Sexual harassment has long been an epidemic whose immense scope we, as a society, have only recently recognized. In this climate, organizations of all kinds may be looking internally, questioning whether a harassment or other scandal could affect them, and measuring whether the organization has effective policies and mechanisms in place that can help to prevent and/or address sexual and other types of harassment.
While many expect the legal profession to be exemplary in its compliance with laws regarding harassment and discrimination, that unfortunately has not been the case. Some reports suggest that harassment in the legal industry is occurring at an even higher rate than the workplace average. Furthermore, statistics show the continuing power disparity for women in law, with women making up less than a quarter of partners at big firms and general counsel at Fortune 500 companies (even though just over 50 percent of law school graduates are women).
For a bar association, an internal harassment or discrimination scandal will not only create the array of problems it would for any organization, but it will also erode trust of the legal profession, both internally and externally, and demoralize its individual and organizational members and supporters. The American Bar Association recognized the need to improve its harassment policy earlier this year when its House of Delegates approved Resolution 302, which expanded a former policy from 1992, and set forth new standards for enforcing policies and procedures prohibiting harassment and retaliation in the workplace based on gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
Given the nature of bar associations, which have many more members than employees, bar leaders must think through how their associations might handle harassment when it occurs both inside and outside of the more well-known areas of employment-related harassment and discrimination. Bar association boards should be prepared in this environment to examine their values, governance structures, and policies, and contemplate the risks associated with their operations, to strive toward a safe, harassment-free organizational culture overall.