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Naughty or Nice? The Live Issue of Harassment in the Legal Industry

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Naughty or Nice? The Live Issue of Harassment in the Legal Industry

The “naughty” list of high profile men alleged of sexual harassment continues to grow, and seemingly no one is immune. Beginning with the film mogul Harvey Weinstein, recent a-listers including Blake Farenthold (a Republican politician) and Gilbert Rozen (Canadian Founder of Just for Laughs) have joined ranks. Rather than being industry specific, allegations of harassment seem to hold one common denominator: power.

Since the inception of the legal industry, men have held positions of power. Sexual harassment in legal offices is not a new issue, but the question remains, is the recent spotlight on the vulnerability of women working in fields historically dominated by men reducing the issues faced by female lawyers?

Unfortunately, the power imbalance between female and male lawyers is still immense. Despite the fact that females are hired at the same rate as men at the associate level, the numbers of female equity partners are staggeringly low as compared to men. This means that as a young female associate, one is likely to find themselves surrounded by rooms full of silver-haired men welding decision making power. This power may simply pertain to a judicial opinion on a legal matter, or it may extend to whether or not a promotion or raise will be given.

The attitudes of high-ranking men in the legal field do not appear to have caught up with the growing public distaste for outdated misogynistic views and the growing list of alleged harassers. One Quebecois judge was recently under fire for making the comment “She’s a young girl, 17. Maybe she’s a little overweight but she has a pretty face, no?” in regards to a young woman who was sexually victimized by a taxi driver. He went on to state that the victim was “a bit flattered”.

A judge making comments about a young woman’s physical appearance such as these in open court is perpetuating an inappropriate view of women. A young female lawyer appearing before this judge to argue a case may likely feel that comments such as these must be permitted in order for them to stand a chance representing their client’s case.

It is not difficult to extrapolate that the attitudes of male judges mirror the behavior of male lawyers; after all, judges were once lawyers. Unfortunately, much the same as young actresses hoping to catch a break, young female associates may overlook the inexcusable behavior of their male colleagues in the hope that it will provide them with an opportunity for advancement.

What are your thoughts?

Do you think these attitudes exist in other industries?

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com