Australian law firm Lander & Rogers reacted to the #Metoo issues law firms face by implementing a ‘no bystanders’ rule that is intended to end the ‘culture of silence’ in the legal profession around sexual harassment.
The firm’s managing partner, Genevieve Collins said that the strict guidelines on personal relationships and the mandatory reporting provisions were important to prevent professional firms and others getting into trouble.
Speaking to the Australian Financial Review, Collins said the guidelines were changed from ‘should’ to ‘must’ report any such issues. Regarded as something of an unusual policy due to the ‘anti-dobbing’ culture within Australia, the announcement has created interest within the profession both in Australia and elsewhere. The #Metoo issues confronting law firms have been a major problem for the largely male-dominated legal professional globally.
Lander & Rogers has 500 staff in three cities and has a high ratio of women partners at almost 43 per cent. She said the feedback was to the effect that this was exactly what other workplace policies should be.
Changing workplace expectations
“The operating environment, community standards and the cultural expectations around the modern workplace have clearly been changing – and in our opinion in a good way.
“The #MeToo movement, the court scandals, the media organisation scandals, all sides of politics – it’s become an issue,” she told AFR.
Ms Collins said making it compulsory to report removed the fear that people might have about coming forward.
“Some of that fear is based on the fact they are not going to be believed or that they are going to be outed because they made a complaint against someone more senior or more powerful – or would in some way be prejudiced by making the report.
“You can’t have compulsory reporting without protection for those who report.”
Workplace relations partner Julian Riekert said sexual harassment and relationship policies had been in place for some time, but people were now using them to make complaints – and encouraging others to do so.
#Metoo Issues Continue for Law Firms
The #Metoo issue in the legal profession continues. A recent survey, the 2020 National Study by WLG and Dr. Arin Reeves of Nextions revealed “significant, current evidence of sexual misconduct and harassment” in the legal environment.
Sexual harassment tends to happen in the setting of uneven power dynamics and has been an issue throughout the profession in the US, UK and elsewhere. As the profession remains male-dominated, the position of more women in positions of power is only one part of the #Metoo solution and actually – according to the survey – requires more emphasis emphasis on changing and improving the overall workplace culture.
#Metoo issues have continued to plague the legal profession and it seems that despite the best intentions, some re-regulation, sanctions, client pressure and any number of other initiatives, the #Metoo problem remains.