Since the #MeToo movement brought the issue of workplace sexual harassment to the forefront of public consciousness last year, many employers in the US and around the world have been reconsidering some of their policies and practices to reduce the likelihood of misconduct occurring or being tolerated within their organization. During last winter’s holiday season, more employers decided against serving alcohol at their office holiday parties, mindful of the risk that a drunk employee could engage in sexual harassment or other behavior that would incur liability for the organization. Others eschewed open bars in favor of drink ticket systems that limited employees to just two or three drinks, or other methods for discouraging overconsumption.
Now that summer is here, US employers are looking at another season of office parties, outings, and happy hours where these risks must be considered yet again. At The American Lawyer, reporter Meghan Tribe looks into how Big Law firms are rethinking their perks for summer associates, high-achieving law students exploring careers at the firm, who have traditionally enjoyed boozy dinners and other events over the course of their summer associate program jobs. Patrick Krill, a behavioral health consultant for the legal sector, explained to Tribe that, “In light of #MeToo movement, an open bar at a summer associate event is potentially a tinderbox of liability,” particularly since so many workplace sexual harassment claims in the industry are linked back to events with alcohol.
As an alternative, Tribe reports, some firms are redesigning their summer associate programs around events that don’t involve drinking. The itinerary for Goodwin Procter summer associates this year, for example, includes spin classes, cooking classes, and trips to the theater. The firm has also mandated anti-harassment training for all its employees (including summer associates), and will limit the availability of alcohol at work functions. Aside from the liability concerns, Goodwin Procter views its revamped summer associate program as an opportunity to communicate its culture and values, as well as demonstrate that it has gotten the message of #MeToo.
Organizations or teams planning summer events can take a few lessons from what these law firms and other companies are doing.
The explosion of public awareness and discussion of sexual harassment in recent months has motivated many organizations to take a good, hard look at their HR policies and make sure they are really protecting potential victims in their workplace, either out of moral obligation or mere recognition that sexual harassment allegations are becoming more common and carry greater reputational risks than ever before. Professional associations have a role to play in spearheading this reckoning: Last month, SHRM’s CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. put out a call to HR leaders and professionals to address the shortcomings in HR policy and organizational culture that enable harassment.
The American Bar Association is now pressing for greater accountability for sexual harassment in the field of law, adopting a formal resolution urging employers in the legal sector and beyond “to adopt and enforce policies and procedures that prohibit, prevent, and promptly redress harassment and retaliation based on sex.” Workforce columnist Jon Hyman highlights some of the resolution’s key provisions:
- Inclusion of “gender,” “gender identity,” and “sexual orientation” in the definition of “sex.”
- Encouragement all employers to disseminate a clear statement that all harassment, including harassment based on sex, will not be tolerated.
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The social media giant is now requiring that women and/or ethnic minorities comprise at least one-third of the members of any legal team hired from an outside law firm to advise the company or represent it in court, Ellen Rosen writes at the New York Times’ DealBook blog:
Numbers alone, however, are not enough, under a policy that went in effect on Saturday. Law firms must also show that they “actively identify and create clear and measurable leadership opportunities for women and minorities” when they represent the company in litigation and other legal matters.
Those opportunities “include serving as relationship managers and representing Facebook in the courtroom,” Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, said in an interview. The legal department, he said, has for the last few years been working on increasing diversity at all levels.
While most of the public discourse about automation focuses on robots displacing manufacturing employees, other emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning also stand to automate the work that many knowledge workers do as well—in fact, they already are. One area where AI is poised to have a big impact is the legal sector, where it might significantly disrupt the nature and cost of lawyers’ work. In the Atlantic’s April issue, Jason Koebler takes a closer look at the emergence of robo-lawyers, focusing on several ways AI is already being applied to the practice of law in new and potentially unsettling ways, such as using statistical data to predict the likely outcomes of court cases:
Beyond helping prepare cases, AI could also predict how they’ll hold up in court. Lex Machina, a company owned by LexisNexis, offers what it calls “moneyball lawyering.” It applies natural-language processing to millions of court decisions to find trends that can be used to a law firm’s advantage. For instance, the software can determine which judges tend to favor plaintiffs, summarize the legal strategies of opposing lawyers based on their case histories, and determine the arguments most likely to convince specific judges. A Miami-based company called Premonition goes one step further and promises to predict the winner of a case before it even goes to court, based on statistical analyses of verdicts in similar cases. “Which attorneys win before which judges? Premonition knows,” the company says.
The most diversity-conscious leaders not only strive to build a more diverse and inclusive workforce within their own organization, but also pay attention to the diversity of the suppliers and partners with which they do business as an enterprise. Earlier this year, we spotted a trend in which large companies were starting to demand greater diversity at the agencies that produce their advertising.
Another area where client organizations are pushing for more diversity is in the legal sector; recently, LegalWeek reported that PayPal was reviewing the diversity credentials of the external law firms with which it does business, and warning these firms that they might lose business if they don’t make meaningful progress on this front.
In the US, particularly, the legal sector is one place where diversity and inclusion initiatives are badly needed. Although more than one third of the US population are racial or ethnic minorities, these individuals make up only 12 percent of all legal professionals and only 2 percent of partners at law firms. While women represent about half of the US population, they make up only 36 percent of lawyers and only 18 percent of partners.
Whether your organization has an internal legal department or relies on outside counsel (or both), there are opportunities to drive diversity in this area. The legal department can also be a valuable partner in advancing D&I throughout the organization. CEB Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council members can read our new research on how to foster D&I in legal and strengthen this partnership.
The New York Times’ Elizabeth Olson takes a look at a new survey exploring the substantial gender pay gap among partners at major US law firms, where “there is a 44 percent difference in pay between female partners and their male colleagues, largely because men bring in more big-ticket legal cases, or are better at getting credit for doing so”:
Female partners earned an average of $659,000 annually compared with an average of $949,000 for male partners, according to the latest survey of big-firm partners released on Wednesday by the legal search firm Major, Lindsey & Africa.
The survey, which queried 2,100 partners at law firms nationwide, found that average compensation for partners over all was $877,000, which was 22 percent higher than two years ago. Although billing rates are up across the legal industry, female partners still take home thinner paychecks because, it appears, men are better at receiving credit for landing big cases, according the survey, the fourth in six years. …
Women partners, the report found, brought in an average of $1.7 million worth of business compared with the $2.6 million average of their male counterparts. Because there are more male partners, the average skews higher than if there were equal gender representation. Two years ago, women brought in $1.2 million worth of business, and male counterparts chalked up $2.2 million.
But rainmaking is not the only source of the legal sector’s gender gap. Last month, Olson highlighted the disparity between men and women in the legal sector in a story about a gender discrimination lawsuit at a major global firm:
Mark Cohen looks to the future at Forbes, noting how automated processes are already making inroads into the traditionally innovation-averse legal sector:
It’s no surprise that AI is rapidly becoming a staple in the delivery of legal services. The disaggregation of legal tasks fueled by globalization, technological advances, and the financial crisis propelled legal process outsourcing companies (LPO’s). The LPO model relies on labor arbitrage and technology to dramatically reduce the cost of high-volume/low-value “legal” functions like document review. This has enabled LPO’s to pry certain types of repetitive work from high-priced law firms. LPO’s demonstrated that law firms are not the sole—or most efficient and cost-effective—providers of all legal services. They also confirmed that technology and process management—together with legal expertise—are all essential legal delivery components.
AI is ushering in the second phase of legal delivery disaggregation. …