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Exclusive: Junior lawyer tells MPs she was ‘sexually assaulted’ by magic circle partner

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Associate ‘felt compelled’ to sign an NDA following the attack

A magic circle junior lawyer has revealed she was sexually assaulted by a partner at her firm.

As part of her written evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC), the unnamed City associate describes the attack as a serious breach of her privacy, and that the firm’s investigation into the incident “significantly contributed” to her distress. She doesn’t name the firm but does reveal she no longer works there.

Last year, the WEC launched an enquiry into workplace sexual harassment following a series of high profile incidents in the UK and US. As part of this, the parliamentary committee invited members of the public to submit their own experiences.

The lawyer, who is unable to go into more detail about the incident over concerns she may jeopardise any future tribunal proceeding or criminal trial, writes:

“Throughout my own experience of reporting an incident of sexual misconduct — it was clear that the firm was not prepared for, and lacking in the relevant expertise, to deal with a complaint of such a serious nature.”

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Elsewhere in the written evidence submitted last month, the associate reveals how she “felt compelled” to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in order to have access to details relating to the outcome of her complaint. The NDA prevented her from “sharing various details with others without the firm’s consent” and was “unlimited with regards the period of time in which it would remain binding”. She continues:

“Interactions with the firm with regards the confidentiality undertaking contributed significantly to my distress. There were particular points raised by the firm in relation to the confidentiality undertaking which caused me particular concern, which again I am unable to comment on due to such actions being the subject of continued investigation.”

Upset with how her complaint was handled, she reported the incident to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) following the conclusion of the firm’s own investigation. This at a time that pre-dated the regulator’s fresh guidance on the use of use of NDAs in issues concerning sexual assaults.

In March, the SRA warned firms that NDAs, sometimes referred to as gagging orders, should not be used to prevent employees reporting allegations of inappropriate conduct to the police or regulator. At the time, Paul Philip, SRA chief executive officer, said:

“The public and the profession expects solicitors to act with integrity and uphold the rule of law. And most do. NDAs have a valid use, but not for covering up serious misconduct and in some cases potential crimes.”

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49 Comments

Anonymous

Name the firm!

(19)(3)

Anonymous

Freshfields

(6)(2)

Anonymous

A&O or Links just as likely

(5)(1)

Anonymous

But it was Freshfields.

(9)(2)

Anonymous

How do you know it was Freshfields?

(5)(0)

Anonymous

One of the juniors in corporate quit all of a sudden and rumours are that she was assaulted.

(7)(2)

Anonymous

Has no one actually read the statement? In their own words this person was asked to give an NDA to get info about someone else’s outcome. Doesn’t say they were forced into non disclosure about actual incident. Seems pretty sensible given new data laws!

(2)(3)

Anonymous

The statement and article don’t say what the NDA covers though.

Anonymous

This thing is not limited to firms but also happens in chambers too.

(0)(0)
(0)(0)

Male solicitor

I completely believe this could have happened and am very sad the young lady had to endure this. Firms just brush these things under the carpet particularly if the partner in question is influential. As a result, cultures don’t change, but no one, male or female, is prepared to stick their neck out to get real change.

(29)(2)

Victim of harassment

I was sexually harassed by two different senior managers at a local authority. When I raised it with a senior member of staff, she replied it was a ‘ playful act ‘. Both male managers would think it is okay to touch me and it had got worse. I was 19 very quiet and now in hindsight these awful people need to be revealed to put a stop to this. In the end I left but now I wish I had punched both of them before I left, and reported them to the police.

(26)(2)

Anonymous

you can still report it? that’s terrible!!

(0)(0)

Bystander

The nature and degree of the assault is unclear but a sexual assault is a criminal offence. Employers seek to avoid the reputational damage, and protect a partner who is a valuable fee-earner, by paying a settlement with an NDA. Therein lies the problem: if the culture is that it is OK to pay off the victim and hush up a crime instead of dealing with the problem employee – albeit it will end his career – then the attitude will continue. If the evidence supports the allegation of sexual assault, he should face the consequences.
I think it is unethical to pay a victim with an NDA when a criminal offence has occurred.

