Weigh in on Sexual Misconduct in the Legal Profession

Sexual Misconduct in the Legal ProfessionWomen Lawyers on Guard Inc., a nonprofit advocating for women, is determined to address sexual misconduct in the legal profession. In collaboration with Nextions, a research and consulting firm, Women Lawyers on Guard is surveying women and men in the legal profession on their direct and indirect experiences with sexual misconduct.

The survey is open to attorneys, professional staff, legal academics, law students and others who currently work or have worked in legal employment settings. Results of the confidential, nationwide survey will be used to better understand the experiences, contexts and other nuances of sexual misconduct in the profession.

Harassment remains widespread

It’s been almost two years since the #MeToo movement elevated the conversation of sexual misconduct in the workplace. However, the legal profession, like most others, continues to struggle with how best to stem harassing behavior and create workplaces based on gender equality.

A recent international survey conducted by the International Bar Association and market research company Acritas found that harassment is endemic in the legal profession worldwide. The survey, which evaluated the responses of nearly 7,000 legal professionals (both attorneys and professional staff) in 135 counties, found that over one-third of women (36.6%) and almost 10% of men (7.4%) said they’ve been victims of sexual harassment.

In 2018, the ABA House of Delegates passed Resolutions 300 and 302 to strengthen recommendations and policies aimed at eliminating sexual harassment in legal workplaces. However, the lack of women in legal leadership roles may also be hindering significant structural change. As Stephanie A. Scharf, Chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, said:

“When you have at least some women in leadership, there’s a very subtle but important cultural change that takes place, and it’s that kind of change that really is the foundation for eliminating sexual harassment… You have a culture that is more sensitive and more willing to speak out and insist that something be done.”

Be part of the solution

The Women Lawyers on Guard survey on sexual misconduct in the legal profession can be accessed on its website. All information provided will remain confidential. The survey will remain open through mid-August.

For additional tools on how to recognize and address harassment in the legal profession, check out the Commission’s new free online CLE: Ending Harassment, Bullying and Incivility in the Legal Workplace Course.

Is your organization doing enough to address sexual misconduct? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Laura Bagby
As Communications Director, Laura develops and executes strategy to elevate the Commission among attorneys and judges in Illinois. Laura leverages communications channels to educate and engage with the legal community in support of the Commission’s mission of increasing civility and professionalism to enable the administration of justice. When she’s not in the office, you’ll find Laura taking in a show at one of Chicago’s top-notch theatres, planning her next international trip or hanging out in Lincoln Park with her one-eyed Chihuahua, Manny.
Laura Bagby

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Laura Bagby
As Communications Director, Laura develops and executes strategy to elevate the Commission among attorneys and judges in Illinois. Laura leverages communications channels to educate and engage with the legal community in support of the Commission’s mission of increasing civility and professionalism to enable the administration of justice. When she’s not in the office, you’ll find Laura taking in a show at one of Chicago’s top-notch theatres, planning her next international trip or hanging out in Lincoln Park with her one-eyed Chihuahua, Manny.
Laura Bagby

2 thoughts on “Weigh in on Sexual Misconduct in the Legal Profession

  1. WLOG ought to visit the Illinois Supreme Court decision of about 35 years ago, In re Rinella, as I recall, which held that sex between a male lawyer and a female client was not unethical as long as it was not in lieu of the payment of fees. California has a flat prohibition of sex with clients .
    Ron Stackler

    1. I’m not sure if that revisitation is necessary. In that case, the Court did not have an explicit rule prohibiting what the attorney did. But, he was still sanctioned nonetheless for his conduct because having sex with clients so obviously constituted overreaching.

      But today, there is such a rule expressly prohibiting sexual relations with clients—Rule 1.8(j): “A lawyer shall not have sexual relations with a client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed between them when the client-lawyer relationship commenced.” This rule, not existing when the Court considered in In re Rinella, was promulgated not long ago around 2010.

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