Lawyers should be prohibited from engaging in sexual harassment in court, in the office or at their firms’ social gatherings, representatives of the nation’s largest legal organization decided Monday in an action that will affect disciplinary rules around the nation.
At the annual meeting of the American Bar Association, held this year in San Francisco, the House of Delegates revised the association’s Model Rules to classify sex discrimination or harassment as unprofessional conduct. The change was approved by voice vote, with only a few scattered opposition votes heard among the 589 delegates.
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New York attorney Wendi Lazar, a member of the bar association’s Commission on Women, said she had received complaints from female lawyers who were “asked to leave firms because they had complained about sexual harassment ... because they wouldn’t have sex with a senior partner of their firm.”
Despite increased diversity in the legal profession in recent years, women and minorities still make up a small percentage of revenue-sharing partners at law firms, and their numbers are limited by the hostile climate at some firms, Lazar said. “We are losing the war on retention,” she said.
The bar association has nearly 400,000 members, who join voluntarily. Its roles including advocating for the legal profession and reviewing and rating presidential nominations to the federal courts. By contrast, state bar associations like California’s require all lawyers to join and pay dues.
The new Model Rules subject lawyers to discipline for discrimination or harassment based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and various other categories including race and religion. They apply to all “conduct related to the practice of law,” including law firm operations and participation in bar associations and business or social activities, and cover interactions with clients, witnesses, co-workers, court personnel and other attorneys.