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The Judge Rules: Offering a glass of wine doesn’t amount to harassment

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Women law students and young female lawyers doubtless have to battle leery male counterparts — but there are gradations of perviness

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Sex and sexism are always good value talking points — as Legal Cheek’s report earlier this week on the alleged experiences of a couple of female Cambridge University law undergraduates demonstrated.

At last count, there were 70 comments — some of them approaching essay-length — regarding the article on this site. The story focused on the potential perils faced by female students at law school networking events with solicitors’ firms and barristers’ chambers.

It was based on an article in Cambridge’s Varsity newspaper, which recounted tales from two women law students. They told of sleazy older male lawyers — those toddling along on Zimmer frames in their thirties — who appeared to fancy them. In one case, a 30-something barrister suggested to a law student that they share a post-networking event drink.

The two women law students cited in the Varsity article were adamant: the legal profession is rife with predatory male lawyers whose sole purpose when attending networking events is to chance their arms with what they viewed as a bazar of law school totty.

It’s all about the power game — the employment market is competitive and tight, and these unscrupulous stripy-suited beasts are prepared to exploit the desire of students to get an edge as means of getting their own legs over.

Is that true? Are male lawyers on the student milk round barely a notch above Max Clifford in their approach to vulnerable women students? Possibly — but these were woefully poor examples if that’s the case.

Or at the very least, they were poorly related. The law student invited for the post-networking event drink may well have felt intimidated, uncomfortable and threatened. But on the face of it, the offer of a quick snifter is not harassment. Oddly enough, heterosexual male lawyers with no interest whatsoever in getting each other into the sack often go out for drinks together.

But even if male lawyers that are a decade or so senior to undergraduate law students do try it on subtly — what should be done? People try it on with people — and often they succeed. That’s why the planet’s population has more than doubled in the last 50 years.

Of course, using a position of power and the carrot of career advancement to boost one’s chances of a shag is unpleasant and degrading for the other party.

Perhaps law firms and chambers should send more 30-something women to networking events. But is it beyond the realm of possibility that a successful 35-year-old female City associate — or high-flying commercial law senior-junior — might flirt with a second-year male law student?

The 1994 film Disclosure may have been every middle-aged executive’s fantasy — or at least Michael Douglas’s fantasy — but it is not unheard of for women in positions of power to be sexually predatory. Or for that matter, just interested in sex.

Human relations in the workplace — or in a professional environment — are not easy. Issues can be further complicated when the setting has a more social atmosphere. Let’s face it — booze has a lot to answer for in this discussion.

But adults just have to get on with dealing with the pitfalls of being human as best they can. Gratuitous Max Clifford-style harassment should be reported; but the offer of an unwanted post-networking drink should just be politely declined.

It is interesting to note that the original article on the Varsity newspaper website received precisely no comments. Perhaps Cambridge law students aren’t as exercised about the bumbling advances of the odd male lawyer as Legal Cheek readers might imagine.

Previously:

Cambridge law students claim they’re being hit on by ‘predatory’ solicitors and barristers [Legal Cheek]

25 Comments

Anonymous

“Women” Law students!? how about “female”. Would you call males “Men” law students?

(7)(25)

#firstworldproblems

The terms ‘woman’ and ‘man’ refer to the sex (the physical form) of a person, while the terms ‘female’ and ‘male’ refer to the gender (the sexual identity) of a person.

“Women law students and young female lawyers” are two different categories, even if the majority of their members may in fact be in both.

(17)(8)

kris

Context is everything.

Think about it.

(9)(3)

Quo Vadis

Regardless of whether the behaivour is morally wrong, it is highly unprofessional. The lawyers are not there to get a leg over, but to represent their firm or their chambers. Just think about the potential consequences if one of these nubile law students were to accept the drink, invite the lawyer back to hers, she feels differently in the morning and makes a public accusation of rape. The firm or chambers would never hear the end of it.

(9)(17)

Not Amused

Entirely agree. Moreover there is a tendency in the current younger generation to sensationalise every experience. There is a general perception that young people are too precious – that they are not fit for the rough and tumble of the real world. There is a belief, right or wrong, that this generation as children never played outside, had every toy and experience they wanted and are generally spoilt.

The rights or wrongs of these beliefs are irrelevant. What they represent is a challenge to that generation. A challenge to “man up”. Now I know this generation. I know you can step up to the plate. But getting hysterical about someone offering you a drink or even daring to flirt with you is precisely the wrong reaction.

(36)(20)

Tezza

‘m not sure I’d want to get rough and tumbly with you. You’d start banging on about the BSB

(11)(1)

LJ Crookshanks

Oh please.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

I think whacking someone over the head with a champagne bottle is a bit over the top too… Just say no.

And if you don’t like the builders wolf whistling at you don’t walk past the site!

(1)(6)

Lawst Cause

This article rather missed the point of the bulk of the comments.

The issue is not with the gender of the people concerned but with the power imbalance. Regardless of your gender, if someone in a position of power puts you in a position where you would find it almost impossible to say no to their sexual advances due to the (usually unstated) but implied risk to your career, that cannot be right.

