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The Harvey Weinsteins of law: A solicitor shares her story

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As Hollywood reels over allegations one of its stars sexually assaulted multiple women, lawyer Caroline Newman says it’s time to speak up about harassment in the profession

When I was a desperate law student looking for a training contract in the late 1990s, I was propositioned by a senior partner. In fact he was the founding partner and essentially the owner of the firm. He was very well known in the legal world.

He made it very clear to me that he would take me on as a paralegal. Then he stroked my arm and said that if I worked hard and did well that he may offer me a training contract. He stared into my eyes and made it absolutely clear that “doing well” included having sex with him. I looked away embarrassed. I felt violated and dirty.

Of course, I did not take him up on his “offer”. I never saw him again until last month when I attended an event at King’s College. I saw him and it brought about that same feeling of disgust as when I met him in the 1990s. I remembered like it was yesterday what he said to me. No doubt he didn’t remember me as I probably was “one of many” he propositioned.

In 2001, the Trainee Solicitors Group did a survey of their members and I recall that sexual harassment was a constant theme among female law students seeking training contracts and trainees wanting to be “kept on” at the end of their training contracts.

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Then later on when I was a trainee solicitor I was propositioned many times and sexually harassed on an almost daily basis by two senior lawyers in the firm.

They continuously asked me to go out with them. They asked me to come and work with them. They promised me that I would be alright. They would “take care of me”. They would make sure that I got kept on in the department. They competed for my attention. At first I was confused, but flattered and thought it was humorous so I played along. I had no intention of having sex with either of them.

Two women solicitors in the firm told me they were sleazy and warned me to stay away from them if I valued my reputation in the firm. The secretaries at the firm would gossip about who had slept with these guys. I soon realised what was going on and I heeded the advice of the women solicitors and stayed away from these men. The effect of this is that I did not do a “seat” in a department that I wanted to work in.

As I note the hypocrisy around Harvey Weinstein, at first I was disgusted at him for the way he behaved towards vulnerable women. Then I began to feel irritated at the Hollywood “stars” who are now falling over themselves to condemn him and disassociate themselves from him.

It seems that “everyone” in Hollywood knew about this. If not everyone then it was an open secret in Hollywood. Women warned each other quietly. Women refused to work with him. Some women no doubt missed opportunities because they would not submit to his sexual requests.

Has the environment really changed in Hollywood? Women are saying that ten, 20, 30 years ago when this happened they could not have told anyone or complained. They were at the start of their careers and were probably scared that “they would never work in this town again”. Are we in the legal profession going to remain silent and protect the “guilty” so they can continue to harass others? Or are we going to name and shame them.

Caroline Newman is a solicitor and a consultant.

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68 Comments

Anonymous

Caroline, please put your money where your mouth is and name these people.

Unless of course it is just all hot air.

Anonymous

People who say this shit really annoy me.

You know full well the risk of being sued for libel. Her stories in the article show that it often took the form of innuendo and suggestion as opposed to outright propositioning. Good luck convincing the court what you’ve said is true when your allegations consist of an interpretation of decades old innuendo and conversations other parties can no longer remember.

Anonymous

It’s called defamation.

Anonymous

Defamation encapsulates two torts, libel and slander. Don’t correct people when you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Anonymous

It’s libel when it’s in print, which this article appears to be.

Anonymous

I see no ink.

Someone else

The distinction is not whether it is physically printed. The distinction is whether the defamatory material is in a permanent or transitory form. Material on the internet is considered permanent and is therefore libel (Godfrey v Demon Internet).

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Anonymous

Sorry you don’t seem to be aware of it, but in the UK there is this thing called the Police and CPS. At a mere £23 Billion of tax payers money a year, this organisation exists to prosecute cases. They believe everyone. Don’t worry, if your complaint proves to be false there is no risk to you, they’ll pick up the bill for you and charge it to the tax payer. You can wander down to your local police station and make any complaint you like and the tax payer will pick up the bill for you for prosecuting your complaint and no libailty in costs for you if you lose. Simples.

Anonymous

Its career suicide to do that – even if you’re in the right.

Anonymous

Agree. Name and shame otherwise we have to treat you article as holding limited weight.

Anonymous

Says you anonymous

Anonymous

They’re not the one choosing to publish an article claiming to speak out so they can remain anonymous.

Anonymous

Well done for bravely speaking out

Trumpenkrieg

What is brave about it? Sharing a sexual assault story is a rite of passage of “empowered womynz” these days.

