Company policies regarding personal values of associates
Law firm executives can learn something from a recent change to Netflix as they seek to avoid dissent.
A recent shift in Netflix’s corporate policy — likely sparked by the controversy surrounding Dave Chappelle’s 2021 stand-up special — offers guidance to law firms navigating the current struggle between institutional priorities and values. personal of the partners.
Netflix management made waves in cultural waters last week by amending an internal corporate culture statement to clarify that, first, the network will continue to program “for a diversity of audiences and tastes,” and, second, if an employee finds some of this content “harmful”, then “Netflix may not be the best place for you”.
In a perfect (or at least pre-2020s) world, none of this policy change would be of interest to lawyers or law firms. A fundamental tenet of professional ethics has been and remains that an “attorney must pursue a matter on behalf of a client despite the opposition, obstruction, or personal inconvenience of the attorney,” according to the American Bar Association. In addition, our profession is distinguished by the willingness (or even sometimes the necessity) of lawyers to accept clients whose causes they do not espouse or whose actions they do not approve of but whose legal rights must be affirmed to ensure a regular procedure.
For example, generations of American lawyers point to John Adams’ (largely) successful defense of British soldiers who shot American patriots in the Boston Massacre. And, to make it personal, one of my proudest moments in my 12 years as chairman of Morrison & Foerster was when the firm came to the defense of John Walker Lindh, the so- called American Taliban, following the American invasion of Afghanistan.
Perhaps the most common observation about Gen Z and Millennials is that they want to work with a company that stands for a purpose, beyond just profit, and is aligned with their value system. personal. If this is true, as evidenced by tensions in recent years over corporate engagement in political issues at the behest of employee protests, there is no reason to think young lawyers are immune. . Case in point: 2021 dusts on law school campuses over major law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s representation of certain energy clients.
It’s one thing to survive a campus boycott attempt. It’s quite another to deal with an internal insurgency over controversial engagements, when disputes can consume a great deal of management and partner time and leave grudges in every corner. And I would say that many of the most rewarding engagements, both financially and professionally, come with a degree of controversy.
Law firms might be well served by putting their version of Netflix’s policy in writing, reflected in policy manuals or similar institutional cultural documentation. For example: “We have a process at this firm to review controversial cases before taking them on. But once this process is complete, if the engagement is undertaken, any individual lawyer who takes offense to the engagement is expected to adhere to the obligation of the due diligence firm for the client in question without further protest and in strict compliance with the obligations of professional confidentiality. A lawyer who cannot conform to these expectations would be better served by seeking employment elsewhere.
Too sharp? Maybe. But in a time of changing expectations, it is in the interests of firms to do their part to set expectations that are fully consistent with our professional obligations and our proud professional heritage. No apologies required.
©2022 Major, Lindsey & Africa, an Allegis Group company. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 153