In the era of #MeToo, sexual harassment in the workplace is at the forefront of public discourse. Originally coined by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, #MeToo went viral after sexual assault accusations levied against film producer Harvey Weinstein. Following Weinstein’s very public trial and subsequent conviction, employers and coworkers across the board found themselves navigating a world of accountability and scrutiny that did not exist before 2017. The legal field is no exception; sexual harassment in the legal field is widespread, presenting a unique challenge to female attorneys in particular.
The Women’s Rights Law Reporter recently published an article by Held Law Firm’s own Leah Smith. With the timely title, “Lawyers Too,” Attorney Smith’s piece focuses on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the legal field. A dismal figure cited in the article posits that 35% of female lawyers have experienced workplace harassment. According to Attorney Smith, significant gaps in employment law make it difficult for members of the legal profession to seek justice against their harassers and abusers. And, despite the viral nature of the movement, these statistics seem to have increased in the wake of #MeToo. This could be a factor in why, despite making up 50% of law graduates, women comprise only 38% of practicing attorneys.
When asked about how to tackle this issue, Attorney Leah Smith suggested adopting a model rule of professional responsibility that “would provide protection for individuals in the legal field from sexual harassment by providing consequences for harassers.” She noted that only a few states have adopted the rule. “Moving forward,” she said, “my hope is that more women in the legal field will speak out against sexual harassment and we will start to see a culture shift. As the issue becomes more prevalent in discussions, states will also be more inclined to adopt the model rule to provide added protection.”
Creating change in our workplace is slow-moving but necessary work. If you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, you can visit RAINN’s website or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (865) 685-4780.
Kaelynn Stewart is Campaign Coordinator at Held Law Firm. Leah Smith is an attorney at Held Law Firm.