TFG

Oh dear, that ‘being a total knob’ tic has kicked off again. Time for your lithium carbonate sonny boy.

Nurse !!

Anonymous

Poor little Harvey, man just wanted to get his baps buttered.

Anonymous

From what has been reported, he was equally happy buttering his own bap…just wanted someone to see him do it

Anonymous

This is truly a pathetic article.

Unless she names her harassers the woman has got zilch credibility left – at least the actresses had the excuse of Weinstein being all-powerful during their entire careers.

These blokes cannot now do anything to harm Caroline Newman – unless of course it’s all a load of old nonsense…

Anonymous

Oh do fuck off. Seriously now…

Yes they can you naive fool. They can do plenty, I’m absolutely sure about that.

Anonymous

How are people supposed to name and shame when indeed it’s a very dangerous thing to do, legally? Truly curious about how this would work!

Anonymous

Thanks for sharing Caroline

Grammar Fascist

A perfect example of a missed comma changing the meaning of the sentence.

Anonymous

I too have been subjected to inappropriate sexual behaviour in the legal workplace.
The supervising partner at my training firm regularly used to send disgusting emails to staff, from his proxy email account with filthy ‘jokes’ usually when he was holed up with his wife at their holiday villa in Spain.
He used to openly refer to other female solicitors and barristers, in derogatory sexual terms, in our offices, particularly when they were winning in litigation.
He was and is a sexual predator/bully. I put up with him like everyone else did…to get my training contract signed. Then got the hell out of there. Did I tell him how he was out of order? Yes. Did it stop the behaviour? No. Was I on my own in suffering? No. I’m not naming and shaming either, he’s an arsehole who would litigate and litigate and litigate and enjoy it. This is real life, it ain’t easy or pretty. But I will say this, if he had touched me or performed as HW is alleged to have done, things would have been different.

Anonymous

So noble of you to get the tc signed first….

Anonymous

100% lawyer. After paying out over £45k to get there? Being noble doesn’t pay the bills.

Anonymous

What plaintiff “enjoys” spending money on litigation?!

Anonymous

What person uses the word “plaintiff” in 2017?

Mike

Why do people keep asking potential victims of unwanted sexual advances questions such as, “Why were you in that place at that time?” and “Why did you go to that associate’s room?” Such questions shift the blame to the victim rather than the perpetrator. The burden of proof should be on the perpetrator, not the victim.

Just Anonymous

Because our criminal law operates on an assumption of innocence: specifically, you are innocent until proven guilty.

This applies to every single criminal offence without exception.

As far wiser minds than mine have said, it is better for a hundred guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be locked away.

In a free, democratic society, I suggest that this principle is non-negotiable. The contrary leads to lynch mobs, witch hunts and kangaroo courts.

Anonymous

I completely agree with this and, despite the apparent evidence against him, I am sad to see the trial by media Mr Weinstein is going through. People seem to be happy to gloss over the fact that he denies the allegations, forego the trial, and start dishing out punishments (e.g. being expelled from the Oscars board).

In that case, like the story above, we presently have nothing more than allegations. Yes they should be investigated but forgive me if I don’t share in the common outrage based on half a story, limited evidence, and no opportunity for a defence.

Anonymous

*alleged victim.

I see your point, but in the interests of “innocent until proven guilty,” you need to establish what happened before you can assign guilt/blame.

Sexual abuse/harassment allegations can destroy a career and reputation, and rightly so – but only if they are merited.

Anonymous

Oh Jesus… not a half baked law lecture… Please. We all know this stuff goes on, it affects both sexes and when it’s so difficult to get and keep a job in the law, it’s no wonder people aren’t inclined to name and shame, for fear of reprisals. This is why it continues and it always will continue. The lack of female leaders in the law, women who are able to and are bold enough to redress the balance is key. My law firm is predominantly staffed by women fee earners yet they represent just 17% of the partnership – so go figure.

Anonymous

Holy crap, a sensible comment…

Anonymous

One of our clients complained about well founded harassment suffered at the hands of their well known and established former Chambers. We received a letter from the Chambers not denying the specific allegations but instead trying to trash our clients reputation and credibility. It was clear that this Chambers would do its best to sabotage their former members’ career if the complaint was taken further.

