Research initiative to support the #medvilkenrätt campaign and fight sexual harassment in the legal sector

Following the #metoo campaign, about 6.000 Swedish legal professionals have signed an appeal with the hashtag #medvilkenrätt (roughly, #withwhatright) to address sexual harassment in the legal sector, with 15.000 joining the Facebook group.

This is an amazing impetus for real change in the legal world, but how can follow through be achieved? The#medvilkenrätt appeal itself points to the next logical step:

Reactions such as “management were not aware of this,” or a questioning of why these things have “not been brought up previously” are not unusual. This indicates a lack of understanding of the issue. Good leadership should be based on research, not ‘thoughts and opinions.’ It should be proactive, not reactive. (Excerpt from the #medvilkenrätt appeal.)

Awareness, knowledge, and research are key here. The roaring support of the #medvilkenrätt campaign indicates not only previous ignorance and – at times – outright denial in the industry, but also a rather consistent underreporting in well-intended surveys by employers. Thus, to generate a much more correct understanding of the prevalence and patterns of sexual harassment among legal professionals, we must carefully consider the methods we use in mapping these behaviors. Several factors conflate to make surveying of sexual harassments in law firms difficult. Perhaps, in particular, the fear of getting identified in a survey and – directly or indirectly – getting punished for reporting such behavior.

How then can sexual harassment with a fair degree of accuracy be mapped in a law firm? We suggest the following factors to be of critical importance for proper surveying:
1. Letting someone with an independent status, outside the firm, to carry out the survey.
2. Using psychological scales that have been validated in research, to accurately capture data.
3. Composing a survey that captures a nuanced understanding of causes, conditions, and consequences of sexual harassment.
4. Throughout the surveying, consider sexual harassment to be but one aspect of the much larger issue of inequality between gender in legal settings.

To support #medvilkenrätt campaign, the Lawyer Performance Project now offers to help all Swedish law firms to map sexual harassment in their organization, at no profit*. As an independent research entity specialized in survey-based studies on lawyers, we hope to be able to offer integrity, trust, and validity to such endeavor. The offer is good until December 1, and surveying will be done in January-February 2018, with results being reported and discussed at a seminar later in the Spring. We are very pleased that Sweden’s largest law firm, Mannheimer Swartling, is the first firm to officially join us in this project and to sponsor the seminar**. We know other law firms are seriously considering the offer, and sincerely hope they will take this opportunity to collaborate on this difficult issue. We also welcome opportunities to survey other branches of the legal system, such as courts and inhouse counsels. We are of course available to discuss similar surveying in other countries.

With this offer, we hope not only to help law firms getting a firm start on working with the issue, but also to harvest data to stimulate research in the field.

In the coming weeks and months, the Lawyer Performance Project will seek to support the #medvilkenrätt campaign by:
1. Present a white paper on previous research on the prevalence and patterns of sexual harassment among legal professionals.
2. Create a bibliography of books that empower women lawyers.
3. Review best practices and intervention for working with this issue in legal settings.
4. Collate data from surveys conducted in a report.
5. Stimulate interest, awareness, knowledge, and research by offering a seminar on the issue.

*We ask for 500 Euros to cover costs of statistical analysis and creation of report, and 1.500 Euros which will be donated to a non-profit that supports #medvilkenrätt campaign (entity to be determined).

**We also would like to thank Potential Project for sponsoring by providing logistical support with the administration of surveys and data.

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