Stopping Harassment in the Legal Profession: The ABA Takes a Stand

The American Bar Association (ABA) recently passed national standards that prohibit harassment of opposing counsel, witnesses, coworkers, court personnel, and others in the course of practicing law. Elizabeth Olson of the New York Times reports that according to the new standards, “harassment includes sexual harassment and derogatory or demeaning verbal or physical conduct” based on race, religion, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, or marital or economic status. In a separate article, Olson explains that harassment has long been intentionally used in the legal profession to intimidate or fluster opposing counsel and witnesses as well as to reinforce male-dominated attitudes in the legal profession.  She reports that a recent ABA study found that “stereotypical sexist remarks to female lawyers contribute to their underrepresentation in the legal field.” The study also revealed these statistics:

  • Only 18 percent of partners at top law firms are women.
  • In civil cases, men are three times more likely than women to appear as lead counsel and trial attorneys.
  • In criminal law, men are four times more likely to appear as trial attorneys.
Female lawyers explain that they usually try to ignore sexist and racist comments “for fear of imperiling their careers or being labeled less than a team player”—until they can’t anymore and leave the profession.  These are real concerns, and change will only happen if both male and female lawyers and judges hold offending attorneys accountable with the fines and penalties, such as disbarment, now possible when complaints are made and investigated. The National Association of Female Lawyers, the ABA, and individual male and female attorneys and judges have shown courage and determination in pushing for these national standards.  Let’s celebrate a step in the right direction that has a chance to make the legal profession more welcoming and inclusive for its nondominant members, and the courtroom a place where positive standards of professional conduct are on display.   The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of David Mark.]]>