(16)(2)

Anonymous

I wouldn’t mind mind being paid a six figure sum after my bits have been touched. Not as if the punishment of the partner would improve my life… unless I join the #metoo speaker circuit

(4)(22)

Dr Frankenstein

The profession you are looking for is “prostitution”!

(11)(1)

Ciaran Goggins

Oh puleeze! False allegations running at 33% HMIC stats. Anonymity for both sides or neither.

(14)(16)

Anonymous

do you have the link of the source?

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Yes, I’m surprised the figure isn’t higher.

(4)(4)

Anonymous

I’m the anon above. To clarify: I was not alleging Ciaran Goggins is wrong, but trying to find data on this. The data referred to – if I found the right ones, and it’s probably not the case – speak of a 31% conviction rate UK-wide, and are dated 2009.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

The conviction rate has literally nothing to do with false accusations though. That remaining 69% could all be false or all be true. Whether the prosecution can prove beyond reasonable doubt that X happened is not the same question as whether X did in fact happen.

(4)(5)

Anonymous

And just because someone is convicted of X doesn’t mean X happened. Mistake to say conviction rates bear no relation to false allegations though.

(4)(2)

Anonymous

It is a well written complaint. I wonder if she made the SRA’s job easier in them advising the steps firms should and should not take, upon receipt of a complaint.

Interesting that the SRa are delaying their investigation. They will be on a fork now.

The two prongs are (1) their helpful attitude…no ndas, report matters to us – approach, from the me too campaign

(2) the need for their procedures to facilitate the magic circle firm ruining the complainer’ s life, as is the usual way with whistleblowers.

They are interesting to watch, these cases, but a nightmare to be involved in.

Good luck comrade !

(7)(1)

Anonymous

Its a difficult one. I was sexually harassed by female HR staff in a previous firm and I would have probably have signed an NDA had one been offered, as while I know that firms often use NDAs to make a problem go away even when nothing has happened, I would have seen it as in some way as an admission of guilt at some level and would have been able to move on more easily. My old firm chose not to offer an NDA as, even though my accusation was true, they knew the power imbalance between the parties was probably too large for me to succeed in a claim against them. They also didn’t want to admit they were in the wrong.

Given the large amount of false allegations of harassment made, it is necessary to have a proper process in place to protect the accused, and given the consequences of being found guilty of harassment, without NDAs there will be cases where accused will fight accusations to the death, with the firm standing behind them. Given the power imbalance (and an often unfair court system), many people who are guilty will get away with it. Firms and accused have the resources to fight claims, raise appeals for years, and will use any knowledge of accusers private lives against them. So I think there are cases where NDAs are appropriate if it draws a line under the matter. Not an ideal solution, but without fairer procedures around harassment cases (of male and female victims) one that is better than a victim fighting and losing an expensive court case.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

Lots of bullying, harassment and inappropriate behaviour in law firms.

There should be some formal outlet for all this unwanted attention.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Two points that jump out at me from the article, the submission, and the comments: 1. Nowhere does it say the woman was paid a settlement (simply that she had to sign an NDA as part of the firm’s process); 2. having read around this subject a little, statistics for false rape allegations are no higher than any other type of crime, yet rape plaintiffs are routinely accused of lying/exaggerating in a way that e.g. victims of theft, GBH and other crimes are not . Admittedly this concerns rape rather than unspecified sexual harassment – but if the statistics are right, it is disturbing how many people believe differently. Re. the source for those stats – I’ve read it in several places, but here’s a relatively recent newspaper article which contains a few links to the Home Office etc: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/false-sexual-violence-assault-rape-allegations-truth-rare-international-day-for-the-elimination-of-a8077876.html

(4)(1)

Anonymous

Although the complainant doesn’t say whether or not they were paid for signing the NDA (not sure if this information was omitted from the complaint deliberately or not), it is very unlikely that they wouldn’t have received payment. I may be wrong, but it would be highly unusual to have an NDA with no settlement payment.

