Sexual Harassment in the Legal Field

Sexual Harassment in the Legal Field

While those in the legal field should prove fully cognizant of possible repercussions due to sexual harassment claims, that doesn’t mean such behavior is less prevalent than in other industries. A recent survey of approximately 7,000 lawyers and those working in the legal field by the International Bar Association (“IBA”) found that 36.6 percent of women and 7.4 percent of men had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Much depended, however, on the type of employer, as sexual harassment rates changed dramatically between government and private employees.

Public Sector Legal Workers

Public sector legal field employees reported far higher rates of sexual harassment than those in the private sector. Government employees fared the worst, with an astonishing 52.5 percent of female employees experiencing sexual harassment and 18.2 percent of males. In the judiciary, no male employees reported sexual harassment, but 46.6 percent of female employees did.

Corporations and Organizations

Those working as in-house legal counsel for corporations or organizations also report a high level of sexual harassment. Forty-two percent of female in-house attorneys –not other women working in the department, but actual lawyers–say they have been sexually harassed, along with 9 percent of male in-house attorneys.  

Private Law Firms

Women working in private law firms reported the lowest levels of harassment in the field, but it still isn’t very low. Roughly one-third of women working in private law firms report having been sexually harassed, with about 7 percent of men reporting the same.

The size of a firm doesn’t seem to relate to sexual harassment levels. The percentage of employees reporting sexual harassment in law firms ranging from fewer than five partners to more than 100 partners were 21 percent and 19 percent, respectively. The lowest level, 17 percent, was at the five to 10 partner firm, while the highest level, 22 percent, was at the 51 to 100 partner firm.

Most Common Types of Sexual Harassment

Sexist comments came in as the most common type of sexual harassment, followed by sexually suggestive comments and feeling uncomfortable with the way someone inappropriately looked at them. Nearly half of the respondents, however, reported some form of unwanted physical content. This included pinching, patting or rubbing against the body. One-quarter say they’ve been sexually propositioned, while 22 percent report groping or kissing. Three percent of the respondents report becoming a rape or sexual assault victim.

Grossly Underreported

As in other occupations, sexual harassment is grossly underreported in the legal field. The IBA survey finds that 75 percent of sexual harassment incidents aren’t reported. The reasons for not reporting the harassment also sound familiar: the perpetrator’s status, concern for consequences of filing a report and knowledge that such behavior goes on all the time at the workplace and nothing is ever done about it.

One respondent in a government position says men at her workplace routinely take advantage of young female employees, and if the women report it, they are fired. Another female respondent says sexual harassment at her law firm has impacted her mental health. She says she can’t stop the behavior and is less likely to participate in professional and social events.

Do you think were harassed at work or by a co-worker? Visit our workplace harassment FAQ page for more information. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online or by phone at 888.249.6944. All inquiries are protected by the attorney-client privilege and kept CONFIDENTIAL. (There is never a fee for a consultation.)


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