RollOnFriday broke the news in January that a senior partner at Baker McKenzie had sexually assaulted a young female associate, and that the matter had effectively been swept under the carpet via an NDA. International coverage followed, as did the partner's rapid exit from the firm, which as a result of the exposure carried out a review of the way the matter was handled.
In the months that followed RollOnFriday has been contacted by many lawyers (all female) about their experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of partners (all male). It was the year #metoo hit law.
After Dentons swallowed up Scottish firm Maclay Murray & Spens, sources told RollOnFriday that before the merger the MMS HR team had dismissed multiple complaints about an MMS partner. RollOnFriday asked Dentons about the allegations. It suspended the partner. Then he left after its investigation found that his behaviour "fell well below the expectations that we have of our partners".
Over in Germany, a former Linklaters partner was sentenced to three years in prison for a sex attack on a student at the firm's 2014 Oktoberfest party. In Istanbul, Bakers sanctioned a partner for his "degrading" comments to a junior lawyer. In New Zealand, Russell McVeagh lawyers were accused of sexually assaulting interns. Herbert Smith Freehills fired one of its top partners in Australia after several members of staff claimed he had harassed them.
But even trying to do the right thing can land firms in a mess. Reed Smith axed a London partner for sexually harassing two trainees, but bungled the report to the SRA so badly (by handing over the details of one of the trainees when it promised her it wouldn't) that one of the victims tried to sue it. The SRA was so ill-prepared for claims of this type that, technically, victims who were solicitors were in breach of the Code if they didn't report a solicitor who harassed or assaulted them. RollOnFriday forced it to clarify that it wouldn't punish victims who didn't speak up, and it subsequently changed its rules.
Firms took measures in the face of the cultural reckoning, some more open to mockery than others. Linklaters issued staff with new guidance instructing them to inform management about their workplace romances. Travers Smith gave staff a phrase to use if they encountered inappropriate language at work: "That's not cool".
Meanwhile, the partners kept falling. A senior partner at CMS was stripped of his management position after he fondled a colleague in a public bar (one of his colleagues phoned up RollOnFriday and threatened us after we broke the story). Bill Voge, Latham & Watkins' Managing Partner, fell on his sword after he fell for the wife of a member of his men's Christian group and threatened her with jail if she revealed his sexually explicit text messages to her.
At least one firm stuck up for The Man. An NQ was marched off the premises of Maples Teeside and put on unpaid leave when she told management that she was uncomfortable working with a partner who had sexually assaulted her.
But it wasn't all sleazy and non-consensual. Plenty of it was sleazy and consensual. Like the Clifford Chance partner who flew into a regional office to bonk a secretary in the filing room. And the partner who was allegedly ushered out of his Magic Circle firm after he was caught on CCTV having sex over a car bonnet. And the partner and paralegal who were both fired from Slater and Gordon simply for going at it like rabbits in the meeting room.