Law’s Voldemort moment – why we have decided not to name the Bakers partner at the centre of the sexual assault scandal

The name of the partner at the heart of Baker McKenzie's sexual assault scandal is known to some - here's why we won't be naming him right now

Want to know the name of the Baker McKenzie partner at the centre of the firm’s sexual assault scandal? For the ever-diminishing number of people who don’t already know, I really wish we could enlighten you.

However, despite knowing his name, we have decided not to do so right now.  Naming the partner could possibly enable readers to join the dots and potentially identify the associate who was the alleged victim of an incident that took place an unspecified number of years ago, in an unspecified location.

That the associate is just one of many hundreds to have worked in or visited Bakers’ London office in the years during and since the incident is irrelevant. As is the fact that with the partner in question now set to leave, more and more people will find out each day.

But we have decided not to publish the name at present, in case it would encroach in any way on the victim’s privacy and right to anonymity. We should also stress that the alleged offence was never taken to the police, let alone through the courts.

The ramifications of the resulting stalemate are where it gets messy, and threaten to derail what could be a turning point in the legal profession’s efforts to clean up its act.

The same non-disclosure agreement (NDA), signed at the time of the alleged incident to protect both the firm and the partner involved – as well as the complainant – from the allegations being made public, may be now preventing Bakers from naming the partner either publicly or internally. It’s a situation that will no doubt make it more difficult for the firm to put the episode behind it.

More importantly though, it highlights how NDAs – standard practice in employment disputes in law and other sectors – could make it harder for law firms to really crack down on sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.

On the one hand, you could say: ‘But the story is out there, we know it involved a Bakers partner – does it matter who it was?’

But the silence does matter. A lot. Because it is another indicator of the deep-rooted obstacles standing between law firms and gender parity.

From silencing people from speaking out about someone allegedly abusing a position of power, to preventing discussion about the true extent of the problem across the industry, NDAs – and the anonymity they provide – can do as much harm as good.

We’ve already reported the anonymous truths; that nearly two thirds of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment while working in law firms, and shared some of their anonymous stories, but a more open discussion is still necessary.

This will require law firms to be honest about the extent of the problem, and about the number and seniority of the people within firms who are the subject of complaints that they are harassing, or assaulting, their juniors. In addition to protecting the careers of these people – some of whom will help drive the culture of their firm – anonymity hinders debate.

More than 50% of those going into the law are female, but the obstacles that stand between these women and a long-term career in the profession remain immense.

Right now, virtually every single law firm will be looking over its shoulder, waiting for a story to emerge, because sexual harassment, discrimination and, in rarer instances, assault have always happened within law firms and elsewhere.

As long as a Voldemortesque fear of naming the suspected aggressors remains, then firms are effectively failing all of these women entering the profession before they even have time to become jaded about their career prospects in the face of institutionalised male dominance and working hours incompatible with family life.

It’s time to change that. If your firm doesn’t already have ground rules about what is and isn’t acceptable, then set some, stick to them and keep talking about why they’re important and what happens if people break them. Law may be no different to any other profession, but on the back of Weinstein, #metoo and the Presidents Club, it’s time to gather the momentum for real change.

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