Jenner & Block Launches New Practice Targeting Toxic Workplaces

July 7, 2021, 10:00 AM

Jenner & Block has created a new practice group designed to spot and root out company culture problems at a time when workplace toxicity and misconduct is getting more attention, particularly as it relates to gender and race.

The new culture risk and sensitive investigations practice builds on the firm’s experience with organizational probes and aims to help mitigate legal and compliance risks that result from misconduct.

The practice group, which will start at around 20 members, is led by London-based Christine Braamskamp, who is also co-chair of Jenner’s investigations, compliance, and defense practice, along with New York-based litigator Anne Cortina Perry. It will also include Jenner co-managing partner Katya Jestin, and Neil Barofsky, who was the top watchdog for the U.S. government’s $700 billion 2008 troubled asset relief program bailout fund.

The launch is in character for the Chicago-founded firm, which has long touted its sense of “social conscience” as part of its value proposition to clients. The rise of the #MeToo movement as well as more widespread consciousness about racism have also prompted other Big Law firms overall to reorient aspects of their work towards workplace troubles.

Perry said in an interview that the new practice reflects the growing amount of work that she and other attorneys had been doing not just on sexual harassment and misconduct claims, but also on “other aspects of workplace culture, whether that’s a racially hostile environment, or whether that’s a toxic environment where people were afraid to speak up about concerns.”

She said the waning of pandemic era mandatory work from home also presented an opportunity to help companies deal with culture issues as workers return.

“Individual employees bring their own lived experience into the workplace and we’re at a moment in time where everyone has had their own individual experiences through the pandemic,” she said.

She said employers will be especially keen during this time to consider “how to develop a culture where everyone feels heard, feels like they can speak up, and feels like they’re included.”

Other Big Law firms offer similar services. Morgan Lewis’ labor and employment practice includes a workplace culture consulting group, run by former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawyer Sharon Masling. Littler Mendelson, which also advises companies accused of violating workers’ rights, consults employers on how to foster diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Jenner & Block has long represented clients in government investigations as well as conducted internal probes. The firm’s litigation co-chair Reid Schar, for instance, was recently tapped by the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks to lead a review of sexual assault allegations leveled against a team employee.

Though some law firms have centered their workplace probes practices around a single group, Jenner’s team is interdisciplinary, including attorneys practicing in areas including investigations, employment law, and government relations. The group is also designed to work across borders on culture and compliance issues.

Co-chair Braamskamp said in a statement that the issues U.S. organizations are facing around workplace toxicity are also being reckoned with in the U.K. where she practices, and beyond.

“From the ‘Everyone is Invited’ movement and the challenging questions that are being asked of our educational establishments around sexual harassment, to issues relating to ‘superstar’ leaders that undermine the sustainability and productivity of an organization, we are committed to helping our clients move forward in a way that allows them to address the real risks, rather than just a narrow legal issue,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com
To contact the editor on this story: Chris Opfer in New York at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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