Legalweek organiser condemns reported instances of sexual harassment at offsite parties

ALM pledges to champion ‘meaningful, positive change’ within legaltech community after LinkedIn post by woman attendee goes viral
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The organiser of the annual New York Legalweek tech conference has “vehemently condemned” instances of harassment and assault that are alleged to have been perpetrated against a number of women at “unaffiliated venues” in New York last week.

Media company ALM has pledged to continue efforts to “champion meaningful, positive change” after a post by a senior woman conference attendee calling out “inappropriate behaviour” by men at legaltech conferences went viral.

“A great Legalweek has been clouded by some unfortunate actions,” Deeanna Fleener, vice president, solution management, at Deloitte wrote. She added: “In a group of 29 women, 20 had personal stories of inappropriate behaviour at a conference.”

Fleener’s post itemised a series of alleged incidents of harassment and assault the group had experienced, although it did not specify where and when they occurred. 

These included the example of a young salesperson who was “grabbed under the skirt by a coworker” and a woman who “went to the bathroom and was pulled into the men’s room by a man who then wouldn’t let her leave”.

By Monday morning, the post had received 196 comments in support of Fleener’s call for the legaltech community to “figure out a way to do better and be the amazing community I know that we are”, several from women alleging they themselves had been victims of harassment at conferences.

“I’d venture if it’s 20 out of 29 women, it isn’t just a few bad apples and there are some systemic industry-wide changes that need to be happening,” wrote Amanda Cook, associate director of ediscovery at Cole Schotz, who said she herself had had her “own experiences” which meant she “didn’t leave the side of women I feel safe with” at conferences.

In its statement, ALM said it had been “made aware of reports of occurrences of highly inappropriate behaviour, including harassment and assault, occurring at unaffiliated venues in New York City during the week of its Legalweek event”.

“Vehemently” condemning “all such actions” and highlighting its zero-tolerance events policy, the statement said: “While these acts did not occur on site at Legalweek or at any conference-sponsored events, ALM prides itself on the community connections it creates and is committed to partnering with other key stakeholders to prevent harassment of any industry member.”

ALM added, in an update released on Monday afternoon: “Members of the ALM team have had multiple conversations in the last 48 hours with people across the industry to explore ways the industry can come together to exact meaningful change. A number of ideas are on the table and we look forward to sharing some more concrete ideas as we formalise them.”

ALM’s legal titles, which include and The American Lawyer, consistently report on instances of sexual harassment and discrimination within the legal profession, exploring how it can be effectively tackled.

A LinkedIn post by ALMLaw/technology reporter Cassandre Coyer in support of the female legaltech community was liked by several senior ALM editors. 

“After less than two years spent in the legal technology industry, it’s saddening for me to see a clear pattern emerging that many professionals, especially women, have had to endure for decades,” she wrote.

She added: “It would not feel right to keep reporting on developments in the industry without acknowledging what has happened and is still happening. I truly hope that the legal technology community can and will do better.”

Gina Passarella, senior vice president, content at ALM, also referenced the controversy in a LinkedIn post, referring to “stories from years ago to the present of sexual harassment at offsite parties when attending conferences” and writing that “for anyone who has felt even an ounce of fear for what another human may to do them or take from them, my heart goes out to you and I stand up in support of you”.

She added: “It will be a partnership among our organisations and each other to continue to call out, reject and stamp out this behaviour and I am here for it and I know my amazing colleagues are as well.”

Options being explored by Fleener to tackle the problem include an industry pledge not to tolerate inappropriate behaviour. She wrote: “Then in the heat of the moment at these events, you could turn to someone and say: ‘Hey, you signed the pledge! You need to rethink your actions’.”

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