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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]