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The $7.2 million sexual harassment verdict against Baker & McKenzie in 1994 was a wake-up call for law firms. They’ve been hurriedly adopting policies ever since. But what should those policies say? Perception is as important as a policy’s particulars, say experts in the field. If the people covered by a policy see it as legitimate, says Michael Delikat, the New York-based chair of the employment group at San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, they’ll feel free to report problems and be more likely to accept the outcome. As for specific provisions, an effective policy should list people designated to receive complaints, including someone besides an employee’s supervisor; it should specify the steps that will be taken when a complaint is made, including investigation and report; it should lay out the penalties that may be imposed; and it should make clear that there will be no retaliation. The advantage? If an employer has a good policy and record of enforcing it, it reduces the likelihood that it will be held liable for sexual harassment, and mitigates the damages if it is. A couples policy is harder, given the feelings of the people involved and privacy considerations. Few believe that relationships can be banned entirely, but certain situations require extra attention. “If one of the people is in a managerial position, you have to be careful because there’s an appearance of favoritism. If one person is directly reporting to the other, there needs to be an absolute ban,” says Delikat. When asked for the names of firms with state-of-the-art policies, we were directed to Morrison & Foerster and McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, both of which are based — coincidentally? — in San Francisco. (McCutchen Doyle’s merger with Boston-based Bingham Dana is now complete, and it has become Bingham McCutchen; the McCutchen policy will reportedly govern the new firm.) MoFo’s policy certainly qualifies on the specificity front, which firm chairman Keith Wetmore finds useful. “Dealing with powerful people can be difficult,” he says. “This way, rather than explaining every single step to them, we just say, “We’re following policy.’” MoFo also has an anti-nepotism policy, which applies to relatives, spouses, and relationships “tantamount to marriage.” Wetmore stresses the delicate nature of the issue, and says that splitting up a couple isn’t always best “either for the firm or for the individuals.” But when the members of a couple are in superior/subordinate positions, or when the couple is working in a small office, “it’s the worst possible scenario,” he says. Wetmore prefers to restructure the working relationship, rather than asking one person to leave, but cautions that it can take a lot of work to manage the situation. According to the experts, policies are important but education and training are necessary companions. Most people aren’t malevolent, labor lawyers say, they’re just insensitive, and the idea is to make them aware of how their behavior can affect co-workers. “The basic message is just to have respect,” says Delikat. While managers need more training, he says, it’s important to train everybody. He also recommends sending out periodic reminders about the policy. At McCutchen Doyle, the responsibility for education fell to Debra Fisher, head of the labor and employment group (a position she shares at the new firm). She personally conducted training sessions for every partner, associate, and staffer in every one of McCutchen Doyle’s offices. “It’s important to keep it centralized,” she says. “It lets us make sure that our message is consistent and that it’s reaching everybody.” Both MoFo and McCutchen Doyle have one strict policy that some firms, including Jackson Lewis, have not adopted: If a lawyer is found liable for sexual harassment, the firm will not indemnify him or her. MoFo may provide a defense, but “if somebody gets sued, he’s on his own,” says Wetmore.

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