University Law Students protest Paul, Weiss recruiting event in support of #DropExxon campaign

Wednesday, February 19, 2020 - 9:54pm

University of Michigan Law students protest against the law firm that represents ExxonMobil at a recruitment event at Pizza House Wednesday evening.

University of Michigan Law students protest against the law firm that represents ExxonMobil at a recruitment event at Pizza House Wednesday evening. Buy this photo
Julia Schachinger/Daily

6:30 p.m. Wednesday night, University of Michigan Law students filed into Pizza House, a restaurant chain, for an exclusive recruiting event for Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

6:51 p.m. A larger group of about 15 students walked in together, put on name tags and were pointed towards a coat check.

6:54 p.m. Another group of ten students walked in. Handshakes commenced and mingling continued.

6:59 p.m. A student within the group yelled, “Mic Check.” About 45 students formed into a circle surrounding the sponsored pizza and salad in which protesters revealed a large sign reading “#DropExxon.” 

The protest is part of a national campaign to boycott the law firm’s recruitment efforts. The protest followed in the footsteps of Harvard University, Yale University and New York University law students who hope their efforts will pressure Paul, Weiss, a renowned international law firm, to drop the multinational oil and gas corporation, ExxonMobil, as one of their clients. Paul, Weiss is defending ExxonMobil in multiple lawsuits around the country that demand ExxonMobil be held accountable for their detrimental impacts on climate change and alleged security fraud.

Approximately 45 of the total 60 students present at the recruiting event participated in the protest. 

The disruption occurred for seven minutes and all protesters immediately left following the protest, leaving approximately 10 students with the recruiters. 

Protesters at Pizza House chanted in unison, “We the students of Michigan Law School will not work for you, as long as you work for ExxonMobil. No salary is worth destroying our own future. If you want our talents, then drop ExxonMobil and join us in fighting for a livable planet … Employees in this room, you are nowhere near the responsible corporation you make yourself out to be.” 

Protest organizer Max Vogel, first-year Law student, shared a press release with The Daily, which explained the passion law students feel to fight against environmental offenses.

“Paul, Weiss may say they’re just doing their jobs, but a new generation of law students — faced with a world, quite literally, on fire — sees things differently,” the press release said. 

ExxonMobil has been a point of controversy in the climate change movement since 2015 when the Los Angeles Times and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism uncovered internal ExxonMobil documents proving the company understood the environmental impacts of climate change since the 1970s. While ExxonMobil privately projected climate change impacts, ExxonMobil leadership publicly launched a climate change denial campaign.

Paul, Weiss was recently victorious in defending ExxonMobil in the State of New York lawsuit, The People of The State of New York v ExxonMobil. The New York Attorney General accused ExxonMobil of misleading investors about the negative impact climate change regulation would have on the company’s financial assets and sought 1.6 billion dollars to be returned to ExxonMobil shareholders. 

The New York State Supreme Court ruled there was not sufficient evidence of ExxonMobil misleading investors. This was the second climate change lawsuit to reach trial in the United States, and the verdict marked a big win for the oil and gas company. 

After the protest at Yale, Law.com published a statement by Paul, Weiss chairman Brad Karp that said Paul, Weiss stands by their representation of ExxonMobil. 

“We are proud of the outstanding work we do for a wide range of commercial and pro bono clients in their most challenging and high-profile matters, including our recent defense of ExxonMobil in a securities fraud case in which the court found, after trial, that plaintiff’s claims were entirely without merit,” Karp said. “Paul, Weiss is committed to free speech and debate, just as we are committed to the principle that we represent our clients and safeguard the rule of law zealously and to the best of our abilities.”

Vogel emphasized the power that law students have in encouraging law firms to reconsider clientele in an interview with The Daily.

“Law students have a really powerful voice in this because Paul, Weiss needs us to maintain its influence and power as a top law firm,” Vogel said. “They spend a lot of time and money recruiting students like Law students at the University of Michigan because of how valuable an asset we can be which means that if we put our foot down, and say we’re not willing to work for a firm like this, that can have huge ramifications for the firm itself and we’re willing to use that voice now to say that firms like Paul, Weiss should reject Exxon’s money.”

Vogel said the firm’s legal tactics are particularly unethical, as they use their prestige and finances to engage in aggressive practices to intimidate and stifle any suits brought against them. The press release mentioned a statement made by San Francisco City Attorney which referred to ExxonMobil’s defense strategies as “an outrageous abuse of the legal process that seeks to limit the ability of law enforcement and local government to protect their residents.” 

First-year Law student Maiya Moncino participated in the protest and said Paul, Weiss’ ties to ExxonMobil contradicts their proclaimed progressive agenda and law students should be aware of this discrepancy when applying to work with them.

“Paul, Weiss’ image is as a progressive firm,” Moncino said. “They were involved in Brown v. Board of Education, and they just have a reputation for being a good place to work. So part of the issue is profiting off of that recruitment strategy and then taking on clients like ExxonMobil just does not fit with that image. And we just want people to be aware of that as they are making their decisions.” 

Moncino said students are taking a stand to remove themselves from the narrative of lawyers defending multi billion dollar companies who she believes have unethical agendas. According to Moncino, powerful law firms like Paul, Weiss should reject offers to defend companies like Exxon.

“We’re not trying to say ExxonMobil shouldn’t have a lawyer,” Moncino said. “Because everyone should have a lawyer. But when you bring in a law firm like Paul, Weiss, you bring in the big guns. You bring real power into a courtroom, and we just think ExxonMobil does not need to have that level of aggressive representation when what they’re doing is putting our climate at risk.”

Paul, Weiss recruitment representatives declined to comment after the protest. 

Vogel said the protest should be a message to law firms that students will consider firms’ ethics and client lists when deciding where they will invest their talents.

“Law students, as future lawyers, are incredibly powerful and have the ability to bring in a lot of money for a firm or to use their choices to make a big impact on the world,” Vogel said. “And if we encourage more law students to really think critically of what impact the firms they work for have on the world, we think firms might think twice before taking on a client like ExxonMobil.

Reporter Callie Teitelbaum can be reached at cteitelb@umich.edu