On the second point, I would dispute the way the statistics are being used in the article. Among the reasons so many false allegations are made in rape cases is because they are often harder to disprove than other types of cases. Not to say that some accusations aren’t true, but there are a lot that aren’t. Sexual harassment, which is a different thing, has a very high incidence of false accusations, I’d say about 50%.

(6)(5)

Anonymous

“Among the reasons so many false allegations are made in rape cases is because they are often harder to disprove than other types of cases. Not to say that some accusations aren’t true, but there are a lot that aren’t. Sexual harassment, which is a different thing, has a very high incidence of false accusations, I’d say about 50%.”

Good to know you’ve pulled a magic number out of your rear end. I mean, Christ – if you’re not a lawyer/law student what are you doing on this website? And if you are then I hope for your clients’ sakes you don’t apply the same strength of logic to their matters. Anyone can do this see:

Among the reasons so many rapists can argue that allegations are false is because they are often harder to prove than other types of cases. Not to say that some accusations aren’t false, but there are a lot that are true. Sexual harassment, which is a different thing, has a very high incidence of harassers getting away without penalty, I’d say about 90%.

(2)(9)

Anonymous

@8:49am – if you’re a lawyer (I hope not), you really should learn to make your points more articulately. If you’re not, I don’t care what you’re doing on this website – anyone is free to comment. That 50% of harassment accusations are false is an estimate which I believe to be fairly accurate. My comment regarded false accusations of rape, so your confusion of this with genuine accusations and attempt to treat the two as if they’re the same doesn’t work – clearly someone falsely accused wouldn’t argue that an accusation is untrue because its hard to prove, they’d do it because the accusation is false. I’ll take your comment about 90% of harassers ‘getting away without penalty’ as a joke, whatever ‘getting away without penalty’ means.

(4)(2)

Anonymous

I don’t follow the logic that “so many false allegations are made in rape cases” because “they are often harder to disprove”? I also don’t think (to the comment below) that a few high profile false claims proves that false claims are generally “far higher than genuine reporting”. If you have statistics to back this up, please share them, as it means the statistics I have been reading merit a second look! However, I would note that this causality (media loves a good false rape claim, so reports it to death = general public believes false rape claims are much higher than they actually are, despite contradictory statistical evidence ) is one of the constant frustrations amongst those who are trying to reform the way rape (and other forms of sexual assault) is perceived, reported, and tried.

(1)(3)

Anonymous

The logic is simply that if a person is going to make a false accusation, they’re likely to accuse someone of something which is difficult to disprove. As rape claims are often hard to disprove, they attract a high amount of false accusations.

I’m not aware of any statistical evidence contradicting the belief that false accusations are high, and in my experience the media underplays the amount of false rape claims.

I think in trying to change the way sexual assault is perceived, reported and tried, its important (among other things) to honestly acknowledge the high occurrence of false accusations and call out false accusations when they do occur, as trying to underplay them or minimise their existence will make the public sceptical and may mean that genuine claimants won’t be believed.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

Are you sure you mean ‘disprove’? Rape claims are nortiously difficult to prove, which is evident in the low conviction rates. It seems we must agree to disagree about the prevalence of false claims. I have provided statistics backing up the assertion that (for rape) false accusations are no higher than for any other crime.

(1)(4)

Anonymous

Yes, I’m sure. Rape claims are difficult to disprove for the same reasons they are difficult to prove. The low conviction rates have more to do with the high amount of false accusations than anything else. You have provided an article rather than statistics, and this article supports the assertion that there are a high number of false accusation involving rape cases. I think you are sincere in your belief that the number of false accusation is less than is commonly believed, but where I disagree with you is that I believe you are mistaken in that belief.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

False allegations of rape are higher than for every other crime. The recent disclosure scandals reveal they are far higher than genuine reporting.

(2)(5)

Anonymous

I was a trainee in a firm. The regional office had a training weekend away; on a Saturday evening, everybody went to a buffet dinner by a hotel pool.

A few of the fat male partners (of several ethnicities) took off everything apart from shorts/undies and leapt into the pool – one or two looked a little like Harvey Weinstein, come to think of it.

