Taking #MeToo Seriously in the Legal Profession
19 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2019 Last revised: 25 Aug 2019
Date Written: March 1, 2019
With the advent of the #MeToo movement, we have seen unprecedented interest in taking, and real initiatives to take, gender violence and harassment seriously. Actors and directors have been forced out of Hollywood. Conductors have been forced out of their concert halls, chefs out of their kitchens, professors out of the hallowed halls of academia. What of the legal profession? Attorneys are rarely professionally sanctioned for committing rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, or domestic violence. Indeed, some jurisdictions have interpreted these gendered acts as falling outside the ambit of the rules of professional conduct.
This Article examines how the legal profession has thus far addressed gender violence and harassment, as well as how it might do so in the future. Part I reviews different states’ rules of professional conduct and their interpretations with respect to gender violence and harassment. It homes in on state-to-state discrepancies in interpreting certain shared provisions that could be used for disciplining rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. Part II then reviews enforcement patterns for states that either do or might professionally sanction gender violence and harassment. Noting that enforcement rates are staggeringly low, Part II identifies deficiencies in the rules of professional conduct that permit abusers to keep practicing without professional sanction. Part III concludes by proposing a series of reforms that would harmonize states’ understandings of gender violence and harassment and address, to some extent, the enforcement problem.
Keywords: #MeToo, professional ethics, legal ethics, professional responsibility, gender violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment
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