Audrie Pott, a 15-year-old high school student in Saratoga, Calif., hung herself on September 12, 2012. Eight days earlier, she had been sexually assaulted at a party by three boys she knew who took photos that were posted online and spread around her high school.
When news of the Potts’ suicide reached Carrie LeRoy, then counsel at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Palo Alto, not far from Saratoga, she wanted to help ensure that no teen even felt that helpless.
“At that moment I put my head down on my desk and I just felt like something desperately needed to be done,” recalled LeRoy, who is now co-chair of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher’s technology transactions practice group.
In 2012, LeRoy founded the Cyber Dignity Program, which seeks to educate teens about the potential legal consequences of cyberbullying, and has reached more than 13,000 high school students in the Bay Area.
It may sound like unusual fare for a high-powered Silicon Valley lawyer used to focusing on big tech deals and IP, but LeRoy has expanded the program rapidly and she hopes to take it national within a year.
“We are committed to being role models, to helping young people know that there is this expectation that people will treat other people well and that that doesn’t disappear simply because somebody is behind a screen,” LeRoy said.
New Type of Advocate
Before taking on cyberbullying, most of LeRoy’s experiences with the tech world as an attorney had revolved around major transactions and intellectual property issues. Her clients have included Facebook Inc., Apple Inc., and Intel Corp.
She began her career in 2000 as an associate at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and has since worked at several of the nation’s biggest law firms, in addition to spending time in-house at Marvell Semiconductor Inc. She landed at Gibson Dunn in February 2018.
After hearing about Potts’ suicide, LeRoy said she immediately reached out to one of the local superintendents in the Palo Alto School District to see if there was any instruction in the public schools around cyberbullying.
He initially invited her to speak to a classroom at Palo Alto High School as a part of a trial phase to see if anti-cyberbullying material resonated with the teens.
Eventually LeRoy started training other attorneys to speak to students and partnered with a local nonprofit Legal Advocates for Children. She also talked with the local district attorney’s office to understand how these cases play out, which helped as she designed a curriculum to teach in classrooms.
Young people should understand that if someone commits a crime against them, like say attacks them while they’re unconscious or takes pictures of them without their consent, they’re not responsible and there are laws that can be enforced against the perpetrators, LeRoy said.
”Young people are so encouraged to know that,” she said.
One comment she received from a teen after one of her talks read: “I didn’t know that I could do anything if someone had a nude picture of me from a year or two ago. I didn’t realize i could do anything to stop them from using it against me.”
“These kids are really grappling with these types of issues,” LeRoy said. ‘They’re real world concerns for them as they spend more time interacting through technology, devices and platforms.”
LeRoy’s previous firm, Skadden, helped her expand the Cyber Dignity Program beyond just Palo Alto and into other school districts. At Gibson Dunn she’s continuing to scale, which requires a greater number of attorney volunteers.
Gibson Dunn has helped out by scheduling classes at local high schools for attorneys who are interested in joining the group and teaching teens about cyberbullying.
LeRoy said it only takes four to six hours per year to be a part of the program. Once attorneys learn the curriculum they go into high schools and teach in individual classrooms. There’s also a team at Gibson Dunn that helps out by tracking cyberbullying laws jurisdiction by jurisdiction.
“The issues that young people face are not limited to any jurisdiction so our grand vision for this is to eventually roll it out in every state in this country,” LeRoy said.
The effort to bring the program to more teens is ongoing, and LeRoy is serious about national ambitions.
As a part of that effort, on Nov.11, LeRoy, along with several other attorneys, conducted a Practicing Law Institute program that discussed protecting teens in the digital age and how to replicate an effective version of the Cyber Dignity Program to launch at any high school in California. The program will be available online for the next six months.
Beyond attorney education, LeRoy is partnering with national nonprofit, The Art of Peace Club, to build the program beyond Silicon Valley, first to Northern California, and then to the nation.
“The messaging and the content are so needed and critical at this time,” said Art of Peace founder Jodi Wing, who works with LeRoy directly.