Should Women Represent Men Accused Of Sexual Assault?

Photo: Peter Kramer/NBC/Getty Images.
Lisa Bloom has built a career representing women accusing powerful men of sexual harassment. Which is why it was so surprising when her name appeared in The New York Times in October as an advisor to Harvey Weinstein.
Just over a month ago, as the producer was preparing for the publication of two explosive exposés from The New York Times and The New Yorker, which included allegations of sexual assault and rape, Weinstein brought Bloom onto his expansive legal and damage control team. Bloom was initially there to counsel Weinstein, but became associated with the team actively suppressing the stories of actresses coming out against him.
Weinstein has since been accused of sexual assault and harassment from 100+ women spanning three decades. The accusations against him kicked off a watershed moment for sexual harassment and assault, with women coming forward to report abuse by powerful men in various industries. Although Bloom is no stranger to the press, it was shocking that she was advising Weinstein of all people. She built her career representing women against the likes of Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, and Donald Trump. Not to mention that she’s the daughter of feminist lawyer Gloria Allred.
So when she accepted a position counseling the accused rather than the accuser, many women were baffled and hurt. Some have speculated it was due to the fact that Weinstein was turning Bloom’s book about Trayvon Martin, Suspicion Nation, into a television mini-series. And it got worse: The Times reported that Bloom resigned two days after the story broke, and that Weinstein’s board opposed her plan of circulating photos of accusers being friendly with Weinstein.
We talked to her about why she took Weinstein’s case, whether she knew about the cover-up operations, and whether she crossed a line.
The allegations against Harvey Weinstein have sparked a critical moment for the conversation about sexual assault. How are you making sense of everything?
"I do feel like we're at a moment in time where we're taking a great leap forward for women's rights. The progress doesn't move in a straight line. We tend to be stuck and then we take a big jump. And I think when Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas in 1991, that was one of those times. And this is another one of those times where so many women and some men are speaking out about harassment and assault, and it's just a very powerful cultural moment."
You built your career representing women against Bill O’Reilly and Bill Cosby. Why work as a representative for Weinstein?
"Because of attorney confidentiality rules, I can't talk about that in any detail. I can say that I agreed to come into it to get him to change his response. My client Janice Dickinson, for example, had been litigating for almost three years against Bill Cosby because he called her a liar. And my client Jill Harth got fired from jobs after Donald Trump called her a liar. So I thought, I've never been invited to be in the room before, with somebody who was accused of – at that point it was only verbal comments. So I thought, here's an opportunity to change the narrative. Would he be willing to acknowledge wrongdoing and apologize and promise not to disrespect the women?"
"And it turns out, he was willing to do that and that is what he did. The day that the New York Times story broke, which was only about verbal comments, that's exactly what he did. He apologized, he said he's going to take a leave of absence, and I thought that was a great accomplishment. Then, once far more serious allegations came out, I resigned."
Was there a particular moment you realized it had gone too far?
"Because of the attorney confidentiality rules, which I have to be so careful about, I can't describe to you that moment or what happened behind the scenes. You could look at the timing and probably draw your own conclusions."
Ronan Farrow's recent New Yorker piece detailed the massive resources that go into discrediting women. Did you know about the resources Weinstein was pouring into this?
"Again, because of attorney client privilege issues I can't answer any questions about that. You can read the article and see that I'm just barely mentioned, and I wasn't accused in that article of anything. I think I'm mentioned as standing in a room at one point, and that's about it. There are other lawyers who are discussed in that article at great lengths, and I think it would be more appropriate to direct those questions to them."
You've since said that representing him, even for that short amount of time, was a mistake.
"Because so many people reached out to me and told me they were hurt seeing me advising him in any capacity, seeing me connected with him in any capacity. And I get a lot of hate no matter what I do. I always have and in the last couple of years I think it's escalated significantly because of social media and I've done a lot of controversial cases. So initially I just shrugged it off. But then I looked at it a little more closely, especially because it was coming from people who typically have not been hateful towards me, and I realized that people were expressing to me that they were really hurt. And I certainly don't want to hurt anyone."
"I've thought a lot about,'What's the lesson here for me?' I had thought of myself as a private lawyer in my own law firm. I have a very fast-growing civil rights law firm, and I had thought, I'll just choose my cases and do what I want to do and represent clients. But it's actually much bigger than that. And the choices I make about which clients to represent has an impact on other people who are looking to me to be a representative of something bigger."
Do you think women should represent men accused of sexual harassment?
"That's a very interesting question. Most lawyers who do what I do, discrimination and harassment cases, do some defense side work. In the case of Weinstein, it ended up being a super high-profile case. I think every woman lawyer has to make her own decision about what's right for her. There are criminal defense lawyers who represent murderers, rapists, and child molesters. So I'm not going to tell people who to represent."
"I do have a friend who's a prominent women's rights lawyer in another state who reached out to me recently and said, 'Lisa, I've been through this. I've had guys who said I've been wrongly accused. I'm innocent. I took their case on, and it always blew up in my face. It always ends up being much more serious than they led you to believe. I've learned, don't do it.' I think that's good advice."
"I have learned that I'm not the right person to represent men accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault. We made a decision at the law firm that we're not doing anymore of those cases."
How do you reconcile your beliefs that we need to fight sexual assault and support women with your initial decision to advise Weinstein?
"There were no accusations of sexual assault [when I signed on]. I came in it to make a difference from the inside to change the response. We can't change what may have happened in the past, but we can change the response and apologize, acknowledge wrongdoing, take a leave of absence, and don't go after the women [accusers]."
"People have said to me, 'If Bill O'Reilly wanted to invite you to talk to him about how he should respond to sexual harassment allegations, would you meet with him?'"
"Yeah, I would have met with him, told him what I think. I guess I wouldn't do that now. I guess people have a hard time understanding it ... For me, I've been on the outside throwing stones for 31 years and to have the opportunity to be on the inside and change the response was something that I thought would be a positive thing."
Your mother, Gloria Allred, is also a famed feminist lawyer. She said that she would not have represented Weinstein. What is your relationship like with her? And have you talked about it with her at all?
"Actually no, we haven't. She did come out with that press release against me, and that was very hurtful. She said she'd be happy to be opposing counsel to me on the case, and I have a different perspective on that. To me, litigation is war. I would not go to war against my lawyer mother nor my lawyer daughter. I think that would be a clear conflict. I think family is more important than business, that's just not a choice I would make."
But if you believe that litigation is war, by virtue of you being at Weinstein’s side, wouldn’t that send a confusing message to the women you represented in similar cases? Help me understand the optics of your representing a man like Weinstein.
"I didn't represent him in any litigation. I was an advisor to him, and my primary role was to advise him on the best response when this information was revealed."
Would you have handled anything differently knowing what you know now?
"I would not have accepted this client."
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series