Susan Smith Blakely

Women Lawyers Must Be on the Lookout for Sexual Harassment

You all need to be aware of possible sexual harassment in your offices.  These allegations are surfacing across all industries today, and none of us can act like it is not a problem in our profession and in our offices.  We all know that it is.  It was a problem when I first started practicing law in 1979, and it is still a problem today.

If you see something, say something.  Sexual harassment can be blatant or it can be subtle --- like when a woman refuses advances from a supervising male colleague and ends up losing support for her work, receiving negative reviews, and eventually being forced out of the firm.  The power differential in law firms is significant, and power gone wrong corrupts.

It is the responsibility of all of us to expose problematic workplace behaviors and cultures.  We need informal complaint processes, qualitative surveys, focus groups and educational programs to raise awareness of the problems.  Effective leadership in law firms includes addressing these issues sooner rather than later.  Male lawyers have to be made aware of the seriousness of the problem of sexual harassment so that they stop being enablers.

These issues were addressed recently by Gretchen Carlson in a talk at  TEDWomen 2017.  Ms. Carlson, the former Miss America and news anchor, who, in 2016, bravely revealed her experiences with sexual harassment while she was employed at Fox News, correctly stated in her talk that the law profession is not immune from this same reprehensible behavior.  "It's from waitresses to Wall Street bankers to lawyers [and more]."

Here are some highlights from an article reporting an interview with Ms. Carlson where she further elaborated on her experiences and gave advice to victims of sexual harassment:

It's not fun to come forward if you have been the victim of sexual harassment.  You don't do it for fun or fame or money;
Talk to a lawyer before you do anything else.  Your HR department is not always the best place to report harassment because those employees' jobs may end up being in jeopardy if they give value to what you report;
Document everything that is happening to you.  Keep a journal and take it home with you every night.  Send copies of offensive e-mails to your outside e-mail.  If you are escorted from the building because of your accusations and without an opportunity to return to your office, you will have preserved the evidence; and
Tell someone, preferably two trusted colleagues, to have corroborating evidence and avoid the "he said, she said."

Remember this advice from Gretchen Carlson, and also remember:  If you see something say something.

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, will focus on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and will be released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

 Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Lawyerist. Com, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law, and she is the recipient of a Lawyer Monthly Women in Law Award 2016.

 Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit 

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