A Baker McKenzie partner has been accused of sexually assaulting an associate, it has emerged in the latest of a string of uncomfortable developments for the legal profession.
The incident occurred several years ago and was reported by the law firm’s HR team. Bakers carried out an investigation and ‘sanctioned’ the partner, who has remained at the firm.
The associate reached a settlement with Bakers, which included terms that the identity of both the victim and partner remain confidential. The associate subsequently left the firm.
The story was originally reported today (2 February) on RollOnFriday, which said it contacted the firm in 2016 regarding a line in the firm’s accounts allegedly identified as a one-off payment to an associate.
A firm’s spokesperson said: ‘We are looking in to all aspects of the 2016 RollOnFriday enquiry to see if there are lessons that can be learned. Any suggestion, however, that the firm lied is inaccurate and something we refute.’
The firm’s spokesperson said: ‘We take any allegations of inappropriate behaviour or misconduct extremely seriously. This incident occurred several years ago and was reported by our HR team at the time. The firm treated the allegation very seriously and immediately carried out a thorough investigation, including obtaining both external and internal advice.
‘On completion of the investigation, the firm imposed sanctions on the partner concerned. A confidential settlement was then reached with the employee, which we are not in a position to discuss. Our code of business conduct reflects the values of our organisation, and we expect all of our people, whether partners or employees, to abide by the principles and standards of behaviour set out in that code.’
The firm did not comment on RollOnFriday’s report that the partner was promoted after the event took place.
With the recent #MeToo campaign shining a light on harassment and misogyny across a number of industries, the news comes as sexual harassment is becoming a live topic in the legal profession.
In January, it emerged that a Dentons partner had been put on a leave of absence while the firm investigates reports of sexual misconduct while last week the fallout from the Presidents Club exposé revealed that a number of senior lawyers had attended the controversial event.
Amid harsher scrutiny of the profession’s treatment of women and response to harassment, it seems certain that there will be more troubling disclosures. The core issue is clear: how credibly do major law firms address harassment and inappropriate behaviour by influential partners with control of significant billings and client relationships?