Anonymous

Name and shame

Anonymous

Even as a vac schemer at a top global firm, I have been subject to inappropriate comments by on of the partners in the department I was placed. I guess I did not get the TC it the end because I rejected his dinner invitation straight away and did not give him my number and never replied to his “drinks/date invites” throughout the week. What a desperate and disgusting lad…But he has not clever enough and chased me with his stupid dinner/coffee and whatever invites after the vac scheme ended, even though he knew I had a long-term boyfriend and never replied to a single message he sent!

Anonymous

Maybe you didn’t get the TC because you weren’t what they were looking for? There’s more than just you applying for a TC and they can’t accept everyone – are you suggesting the others who got the TC slept with a partner?

Anonymous

Bollocks to everything you just said. You probably aren’t even a girl

Not the Droid You're looking For

“Are we in the legal profession going to remain silent and protect the “guilty” so they can continue to harass others? Or are we going to name and shame them.”

I think you answered your own question, didn’t you?

Jojo

The real issue at hand is WHY Caroline and like so many others did not escalate this harassment at the time. That is because the victim shaming is like secondary abuse. Lewd, sexist and sexual comments are unfortunately commonplace in the work environment and when victims (generally the majority are women) voice their discomfort/annoyance to the comments are told to ‘lighten up’ or ‘lean to take a joke’; when they say ‘no’ they are called a ‘tease’ and ‘you know you want it’. Like WTF?

I had a friend who whilst at a compulsory- placement during our undergraduate degree was propositioned by her training supervisor, and manager. at the time. She was told she ‘was beautiful’ and would ‘go far if she learned how to use her best assets’. Comments followed by ‘accidental’ brushes and touches and inappropriate looks; though I and other friends encouraged her to speak up and leave, she felt stuck and ‘just wanted to complete her placement and get the hell out of there’. Luckily she was forced to come clean about his disgusting behaviour when perve failed her and 3 other placements after turning sour when she rejected his advances in front of other interns. In order not to be booted off the course did she then did she come clean to her university supervisor. Thankfully her supervisor did not victim blame and shame and escalated her allegations; he almost immediately uncovered 10 other women who had been harassed by the perve, including 2 ex-trainees who had left mid-TC because of his lewd behaviour. Before formal and external investigations could commence, he retired and quit the profession. My friend and the other interns wouldn’t have bothered to tell anyone about him because they undoubtedly would have been shamed themselves. It is a societal issue, not specific to the law or Hollywood and though I am so so glad men and women are coming out and speaking out, more needs to be done but I am not sure where you would even start by trying to fix the deep, innate blame culture and bias people have toward victims.

Anonymous

Typical bandwagoning snowflake trying to draw attention away from the women who have actually suffered sexual harassment/assault. Name and shame or stop being an attention seeker

Anonymous

I complained about my line manager talking about his sex life, using the c word constantly and how he wanted to give the lawyer on the other side ‘one’. The lucrative client referrals were passed to my junior, all my files reviewed and I was ostracised.

Henna

Well done for actually speaking about this and then reading some of the ridiculous comments above.

I have suffered sexual harassment consistently as a trainee (magic circle firm) and practising solicitor. As a trainee, training contracts were like gold dust so perhaps that’s why I didn’t how to deal with this. Perhaps it was naivety, inexperience and countless other reasons.

However, as a solicitor, I was able to ensure that the senior partner was dealt with appropriately through the firm, law society and police.

It takes great courage to be part of a profession which is disliked by the general public and then add the ingredient of being a remotely intelligent female then it causes issues. I admire all women who will discuss these issues openly about something that objectifies and disgusts you.

Anonymous

With most HR departments in law firms comprised largely of females it seems anathema a woman cannot approach them and have their complaint taken seriously in this day and age.

Charlotte P

The problem as always seems to be powerful/wealthy, straight white men….

Legion

No, this is the problem which many victims of such behaviour do not realise and certainly nearly all bystanders do not understand. Law is teeming with them just as Hollywood is. Recognising and understanding this results in a completely different perspective.
https://narcsite.com/2017/10/12/a-very-hollywood-narcissist/

Anonymous

Hey it happens to guys too….Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie have taken advantage of half the men in Hollywood between them. Disgusting.

Anonymous

I think a hidden part of it is the partner’s superior knowledge of the culture.

His clients will like him, sexism and all. The firm needs him, if he is an equity partner, as of right. It would be virtually impossible to terminate his partnership, even if the complaint was made out. If he denies It, insurers will probably cover his tribunal costs until found guilty and in all likelihood someone would settle confidentially.
It is unlikely that the cps would prosecute the examples in the comments or article as a crime.

