ABA Speaks Forcefully on Harassment of Women Attorneys

At a time when American political discourse seems uglier than ever, it was nice to see what transpired at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association in late August. 

Before the House of Delegates was Resolution 109, a proposal to add sexual, racial and other forms of discrimination and harassment to the list of ethics violations under the Bar’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The measure won approval easily on a voice vote, setting a national standard among lawyers for the first time on this issue.

There were so many lawyers wishing to speak in favor of it – 69 altogether – that House of Delegates Chair Patricia Lee Renfro reportedly said she struggled to find a new description for the volume of support.

The proposal had attracted attention from The New York Times, which quoted women lawyers recounting their firsthand experiences with disrespect and humiliation based on their gender. Examples ranged from being called “honey” and “darling” to courtroom admonishments from male lawyers not to speak so loudly because “it’s not becoming of a woman.”

That’s not to say there was no opposition to the resolution. There were concerns about penalties for an attorney vigorously representing a client, and initial complaints argued that the proposal grew out of political correctness rather than real necessity. However, the resolution was amended to say that to be in violation, a lawyer must know or reasonably should know that conduct is harassment or discrimination and that the rule does not preclude legitimate client advice or advocacy. The changes led to even wider support and easy passage of the proposal.

The ABA Journal provides a full account of the matter from the House of Delegates session.

Efforts like these demonstrate that the lawyers really do spend time and energy trying to improve the profession and not just chasing business.  While arguably long overdue, the resolution recognizes, at the highest levels, that women attorneys have been treated poorly by some of their colleagues and that such behavior will not be tolerated.  

Posted: 8/24/2016 3:24:36 PM by Global Administrator | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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