American Bar Association Looking Into Banning Harassment and Discrimination in Courtroom

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Historically speaking, courtrooms have been places where one might expect fair and equal treatment from the people who work within the system it houses. Whether that actually happens or not is a completely different story. But for women lawyers, it seems that fair and equal treatment is something they can never really expect out of their own colleagues. According to the New York Times, the American Bar Association is currently looking into banning the discrimination and harassment that occurs between men and women lawyers who work within courtrooms, law firms, and beyond.

Specifically, the National Association of Women Lawyers, made up of about 5,200 women, is pushing for an amendment to the A.B.A.’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which doesn’t currently take into consideration harassment or discrimination amongst lawyers. In fact, the only mention of harassment within the Model Rules is in the document’s preamble, which states that lawyers “should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others.” There is no mention of discrimination within the rules at all, according to the subject matter index.

Lawyers have definitely crossed the line before. Back in January, lawyer Lori Rifkin was told by an opposing lawyer, “Don’t raise your voice at me. It’s not becoming of a woman.” This was in reply to her asking him to stop interrupting her while she was speaking, a common occurence many women face throughout all workplaces. This policing of women’s behavior by men speaks volumes to how little respect women are offered in a place where people are ostensibly supposed to be equals.

Resistance to this amendment comes from lawyers who feel that such an action on the A.B.A.’s part would interfere with how they run their firms. As well, these same lawyers feel that it would infringe upon their First Amendment rights, taking away their ability to speak freely amongst themselves—you know, kind of like how men do when they talk over women. It’s like they’re afraid of having their ability to speak taken away by someone else. Huh, I wonder what that’s like.

The hope with this ban is that it would not only make things better for women currently working within the legal field, but that it would also entice more women to consider coming aboard. One study, titled, “First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table,” said, “among the more overt signifiers of the discrimination, both stated and implicit, that contributes to their underrepresentation in the legal field.” If this amendment is able to quash the ridiculous behavior and toxic environment that can exist in law firms, then just maybe we will be able to see more women lawyers in the courtroom.

(image via Flickr/Brian Turner)

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Jessica Lachenal
Jessica Lachenal is a writer who doesn’t talk about herself a lot, so she isn’t quite sure how biographical info panels should work. But here we go anyway. She's the Weekend Editor for The Mary Sue, a Contributing Writer for The Bold Italic (thebolditalic.com), and a Staff Writer for Spinning Platters (spinningplatters.com). She's also been featured in Model View Culture and Frontiers LA magazine, and on Autostraddle. She hopes this has been as awkward for you as it has been for her.