It’s been one week since ALM’s Legalweek kicked off, and despite the record-breaking attendance and excellent content, very few people are talking about that. It’s all been overshadowed by allegations on LinkedIn of rampant sexual harassment at the conference.
The posts are multiplying but the worst of the allegations have been collected by Deeanna Fleener, VP of Solution Management at Deloitte:
“Last night, I was propositioned in the most graphic way I’ve ever heard. When I turned him down, he tried to convince me to leave with him by telling me his pregnant wife was on bedrest and I was doing her a favor.”
“A leader at a firm showed me a video of 2 girls under 20 in his bedroom naked and and invited me and the other woman I was with to join him.”
“A man just wouldn’t leave me alone even when others tried to intervene. He threw a drink at one of the men trying to help me at which time he was finally escorted out.”
A young sales person was grabbed under the skirt by a coworker.
A woman went to the bathroom and was pulled into the men’s room by a man who then wouldn’t let her leave.
“I was roofied by a bartender at a conference event.”
“I was followed onto the elevator by a coworker who tried to follow me to my room.”
Horrifying? Yes, absolutely. Surprising? Not exactly. As the panelists on Legaltech Week noted in their conference wrap up, similar allegations have plagued the legal and tech industries for years. And when members of those industries get together with flowing alcohol and a problematic “what happens at the conference stays at the conference” attitude, bad shit happens. That’s only supercharged at a large event like Legalweek where vendors and other stakeholders hold their own happy hours/parties/dinners at a variety of locations near the event.
ALM has issued a statement on the turn of events:
ALM has been made aware of reports of occurrences of highly inappropriate behavior, including harassment and assault, occurring at unaffiliated venues in New York City during the week of its Legalweek event. We first want to vehemently condemn all such actions and reiterate our strong position that any such behavior has zero place in any setting. While these acts did not occur on site at Legalweek or at any conference-sponsored events, ALM prides itself on the community connections it creates and is committed to partnering with other key stakeholders to prevent harassment of any industry member. Our longstanding events policy provides that ALM is dedicated to providing a respectful conference experience for everyone and harassment of any kind will not be tolerated. We will continue to work internally and with external stakeholders in the community to determine how we can best champion meaningful, positive change for the legal community and address the larger problem in the industry.
This is a solid statement that hits all the right notes, but the truth is — this isn’t an ALM- or Legalweek-specific problem. A nearly identical cast of characters gets together multiple times a year for a variety of legal tech conferences — what exactly is going to be different at any of those? And honestly the problem goes a lot deeper than the segment of the legal industry that is legal tech — allegations of all sorts of similar awful behavior have permeated every part of the legal industry: academia, the judiciary, law firms, government, politics… It’s the industry that needs to respond, not just ALM.
As Stephanie Wilkins, editor in chief at Legal Tech News, an ALM vertical, noted in her own post on LinkedIn:
The stories we are hearing are beyond disgusting and disheartening. Unfortunately, what they are not – particularly for a woman like me in her mid-40s who has been in the legal and tech industries for over two decades – is surprising. Every woman I know in the industry has these stories. I have these stories. It needs to stop. Everyone in every industry, including ours, needs to do better.
In speaking with a few of my female contemporaries in the industry who have worked so hard and accomplished so much, Farrah Pepper put it bluntly: this was not a problem with Legalweek. This was just another week in legal. And that needs to change.
Gina Passarella, Senior Vice President of Content at ALM Global, also made a similar statement rejecting the behavior that went on:
Molly Bloom talked at Legalweek about the importance of maintaining your sovereignty. That word stands out to me as the industry (probably all industries) grapple with stories from years ago to the present of sexual harassment at offsite parties when attending conferences. For anyone who has felt like their agency, their sovereignty, was in jeopardy or taken away, for anyone who has felt even an ounce of fear for what another human may to do them or take from them, my heart goes out to you and I stand up in support of you. It will be a partnership among our organizations and each other to continue to call out, reject and stamp out this behavior and I am here for it and I know my amazing colleagues are as well.
It’s unclear where exactly we go from here. Both in terms of legal conferences — conduct pledges? limits on networking events? And society — the #metoo movement created a lot of attention when it first went viral, but long-term solutions have been trickier. But the legal tech community is being proactive — organizing to try to come up with solutions. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter @Kathryn1 or Mastodon @Kathryn1@mastodon.social.