I have been reading about Deshaun Watson’s return to the NFL after serving a suspension as a result of allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Normally I do not like to rush to judgment when a person has been accused but not convicted of a criminal offence, since I believe in the presumption of innocence and all of that. But however you may feel about the allegations against Mr. Watson, he definitely has some ‘splaining to do.
What struck me in the account that I was reading was a statement from one of his alleged victims who said, “he can run and throw and that’s enough.” In other words, when someone has the ability to generate serious money, our culture will forgive pretty much anything.
When I read that quote, I immediately thought of lawyers with humungous billings and extraordinary originating credits. Since they can figurately ‘run and throw,’ law firms tend to be pretty quick to forgive any sins that they may commit. For example, it is beyond contention that in most firms a lack of civility that would be a serious problem for a low billing Associate is typically not as much of a problem for a high billing Partner.
When I was the Managing Partner of my law firm, I was instrumental in developing a number of management policies. I always found it to be beyond frustrating when some of the Partners refused to comply with our firm policies and appeared to think that their numbers protected them from having any meaningful consequences imposed upon them.
Later, when I was no longer the Managing Partner, I found some of the policies to be downright inconvenient, so I ignored them. (Of course, I did not ignore any of the serious policies such as the sexual harassment policy, except for that one time that I fell in love with, and later married, my Associate. Nothing much happened to me that time, although I did always wonder if the situation might have been different had my numbers been a whole lot smaller.)
My Chief Operating Officer said that having designed the rules to govern the sandbox, I did not want to play in the sandbox when it was inconvenient for me. I suppose that there was some truth to that, although I looked at the situation differently. I had come to believe that there was an overriding principle, contained in the unwritten part of my firm’s constitution, which decreed that the rules did not apply to Partners who were as productive as I was. After all, I was never able to enforce the rules against the high billers when I was the Managing Partner, so why should I submit to them when I was no longer in charge?
I truly wish that it were different. That the rules applied equally to everyone from the privileged to the not so privileged, and that they were applied consistently. That the threat of someone leaving with their rather large client base did not deter law firms from requiring even the biggest financial contributors to behave. But it never has been different and I fear that it never will be.
Of course, for every rule there are exceptions. So if you find yourself at a law firm which is one of those exceptions, be grateful. Unless of course you have huge billings and originating credits.
A version of this article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (www[dot]thelawyersdaily.ca), part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.