Clients routinely influence law firm employment decisions

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Earlier this month, Above the Law and other outlets reported that Elon Musk allegedly pressured a law firm handling Tesla’s work to fire an associate who interviewed Musk while the lawyer previously worked at the SEC. The law firm apparently did not bow to this pressure, and many in the legal community applauded the move. While I’m a fan of Elon Musk myself (and am a very satisfied owner of a Tesla Model Y), I also believe that if these allegations are true, it was inappropriate for a customer to pressure a law firm to fire a partner. However, this episode made me think of all the times in my career where I have seen a client or a client’s representative influence employment decisions at a law firm. The legal industry should have a low opinion of clients influencing almost all law firm employment matters, whether it’s firing partners, hiring lawyers, or otherwise, so that matters employment can be based solely on merit.

In my experience, the primary way clients and client representatives try to influence law firm employment decisions is in the hiring process rather than the firing process. Sometimes clients contact high-ranking associates at law firms if their relative or loved one is looking for work and check to see if there is a job opening. In many cases, law firms will give the candidate preferential treatment even if their background is not on par with lawyers who usually work in a store.

For example, I once knew someone who was finishing his first year of law school and needed a job for the summer. He told me that his uncle was an executive at a large company that used a particular law firm and that he had asked his uncle to do his best to find him a job at that law firm for the summer. The law firm eventually offered him a summer job at the store, even though the firm might not have offered someone with his college degrees a job at the firm if he hadn’t asked his uncle to pull the strings for him.

Another time I worked at a company that had people working for the store during the summer. One of the summer employees didn’t seem to have the knowledge to get a job with this company. I always wondered how this person got a job at the store. One day I saw this summer employee with our store’s best partner and another person. I eventually discovered that this other individual was the father of the summer employee and was apparently an executive at one of the company’s major clients. The summer employee seemed like he didn’t want people to know that his dad had a connection to our company and his higher ups, and that was probably a big reason why this person was able to get a summer job at our business.

Sometimes, if clients cannot ensure favored individuals get jobs at a law firm, they request that their connections be given preferential treatment during the hiring process. For example, I once worked at a law firm that was doing poorly financially and didn’t seem to be actively recruiting. One day, out of the blue, I was told that I was going to interview a candidate. The firm wanted to include a few partners in the recruitment process so that interviewees and firm attorneys could have a full understanding of the firm and the recruitment process.

I looked at the candidate’s resume, and this person did not appear to have the academic or professional qualifications of the other lawyers in the firm. I wondered why we were going to interview this person, especially considering the company was having poor financials and we didn’t seem to be hiring anyone at the time. I later overheard this candidate talking to a top partner after the interview, and it was clear from the conversation that this person’s father was an executive at one of our clients. This is probably the main reason this person was interviewed. What’s odd is that the interview was probably only scheduled as a courtesy since the company didn’t seem to be hiring. I’m not even sure that inviting a candidate with a relationship to a company’s client for an interview is the right thing to do when the company has no vacancies and poor financial performance.

In any case, it is generally unfair for people to receive special treatment in employment because a client tries to lobby for or against certain company employees. Law firms should make decisions based on lawyers’ qualifications and should not judge a lawyer or candidate differently based on how a client wants a law firm to act in a given employment matter. . The widespread support of a law firm refusing to fire a partner at the insistence of a client is a good thing. However, the legal community can do more to ensure that all employment decisions are more fair and free from client influence.


Jordan Rothman is a partner at The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service law firm in New York and New Jersey. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website detailing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan by email at [email protected]

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