Is Law Practice Sexist? Misogynistic, Even?

Alison Monahan, writing at Ms. JD, certainly thinks so. As the father of two little girls, I’m on high alert for anything that could get in the way of them being whatever they want to be. But as I reflect on my own law school and law practice experiences, I have to admit I’ve seen evidence of attitudes that could lead to the kind of sexism and harassment Monahan has experienced.

While women who find themselves in such situations do have some options, men can make a big difference just by speaking up when we see these attitudes and behaviors on display: “Hey dude. Not cool.”


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  • William Chuang

    Not to trivialize the problem, which undoubtedly exists, but all big law firms have strong policies against sexual harassment. If she had reported the associate, it would have been lights out for him. At the very least, she should have told him to go screw off. When I summered at a firm, a creepy associate was fired for harassing a summer associate. There are tools out there, but perhaps there’s a threat of reprisals? I don’t know. But it’s definitely not accepted for this to happen.

    • In fairness, I’m sure the firm had a policy somewhere, saying this wasn’t okay. But, as the low person on the totem pole, it’s probably not a great career move to go running to whomever you’re supposed to report to, and complain.

      (As an aside, I don’t think there even was an official HR department, which is the case in many large firms. So you end up having to talk to some busy partner who’s reluctantly agreed to be the “point person” for a policy designed primarily to limit the firm’s legal liability when these things happen.)

      Certainly I understand your position, but it’s not that clear-cut on the ground. I opted to handle it myself, which did involve telling him, repeatedly, to leave me alone and that I wasn’t interested. But, frankly, I doubt very seriously he would have been fired for this!

  • Mike

    William, my experience is somewhat opposite.

    I worked for a very large firm, and we had a serious incident with a dirtbag male associate harassing an assistant (it was my assistant which is how I got involved). Our policy was as strong as you could write but the implementation was terrible – because as a workhorse, this associate had the ‘protection’ of the senior partners. It ended with the assistant being paid off and nothing happening to the associate.

  • Sexual harassment is a widespread, intractable problem at large law firms. This is how it really plays out:

    A male partner comes on a female associate. Ignoring him won’t solve anything because they’re working on a matter together and he’s determined. She can go to designated “complaint” partner or Human Resources, if the firm has such a department. That will chill the harasser, but he’ll be angry and the word will eventually leak that she groused about him. Also, they won’t work together again, and that may hurt her career depending on how big his book of business is or how small their department is.

    But reporting sexual harassment is firm policy. Failing to do so up front may suggest she welcomed his conduct initially if she decides to report later when he escalates his actions, a common pattern in sexual harassment. If she leaves without complaint, her chances of getting another job will be better because she hasn’t been branded a troublemaker.

    The solution women choose most often: leave.

  • There is sexual harassment in almost any profession. Law is no different. A firm should make it a priority to promote a zero-tolerance policy on this issue. Especially because the current and recently past law school classes are actually female majorities. In 20 years it would no longer be the disproportionate profession that it is today, and certainly has been in the past. Hopefully, this will help remove the inherent superiority complex that anybody who engages in sexual harassment inevitably possesses.