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Sexual misconduct claims skyrocket at top law firms after watchdog warned of nondisclosure agreements

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Sexual misconduct claims skyrocket at top law firms after watchdog warned them not to use nondisclosure agreements

  • There have been 251 sexual misconduct claims against lawyers since 2018
  • Compared to 30 in the last five years – representing an eightfold increase since
  • Gary Senior, former head of a top law firm, allegedly assaulted woman and paid off
  • Ryan Beckwith, 41, was fined over after court ruled he did not abuse his position after having drunken sex with a colleague in his 20s

Sexual misconduct charges at leading law firms have skyrocketed after a watchdog warning four years ago advised alleged victims not to sign non-disclosure agreements.

The number of complaints has more than eightfold since 2018, indicating the increase in the number of alleged victims emerging.

As of 2018, 251 reports of alleged sexual harassment or assault by lawyers have been registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

This compares to just 30 complaints of sexual misconduct in the past five years. The watchdog did say they also have 117 ongoing investigations.

One of the recurring themes in many of the sexual misconduct cases was the extent to which a lawyer’s legal obligations apply to both their professional and private lives.

It comes after Ryan Beckwith – a partner at one of London’s magic circle law firms, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer – overturned a fine.

Beckwith, a pina colada-loving lawyer nicknamed Del Boy, was fined £35,000 at a tribunal after having drunken sex with a junior associate in his twenties.

But two Supreme Court justices ruled that Mr Beckwith, 41, did not abuse his position, but instead acted “inappropriately”.

Ryan Beckwith (pictured), 41, was fined overturned after a court dismissed the idea he had abused his position of power when a junior colleague in his 20s claimed he had drunk sex with her

A January tribunal ruled he had acted unlawfully and discredited the appeal over the July 2016 incident.

He appealed against the SRA, arguing that the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) had erroneously concluded that his conduct violated the principles set forth in an official manual of standards for the profession.

The judges ruled that the tribunal’s order for Mr Beckwith to pay a £35,000 fine should be quashed.

It also overturned an order requiring Mr Beckwith to pay the costs of £200,000. The tribunal rejected a claim that he had acted in abuse of his position of seniority or authority, but “instead found that by engaging in sexual activity with Person A, he had acted ‘inappropriately.'”

The new guideline prepared by the SRA now says that lawyers will assess alleged misconduct on a case-by-case basis. The new guideline states: ‘Individuals must at all times ensure that their conduct maintains and justifies the trust of clients and colleagues in them, as well as the public’s trust in the profession.

‘That trust is undermined by the exploitation of a professional position for sexual purposes.’

The watchdog’s 2018 warning sparked a spike in sexual misconduct among law firms with the common theme that there is an alcohol-fueled work culture behind the behavior, the Time reports.

Gary Senior, the former head of the London office of US law firm Baker McKenzie, was one of the most famous claims. He allegedly paid off a woman who claimed to have sexually abused her.

Gary Senior, the former head of the London office for US law firm Baker McKenzie, is alleged to have paid a woman who claimed he had sexually assaulted her. The SRA has warned against alleged victims signing non-disclosure agreements

Gary Senior, the former head of the London office for US law firm Baker McKenzie, is alleged to have paid a woman who claimed he had sexually assaulted her. The SRA has warned against alleged victims signing non-disclosure agreements

Senior is said to have kissed the neck of a junior colleague in his hotel room and behaved 'inappropriately' that night. Pictured: Baker McKenzie offices in London

Senior is said to have kissed the neck of a junior colleague in his hotel room and behaved ‘inappropriately’ that night. Pictured: Baker McKenzie offices in London

He is said to have kissed the neck of a junior colleague in his hotel room and behaved ‘inappropriately’ that night, his tribunal heard.

The SRA referred Senior to the tribunal, accusing him of behaving “inappropriately” and “initiating intimate activities” with the woman without her consent.

The woman claimed he sexually assaulted her and pressured her to sign a nondisclosure agreement before accepting a payout. He was ordered to pay £55,000 after being found guilty of professional misconduct.

Companies were later encouraged to report allegations of potential harassment and heavily warned about nondisclosure agreements.

Speaking about the new directive, SRA head Paul Philip said: ‘We take reports of sexual misconduct seriously. These can be sensitive and difficult issues and we want to be clear about our expectations, not least for companies, because people often come to us because they are dissatisfied with the way their company has handled their concerns.”

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