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What Is the Role of Communications in #MeToo?

Disruption provides opportunities for firms that are committed to change.

As the #MeToo stories have increased over the past year or more, law firms are grappling with how to prepare for the crises they may face at some point. This means shoring up their process for filing complaints and conducting investigations. Bloomberg Law notes that a mixture of wide-ranging power dynamics and abuse of power can lead to misconduct within the workplace. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there has been a reported decrease in the number of sexual harassment complaints against law firms in the last seven years. This may be due to law firms taking a more proactive approach to sexual harassment issues before they escalate. However, a survey conducted by the Women’s Bar Association revealed that the majority of female attorneys in Massachusetts have experienced sexual harassment in their career regardless of the respondent’s age and firm size. This is a major issue that every organization, large and small, must deal with now.

The best PR in the world can’t stop lawyers from misbehaving, so the first, most important approach to dealing with the #Me Too era is to become the kind of firm that promotes healthy, equitable behavior. Has your firm made a commitment, from the top down, to address harassment? When is the last time your firm revised its sexual harassment policy? Have you surveyed employees to find out if they think it is effective at improving the firm’s culture, or is the policy just an empty promise? This is just the beginning of the honest work firms must do to move their culture in the right direction.

Next comes the task of communicating this work to the broader world. Three things to keep in mind:

It’s no longer an option to say nothing.
Lawyers and firm leaders are conservative by nature, and in the past they’ve felt that the less said, the better, on issues of workplace culture. But in this new era, silence is viewed by many people as complicity. Don’t let fear of imperfect efforts keep you from talking publicly about your firm’s work to eradicate harassment.

Your clients want—NEED—you to be proactive.
Getting on the right side of equity issues is not just good branding—it’s sensible business practice. Your clients are motivated by feedback from their own customers to do business with firms that “get” it. It’s imperative to show them you are doing the work, or you may risk losing their business.

How do you show them? Tell your firm’s story.
In many firms, leadership is tackling these issues head on, but the lion’s share of the conversation is happening in internal communications. How can you press beyond that to build your reputation in the marketplace as a progressive, evolved firm? What programs, trainings, and other initiatives have you embraced, and how can your PR team help you tell that story to current and potential clients?

The #Me Too era is disrupting the status quo. For firms that are truly committed to thriving, internally and in the marketplace, this is great news. You have the opportunity to lead in your industry, by doing the right thing and by talking about it in ways that make clients proud to be working with you.