I don’t think anyone is saying that no-one should be allowed to make advances on other people, obviously that would be ridiculous. However, it doesn’t seem that draconian a measure to say that if you’re a lawyer at a careers recruitment event for young students, you shouldn’t try to have sex with the students there. Context is key.

(29)(4)

Jeff

Most people would feel uncomfortable around employers or potential future employers trying to get into their pants. It is predatory behaviour for middle aged people to use these career networking events to try to persuade teenagers to have sex with them. That’s what the Cambridge article was getting at.

This Legal Cheek article was just bait

(1)(0)

Inside Alex's Head

“Hmm, what got the most comments this week? Can I squueze any more out of the same topic? I THINK SO!”

(17)(2)

LJ Crookshanks

AH so because this random bloke decrees it’s not creepy or harassment for women, then it’s fine.

Clearly you’ve not been in a position where you’re constantly harassed by men on the basis of being female. Because you’re a man. Therefore shut up.

(15)(6)

Blonde@thebar

Iv been out for many drinks, many times, with barristers on networking events, chambers Christmas doo’s, after a particularly stressful case. I am both a student and a paralegal at the moment and also South of 25. I have never felt sexually harassed, even with the really flirty ones. It’s a case of just being strong minded, ignoring the come on’s and choosing wisely. Have I got into some positions I should not have been in? Oh yes, have I learnt from them? Certainly !

(7)(8)

Jeff

You say you have never felt sexually harassed but then mention “really flirty” and “come on’s” – if this was not welcome by the recipient then it is sexual harassment. You might not have minded but you seem to acknowledge the predator behaviour of sleazy old men at these events.

(3)(6)

Tyrion

I’ve already acknowledged that the behaviour of these lawyers is unprofessional and wrong in a previous comment. However I feel compelled to question the use of the word predator. Do you actually know what that really means?

(2)(1)

irritated

and you are qualified to comment on this… how?

I doubt you have ever experienced sexual harrassment. And I know for certain that you’re nothing more than a third rate hack, writing for a crappy, irrelevant website.

“I suppose in this society being male and an asshole makes you worthy of our time”.

(6)(7)

Anonymous

Men trying to shag younger women happens in EVERY industry. “The Law” is not alone in this regard.

Law is difficult to get into, but I do not believe from attending numerous events over the last decade that it is as bad as people are making out. There is nowhere near as much sexual harassment as people are claiming. You don’t need to get shagged into this profession. If so, you would be fucking your way in, just to get shafter even harder once on the career ladder (albeit the money can be decent).

If you are put off by law based on these types of articles them fuck off to HR or Recruitment like all the other failed lawyers.

(9)(8)

Zyzz

You can criticise all you want, but in the end, it’s just all about acquiring some tasty butt. Lads young and old all want the same. Haters gon’ hate.

Banter.

(7)(5)

Edelweiss

I guess the key factor is the social context, as alluded to above. If I’m in a pub with mates and a lawyer who might give me a job chats me up, well, fair enough, it’s a public place, they have a right to try it on, I have a right to say bugger off.
OK, now a different scenario. I am in an interview. An interview so important it could change the course of my life, i.e. whether or not I get a position at an important firm/chambers. The interviewer appears to find me sexually attractive – OK, fair enough, not my fault, not their fault. Everything then hinges on what happens next.
Does the interviewer realise how their personal desire may conflict with the job of interviewer? Do they perceive the power imbalance and how that might be perceived by the interviewee?
In short, when one has power over another person do you acknowledge it and become careful and self-aware, or do you try and abuse that advantage (with all the fall out that is likely to happen as a result?).

(7)(7)

Not Amused

No one mentioned an interview situation except you. We are not talking about someone hitting on a grad during an interview. The fact that you’ve postulated this absurd scenario is *precisely* why all of the people trying to make a fuss about this look like delusional weirdos – because you all are delusional weirdos. Jumping at pretend ghosts, creating illusionary victims and trying to pretend that your fellow humans are inherently evil.

(5)(10)

Anonymous

Pipe down love. Make a point, rather than raise several questions you leave unanswered.

(4)(5)

irritated

i don’t see you making a point, love. and if you’re anything like 90% of the other people on here, you’re a failed wannabe corporate lawyer skulking at the bottom of the paralegal ladder in some crappy high street firm, living in your parents’ basement and feeling bitter about the women who have made it further than you because they are smarter and more talented. sit this one out and let the grown ups talk.

(1)(6)

Anonymous

Are you on the blob? Sounds like you need a right good shagging to sort out your ishoooos, love.

(3)(4)

Edelweiss

Is it just me or had this debate become a little bit aggressive? Just shows that when you raise the issue of men abusing women, rather than reasoned argument you actually get more aggression. I guess that’s the thing with those who bully, if you point it out they only get more determined to crush your evidence.

(8)(5)

Podrick's Secret

Interesting to see how much vitriol this story has stirred up. We’re still a long way off a calm debate, that’s for sure.
There also seems to be a line of argument (and perhaps it’s all from the same person) that unconsciously connects sexual rejection with failure in the law, e.g. angry responses to a woman followed by references to ‘failing’ as a lawyer. Hmm, methinks there are some very insecure young men on here. Struggling with girls, struggling with career, conflating the two, getting angry and bitter….? Hmm, could be.

(4)(1)

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