On September 2nd, 1994 the Chicago Tribune ran a story about a $7.1m award against the World’s largest law firm then (Baker & McKenzie). The story is here but you can’t read it from Europe because, I guess, the paper can’t cope GDPR. It related to, “one of its top former partners who allegedly sexually harassed at least eight women while the firm failed to intervene.” This, again it is alleged, because, “he was such a money-maker.” It transpires also, they say, that, “Greenstein was forced out of the firm in October 1993 for an unrelated charge of “serious professional misconduct” that had to do with alleged backdating of legal documents. He now has his own practice in San Jose.”
I mention this because the same firm* is in the news again (see pic and story here) for accusations of a sexual assault in 2012 and an investigation that has revealed, as yet unspecified, ‘shortcomings’ in the way this case was dealt with. It’s a salutary reminder that this is a problem that is neither new, nor newly exposed, that firms really may not have learnt from their mistakes, and that concerted action and eternal vigilance remains necessary. In the mean time the Law Society has promised action. If you read that LegalFutures story, note the way in which the Law Society President says about the employers at the end. Whether this is a sensible recognition that employers need to take these issues seriously (and lawyers can lead on this) or that the Law Society will push responsibility away from the lawyer and back on the client remains to be seen. A lot will hang on the promised guidance to law firms. Let’s hope they do a better job of this than they did on business and human rights. There they watered down the IBA’s guidance, itself a set of compromises with powerful interests. It will be interesting too to see how their guidance fits with the SRA’s warning notice in the area and anything further they do. That they promise to deal with clients not understanding NDAs through producing a leaflet suggests to me that this is more of a rearguard than it should be. It smacks of a tactic right out of the something (ineffective) must be done school of thought.
*Anyone wanting to make arguments about franchises and Swiss Vereins here? Be my guest