemitic harassment on campuses. Also Islamophobia and racism, but those are only mentioned in passing. As opposed to offering the support that top revenue-producing private law firms could bring to bear either financially or in kind to combat the problem, the firms chastised the deans with characteristic passive-aggressiveness:
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.
Antisemitic hate crimes in 2022 hit the highest level since 1979. That’s not a law school problem, that’s an everyone problem. That same report noted that bomb threats targeting Jewish people went up from 8 to 91 in 2022. All of which is to say that this is a problem that pre-dates the events of this month and yet law firms haven’t felt the need to comment until now.
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.
How are the schools not doing this?
To date, the highest profile law school incidents involve an SBA President writing a column refusing to condemn Hamas on the grounds that the attacks were a response to Netanyahu government policies and a group of students who signed a lengthy letter that denounced the loss of life, but argued that the attacks fit into a larger context of Palestinians killed in Gaza by Israeli forces. Without taking a normative stance on either claim, those are both paradigmatic examples of “the free exchange of ideas, even on emotionally charged issues.”
The law firms involved — Winston and Davis Polk — took away those students’ jobs, which seems like precisely the appropriate method for a private employer to prepare students “to be an active part of workplace communities that have zero tolerance policies for any form of discrimination or harassment,” as the letter explains.
So, other than trying to score a cheap public relations boost from jumping on the “blame campuses” train, what is this even hoping to accomplish?
Not for nothing, but the firms COULD have written an open letter to law students clearly articulating the actions or comments that will result in losing job offers. Delineating exactly when commentary on geopolitics crosses the line into harassment in the mind of these firms would send an unambiguous message that the firms would exercise their role to address the antisemitism they see coming from law school graduates.
But they didn’t do that, and it’s worth asking why.
I don’t know if firms sensed unwanted blowback over the Winston and Davis Polk firings or if they’re just concerned that some future firing may land in a gray area earning them negative publicity, but this letter — in addressing the deans and NOT the students — seeks to foist the unique responsibility of a private employer to police discrimination under its own roof onto the law schools just so the law firms don’t have to end up making anyone mad. Or facing costly and messy (even if ultimately winnable) wrongful termination suits.
Let the law schools deal with all that rather than accept any responsibility ourselves!
Sadly, no law school dean is going to earnestly respond to this letter given the existential need to maintain good relations with law firms, so here’s a response channeling their inner thoughts:
Dear Law Firms,
Thanks for your concern. As you know, we deal with these issues every day of our lives as professional educators so we always appreciate when multimillionaires who haven’t set foot on a campus in three decades parachute in to inform us that we’re failing.
As it happens, we are aware of the rise in antisemitism and hate throughout the country. Did you know we had neo-Nazis with Tiki torches marching by UVA Law School a mere six years ago? It’s true! Maybe that didn’t hit your radar since it didn’t present an opportunity to castigate law schools in the press. Penn has a law professor who brings a white nationalist to campus every year and none of you said a damn thing about it while the administration struggled to figure out how to deal with the situation.
Yale Law School — among others — are out here hosting representatives of a recognized hate group on campus and while federal judges and the media lambast students for protesting, law firms sat silently by and kept hiring the FedSoc students extending those invitations.
Perhaps you might want to stop doing that? Just a thought.
Meanwhile, your letter invites us to “a respectful dialogue with you to understand how you are addressing with urgency this serious situation at your law schools.” Putting aside that what this actually calls for is a “monologue,” we’re very interested in anything that can stamp out discrimination on campus.
So what, exactly, do you propose we do? What would YOU do in our position?
Are you familiar with the Constitution? Because NYU tried to launch an investigation into the student who wrote that the Hamas attacks were “necessary” and FIRE jumped right in to remind the school of the successful lawsuit that would follow unless the school dropped it. The ACLU already informed undergraduate institutions that it stands ready to sue over free speech clampdowns on those campuses. Has the collected brainpower of some of the most elite lawyers in the world figured out a solution that we could implement doesn’t run afoul of that document?
Because the only thing we appreciate more than someone parachuting in to inform us that we’re failing is someone who takes the time to craft a public letter excoriating us without even making an attempt to offer any solutions.
Law School Deans
Law firms need to get honest and serious about what they want to do… or not do. Getting the mainstream media to point fingers at law school deans ain’t cutting it.
(Flip to the next page to read the letter.)
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.