The United States Law Week

Legal Field Still a Long Way from Solving Its #MeToo Problems

May 30, 2019, 10:10 PM

The #MeToo movement has rocked the legal profession like nothing in recent memory but realchange has yet to happen, according to ethics-focused attorneys speaking at an American Bar Association conference.

Panelists at the ABA’s National Conference on Professional Responsibility in Vancouver, Canada said that the profession has a long way to go and made recommendations on how to help the industry combat harassment.

They emphasized the difficulties in dealing with the problem.

Just three weeks ago, panelist Wendy J. Muchman, Chief of Litigation and Professional Education at the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois, said she answered a call on the state’s anonymous hotline from an attorney who said her boss regularly harassed her but she was afraid to report it.

The caller told Muchman her boss would ask her whether she had sex the night before; whether she was in a bad mood because she was menstruating; and would comment on her attire. The caller added a family member who was a lawyer told her not to report the behavior because it would damage her reputation.

Muchman said she encouraged the woman to report the behavior and that the state bar could help her. But the caller has had yet to take Muchman up on the offer.

Making Change Happen

Even though there are many examples of egregious behavior like unwanted touching or sexually explicit comments, often the behavior is more subtle, said another panelist, Dayna E. Underhill. Underhill is a partner in Holland & Knight’s Portland, Ore., office where she works on legal and government ethics issues and risk management for lawyers and firms.

More subtle types of harmful behavior include giving preferential treatment to some attorneys based on gender or race, or excluding certain lawyers from opportunities based on these factors, Underhill said.

It can also include language, said panelist Kelly M. Dermody, a partner with Lieff Cabraser in San Francisco and the chair of its employment practice group.

If you see something, say or do something, said Dermody, an advocate of using bystander intervention training at law firms.

The idea behind the practice is that every person is responsible for cultivating the culture we work in, Dermody explained. If someone says something stupid at a meeting, it’s on everyone to call it out, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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