A survey conducted by the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts and the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership amid the #MeToo movement has highlighted sexual harassment in the workplace. Sex harassment, including unwelcome texts, physical contact and bullying, exists at big and small law firms, the survey of mostly female lawyers in Massachusetts shows. The survey results covered boutiques to the big law firms, with about 80 per cent of the more than 1,200 lawyers responding to the survey being women. The results were spread evenly across the Millennial, Gen X and Baby Boomer generations. Behaviours described were similar across all firm sizes, Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of the institute, said.
Nearly 38 percent of respondents said they had been the recipient of an unwanted sexual email, text or instant message at work. Approximately 21 pe rcent said they had experienced or witnessed unwelcome physical contact at work. More than two-thirds of those who said they had experienced or witnessed unwelcome physical contact said they did not report it. Ms Rikleen said: 'You really see a consistent pattern of people uncomfortable reporting for the same basic reasons: fear of retaliation, fear of loss of social standing in the firm.’
The #MeToo movement which has claimed figures in media, entertainment and politics has a lower profile in the legal profession. Ms Rikleen said there were interesting examples of large firms not following up on certain behaviour when carried out by ‘somebody financially important to the lifeblood of the firm.’ Aside from allegations against a US federal judge, Alex Kozinski, the legal industry has not made headlines over sex harassment. However, the Women’s Bar report, and yesterday’s UK Bar Council report show the issue is in front of law firms. Firms like Linklaters and HSF have also started to bring in new policies which mean staff must disclose relationships at work.