All in all it is about stations in life. We permit organisational structures and an economy biased towards accrued money and pre existing status to continue into the future, even though it spoils the human condition.

It is very easy being an equity partner, this is a way to kill the boredom.

After the revolution, people will change…is the old adage. If only the sufragettes had been revolutionaries instead.

Anonymous

You are so clueless it’s painful.

Anonymous

It’s a true story.
You are so blinkered it is an inhibitor to meaningful social and environmental change.

Anonymous

Several years ago in the firm I work for one of the older senior lawyers molested a female lawyer who was on secondment.

She complained to the partners.

He was sacked.

Not all firms tolerate this sort of thing.

Anonymous

My first experience of sexual harassment at work was when I was a trainee at the firm’s Christmas party – one of the partners and one of the assistants tried to pull my clothes off on the dance floor. I had to flee to the toilets to escape. Incidentally, I am male and the partner and assistant were both female. It was spoken about with great humour by everyone in the office the next day, to my great embarrassment. It’s not all one way.

Anonymous

Minus 20 LAD points for not railing her in the bogs.

Anonymous

That attitude is part of the problem.

Anonymous

them*

Anonymous

Ha, you returned a day later to check.

Anonymous

Try standing in court to be told off by the DJ for wearing trousers ‘aren’t ladies supposed to wear skirts?’ I guess he just really wanted to see my legs.

Anonymous

“At first I was confused, but flattered and thought it was humorous so I played along. I had no intention of having sex with either of them.”

So you’re just a knob tease then. Move along folks.

Anonymous

SJ Berwin guys

Anonymous

The problem with naming and shaming is that you need evidence. Most partners are not stupid enough to provide any.

Anonymous

I like this girl and work and I think she likes me too. I want to ask her out for a drink but don’t want to be accused of making unwanted sexual advances.

Can somebody please point me in the direction of the latest version of the “Flirting at Work” consent form? Also, do I need to file it with my line manager or HR?

Anonymous

Please see Mike Pence’s guidelines

Trumpenkrieg

Flirting with women at work is rape, and approaching women in public to flirt with them also rape, especially approaching them in a club or pub for that reason. Unless a woman is giving you a smile that looks like a slice of watermelon and doing star jumps in your direction, it is NOT safe to assume she wants you to talk to her, and if you do go and talk to her, that is also rape. Please go to Tinder, where you may proceed to swipe 1,000 bitter over 30 career women for the possibility of going on one tepid date at an overpriced bar, but remember not to do anything risqué, like sending an aubergine emoji, in the process, because that too is rape.

bitter pill

i have been working in the legal industry for a while now.

this story, I feel, is the thin end of the wedge ……….i can think of some pretty appalling examples i have experienced and witnessed of two things –

firstly, sexual harassment (women and men being touched and immediately sent into a state of shock, pawed at, intimidated, commented on and spoken to in an unwanted sexual way the resultant depression, health impacts, disillusionment and demotivation)…..

and secondly, from a small section of colleagues, consenting sexualised office politics ( incidents of some men and mostly women cynically sleeping with seniors for career progression / using their feminity or masculinity to get ahead, while the whole office sits back and watches the barely concealed shit show play out……demoralising to people who don’t behave like this and have to fend off unwanted advances…)

perhaps better hr and disciplinary processes? more stringent ethical guidance on relationships at work? how to install better working cultures?

LL and P

This is a really excellent comment and captures how many of us feel and what we have observed.

English Guy

Ok. Well, she has provoked comment which is one of the aims of articles. I immediately thought of a lawyer as the likely culprit but alas have no hard evidence. But I have heard stories and gossip about him.

But yes sex sells doesn’t it. I am always amused at the five foot ten blonde brokers going into Lloyd’s of London to present business on behalf of their company’s clients to manly middle- aged male underwriters. Funny that.

Milly

Tanks for speaking out Caroline. Something which sadly I never have. I did raise a complaint against two partners at a practice where I was a trainee. The end result ? Nothing. I resigned before I ended my training contract but had found a job with another firm. Well I had until the partners at my old firm basically told the new firm that they had sacked me and the offer was withdrawn. The same thing happened again and again. There was nowhere for me to turn, I tried the Law Society but they were of little help. In the end I gave up. The only career I ever wanted was destroyed. I’ve ended up being an administrator, whoopee. I know I wasn’t the first and I don’t imagine for one second that I was the last. These guys are unstoppable like they said at the time, “who”ll take your word over mine”.

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