Today I read the article about Dr. Geoffrey Marcy, an astronomy Professor at UC Berkeley, and by all accounts (including his nomination for a Nobel prize) a very smart man. He’s the guy you may know from the discovery of exoplanets, the planets we now know exist around other stars. That is the positive aspects of his reputation.

Mr. Marcy recently resigned from Berkeley, the culmination of many months of investigation into sexual harassment allegations that happened over a decade of time, from 2001 through 2010. The University took action this past summer by placing him on probation.

The University found Dr. Marcy guilty in their investigation, and I’m not here to approach that decision. This is the most recent story of these kind of charges, and I find myself scratching my head – the tolerance of bad behavior in positions of power happens far too often.

Law firms often find themselves crippled by power, allowing behaviors to become encouraged simply by tolerating them.

Yes, what we tolerate we encourage. I’m not suggesting there are Dr. Marcy’s in the legal community, rather, I’m implying that where any bad behavior is tolerated, the unsaid message is encouragement.
So, that violation of timesheet policy month after month might not be the equivalent of Dr. Marcy’s behaviors, and yet, by not addressing it, you are encouraging it to continue. Same for the dress code violation. And that tardiness. I could go on and on, and I’m confident you could add to this list!

So what’s the antidote? Leadership. Courage. Accountability.

Step forward into the values you cherish, and the firm values you created (hopefully aligning with your own) and challenge bad behavior with the responsibility of the organization behind you. Stepping forward into conversations quickly prevents the encouragement of the bad behavior.

Somehow I know that had Dr. Marcy not carry the weight of his accomplishments in a system that is ruled by tenure (or originations, ahem, law firms), he would have been long ago released from his role.

I challenge you as leaders to align values, charge others with equal responsibility for alignment, and find accountable measures that drive your firm forward.