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“The worst case of sexual harassment I suffered was physical contact – a hand up my skirt groping for my vulva and missing by inches.” Not a statement from one of the victims of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, but from a lawyer recalling an incident involving a client at a firm event.

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Georgina Stanley

Georgina Stanley is the editor of Legal Week. She joined the magazine in October 2005 and has since written news, analysis and commentary about a range of leading UK and international commercial law firms, as well as trends in the profession. Before joining Legal Week she worked at several business titles, starting her journalism career at Euromoney.

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<a href="http://www.almcms.com/contrib

    /uploads/sites/378/2017/10/Harvey-Weinstein-2-Article-201710092236.jpg"><img class="alignleft size-full wp-image-68086" src="http://www.almcms.com/contrib

      /uploads/sites/378/2017/10/Harvey-Weinstein-2-Article-201710092236.jpg" alt="" width="620" height="372" /></a> ���The worst case of sexual harassment I suffered was physical contact ��� a hand up my skirt groping for my vulva and missing by inches.��� Not a statement from one of the victims of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, but from a lawyer��recalling an incident involving a client at a firm event. The same lawyer is able to reel off examples of other incidents, both physical and verbal, throughout her career. And she is not alone ��� far from it. Last week, <em>Legal Week</em> conducted <a href="http://www.legalweek.com/sites/legalweek/2017/10/13/nearly-two-thirds-of-female-lawyers-have-experienced-sexual-harassment-at-work-research-finds/">a��survey on sexual harassment</a> within law firms, and in��less than 24 hours we received 200 responses,��almost half of which were from women, with many taking the opportunity to anonymously recount specific experiences. The results��of the survey were��damning. Sixty-four percent of female respondents had experienced some form of sexual harassment on at least one occasion while working in law firms. Many of these examples happened early on in their careers and, as was the case with Weinsteins victims, virtually all had chosen not to report them. Fortunately, unlike Hollywood, commercial law firms do not offer��one��sole individual the opportunity to exert so much power over so many for so long, but the survey results provide evidence ��� if it were needed ��� that this remains a real issue that firms need to get to grips with. I am not saying there is a far bigger problem within the legal profession than elsewhere. Ask any group of women, in any industry, if they have ever experienced harassment of some form, and I would be surprised if the majority did not put up their hand. But the traditional legacy of male domination within the legal sector, particularly at the top, means that such behaviour is still all too common, and too many are quick to turn a blind eye. You won���t have seen��them��written on <em>Legal Week</em>���s website but we���ve all heard the��stories; of male partners trying it on with��young female colleagues, and of social events that got out of hand, with women either��drunkenly groped or intimidated by offensive comments. In many of these instances, regardless of whether the incident is reported��(which, according to our survey, is uncommon),��it is the woman who ends up leaving the firm��rather than the man ��� who, more often than not, is more senior and therefore considered of more worth to the firm. All of this is real and still happening today, even though the situation is better now than it was in the past ��� as both male and female respondents to our survey acknowledge.��In years gone by, the��idea that��a serial ��� and known ��� predator within a law firm could be��left��to act with impunity over a long period of time was��much more likely to be possible, as highlighted by some of the anonymous comments from survey respondents. One significant finding from our research is the stark difference��in perception of the extent of the problem between men and women. The responses��show that men are more likely to be of the view that sexual harassment is a problem from the past that has basically been fixed. Women, on the other hand, believe it is still very much a problem of the present. Forty-two percent of��female respondents��believe it remains either a problem, or a major problem, at law firms today, compared with just 25% of men. Meanwhile, a higher proportion of female respondents said they had witnessed��others being subjected to harassment than male, suggesting that the concept of what constitutes harassment differs between genders, with men perhaps not recognising the scale of the issue. A full��25% of women do��not think their own firms are taking sexual harassment seriously enough. The silence from some of the firms contacted for comment on the subject suggests they��could be right. So, let���s try to change that.��Redressing��the lack of female leadership within law firms will take a long time, as will correcting the gender imbalance within partnerships. But that doesn���t mean things can���t be done now. According to Law Society data, there were 44,000 women working in private practice in the UK in 2015. If our research findings are extrapolated across this pool, you���re talking about almost 30,000 women who, at some point in their career, have��been sexually harassed within what should unquestionably be a safe place to work. That���s a number that���s too high to ignore. While there will always be an increased risk of sexual harassment as long as the��gender��disparity at the top of the profession persists, there are things firms can do to improve the situation now. For starters, talk about it. Openly. What constitutes harassment? Do male and female staff have the same understanding? Make it clear that people can report problems with their superiors without fear of hurting their career, and that there will be consequences for the perpetrator. If��we don���t talk about it ��� publicly and within law firms - how will women or other victims truly believe that they can genuinely come forward without recrimination? <ul> <li><strong>If you have a story you are willing to share (in confidence) please get in touch��by emailing Georgina Stanley at gstanley@alm.com.</strong></li> </ul> <


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