Several of the younger females (associates followed by the more ambitious trainees) leapt in after them in various forms of dress and undress.

I had come from a non-law, non-corporate background so was taken aback by this and turned instinctively towards the several (female) HR staff also at the event. They were laughing. I was shocked at how women (HR) could be facilitators of this kind of stuff.

I soon left this firm. But it was my first insight into what really happens in these places.

For the record, to my knowledge the same firm is an enthusiastic supporter of affirmative action, “me too”, and all manner of diversity initiatives.

(8)(7)

Anonymous

“facilitators of this kind of stuff”

… You mean facilitating swimming? GOD FORBID!

What a ridiculous comment. It detracts from real instances of harassment and abuse when you attempt to elide sexual assault with everyone having a few drinks and jumping into a pool.

(10)(2)

Anonymous

Except it wasn’t everyone. It was the Harvey Weinstein lookalike partners and the young female associates and trainees. If you can’t see anything unprofessional about this then I really can’t help you.

(5)(5)

Anonymous

Headline: men remove clothes to go into swimming pool. Females do the same.

God damn oppressive patriarchy

(13)(1)

Anonymous

Are you at Clifford Chance?

(0)(1)

Anonymous

You’re absolutely right. Solicitors must be dressed in a full suit (including ties for men) at all times, even whilst swimming. If a client calls they must emerge from the pool, dripping in chlorine-filled water, so that they can attend a meeting/conference call.

This is one of the most idiotic comments I have ever seen. Criticizing a law firm for its Partners and employees enjoying themselves together in a harmless way. You must be really fun at parties.

(5)(3)

Anonymous

I think we know that he or she is absolutely no fun at parties.

Because they were at a party.

And they were no fun.

(4)(2)

Anonymous

To be fair, I think your point is that some people are willing to use their sexuality to get ahead. I have seen this countless times as an ex-MC circle lawyer. The stories from my old firm were outrageous and anyone who is a mid-level associate or above will know them. This even includes a couple of female partners who would flirt all the time and even hook up with a senior partner. Its not sexual harassment, as its consensual, but I can see how its not an ideal environment for female associates joining the firm.

(6)(1)

Anonymous

You just need to do a little reverse engineering to see this in action. Look at any number of the intra-office marriages in a MC firm and then figure out at which stage in their respective careers their relationship began to blossom. Often there was a measurable power difference at that time. And you’ll often see that the more junior person has gone on to be successful in their career, for example achieving partnership. Junior associates are privy to this and it sends a silent message.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Damn.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Hmmmm …. why doesn’t she name the firm? She is telling the truth, isn’t she?? The usual load of twaddle.

(1)(5)

Anonymous

Why don’t you name yourself? Easy to criticise via an anonymous message.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

Did you read the article beyond the first three paragraphs? “The lawyer, who is unable to go into more detail about the incident over concerns she may jeopardise any future tribunal proceeding or criminal trial”. Presumably naming the firm (who themselves might be, or end up, under investigation) would fall smack bang into jeopardizing any future investigations.

(4)(2)

Anonymous anonymous

The SRA seems to be a hit and miss on what shall or shall not be considered in breach of their rules. Further to the use of NDA clauses, a respondents insisted that the claimant gave up all the written evidence / documents relating to the tribunal case. Whilst the mediating judge was not concerned about the request, the regulators picked up on this. Sadly, you get some weird responses from the SRA. Purposely omitting detrimental facts and misleading the judge to enable the respondent’s employee’s to cover up the unlawful conduct without being questioned on higher levels and preventing a just and equitable remedy. Unless we can ensure such awful conduct is followed up by the regulators, we will continue to see people getting by unlawful acts.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Assuming the sexual assault claim is true, the advise I would give to the complainant is to decide what outcome she wants which would give her closure on this. It looks as if she initially signed an NDA (she now argues she was coerced into signing it) and that this hasn’t given her closure and she now wants to see the partner sacked. I think that its important that she decides on what she would see as a reasonable and achievable form of justice being done and that if she is able to achieve this she will then be able to draw a line under the matter. Appreciate this can be easier said than done, but this is what she should aim for.

(1)(0)

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