Time's Up for Attorney-Client Sexual Violence

University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class, Vol. 22, 2022

44 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2022

See all articles by Gillian Chadwick

Gillian Chadwick

Washburn University - School of Law

Date Written: July 25, 2022


Lawyers have positioned themselves at the helm of litigation and policy reform catalyzed by #MeToo. However, lawyers have catastrophically failed to self-regulate with respect to sexual violence. When confronted with fellow lawyers who have sexually abused and harassed their own clients, the attorney discipline system has fallen short of its mission to protect the public and maintain the integrity of the profession. Despite a robust set of ethical rules that would support strong disciplinary consequences for attorneys who have committed sexual misconduct against their clients, a review of post-#MeToo cases reveals remarkable leniency in the discipline of such attorneys. State disciplinary authorities and courts have consistently prioritized the subjective experience of the offending attorney to the near total exclusion of the client-victim’s subjective experience. In justifying lenient sanctions for egregious sexual misconduct, adjudicators have used a proportionality analysis linked to regressive precedent, thus halting any potential progress towards fairer outcomes. Adjudicators have devalued the harm experienced by client-victims of sexual violence by their attorneys. As a result, attorneys have been permitted to prey upon clients—including particularly vulnerable, marginalized, and desperate clients—with relative impunity. This Article argues for the need to take bold action to address attorney-client sexual violence and assure the public that attorney-client sexual exploitation is not tolerated within the profession. Accordingly, the Article advocates for the long-overdue universal adoption of the sexual conflict of interest rule and proposes strict liability and presumptive disbarment for attorney-client sexual contact and presumptive actual suspension for all other attorney-client sexual harassment. The Article also proposes a survivor-centered model of attorney discipline and argues that such a model would bring the discipline system closer to achieving its widely accepted purposes of protecting the public and maintaining the integrity of the profession. Finally, the Article makes the perhaps controversial proposal that the legal profession should explore abuse prevention protocols to reduce attorney-client sexual violence, particularly against minors. Given the harm that lawyers have inflicted upon those we purport to help, the profession must be open to new strategies to address and prevent attorney-client sexual violence.

Keywords: gender, gender based violence, legal ethics, sexual violence

Suggested Citation

Chadwick, Gillian, Time's Up for Attorney-Client Sexual Violence (July 25, 2022). University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class, Vol. 22, 2022, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4172352

Gillian Chadwick (Contact Author)

Washburn University - School of Law ( email )

1700 College Avenue
Topeka, KS 66621
United States

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