In the spirit of #MeToo, area attorneys are enlisting in an initiative to combat gender-based violence.
The Rockville-based Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA) launched #LawyersToo last month, pairing attorneys with clients seeking assistance in legal matters stemming from workplace or domestic violence and harassment.
“A lot of attorneys are looking at this moment and wondering what they can do with everything in the news, and it can be overwhelming to know what you can do to help,” said Spencer Cantrell, the legal director for JCADA.“This is a really concrete way for attorneys to give back. No matter what area of law you practice, you can potentially help a victim of power-based violence.”
Cantrell, along with JCADA board member Lisa Becker of law firm Offit Kurman, will head up the initiative. So far, Cantrell said, the program has assigned nine cases involving employment, tax and family law. The organization has also been able to channel other clients — in particular those in need of immigration assistance — to the roughly 30 attorneys who expressed interest at the organization’s kickoff event last month.
And according to Cantrell, for some of the attorneys who’ve signed on to JCADA’s initiative, it’s a personal matter. According to a 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission survey of research on the issue, the most conservative estimates are that about 25 percent of women in the workplace have experienced some form of sexual harassment. The same report says that about 75 percent of victims who spoke up faced retaliation for doing so.
“There are a lot of members of the legal profession who might separate their professional and personal lives, and their personal experiences from their practice of law,” Cantrell said. “So for some people this is a way of engaging with the movement that doesn’t reveal their own victimization, but is a way of knowing you’re in a supportive environment with other people working to end power-based violence.”
The organization has also provided training to attorneys on how to spot the clues that a client may be experiencing gender-based violence. Another new program, JCADA’s Victim Advocacy Program, has offered court accompaniment, as well as assistance with access to food, housing and transportation for victims of domestic abuse.
But Cantrell said the organization wants to expand its network in the local legal world.
It only has two attorneys on staff, and just three percent of its clients are referred by attorneys.
“We want attorneys to be picking up on the dynamics of abuse,” Cantrell said. “There are things victims might hint at, like saying, ‘He has a really short fuse,’ and those things are red flags for attorneys to know that there could be abuse and they might not realize it.
“Because it could happen in any legal issue they have clients in,” Cantrell added. “An attorney who does tax law might not always appreciate all of the different ways abuse can play out in their lives.”