Sexual-harassment complaints against lawyers are on the rise // On the Record

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In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the number of complaints against Ontario lawyers has nearly doubled

By Daniel Fish

On Tuesday May 29th, 2018

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In July 2017, Fay Faraday, who runs a solo labour practice, took on a new client: the Law Society of Ontario, which hired her as its discrimination and harassment counsel. Her job is simple: to offer free guidance to anyone — including members of the public — who has a human-rights complaint against a lawyer or a paralegal.

In her first four months on the job, Faraday received about three new calls per week. But in mid-October, as the Harvey Weinstein scandal hit its peak, her workload started to swell. By November, her phone was ringing twice as often. And that uptick has sustained its momentum: each month, Faraday now fields close to 20 new calls. “At a social and individual level, it’s like the dam has burst,” says Faraday. “Callers tell me they’re taking inspiration from the #MeToo movement. They’re fed up.”

The nature of the complaints that hit the discrimination and harassment counsel, a program the Law Society founded two decades ago in response to a review of its work on equity issues, runs the gamut. Some callers allege that a lawyer has made a sexual comment about their bodies; others describe sexual assault. Here, Precedent speaks with Faraday about her new role.


OTR green cabinet illustrationWhen you receive a call, what’s the first thing you do? I ask them to tell me their story. Then I ask what result they would like. Everyone has a different answer to that question. Some people just want to talk openly about what they’ve gone through. To be heard for the first time. But others want to pursue a disciplinary remedy.

Let’s say someone wants to launch a lawsuit or lodge a formal human-rights complaint. What services can you provide? I provide legal information, not legal advice. So I can walk them through how each process could unfold. If they want to move forward, and they choose to retain outside counsel, they cannot hire me. But we can provide free mediation services.

In your first year in this role, has anything been particularly eye opening? It has brought home the fact that there is an enormous power differential between lawyers and their clients. Clients come to lawyers with a significant need, often in crisis. Some lawyers exploit that vulnerability. For instance, some complainants have told me that their lawyer has demanded sex as payment for services.

What have you heard from law students and lawyers? Within firms, lawyers feel like they are constantly on probation. Students want to get hired back as an associate; associates want to make partner. The power that senior lawyers hold can then be exercised in discriminatory ways.

That seems like a hard problem to solve in the current law-firm model. It is a big problem. But as lawyers, we are trained as problem solvers. We should be able to figure this out.

 


This story is from our Summer 2018 Issue.


Illustration by Sara Wong