The chair and managing partner of the world’s second-highest grossing law firm has resigned after admitting to exchanging sexually-explicit text messages with a woman whom he’d never met. Bill Voge, who became chair of Latham & Watkins in 2015 after two prior stints on the firm’s executive committee, first contacted the woman in September 2017 on behalf of the New Canaan Society, a Christian men’s group, and offered to help her engage in a “Christian reconciliation” with a fellow member. The relationship escalated to sexting in November, and while it was initially consensual, the woman said Voge crossed the line when he asked her to come to his hotel room.
A powerful man taking advantage of his position
Law360, which had been investigating the allegations against Voge, and was interviewing his attorney when news of his resignation broke, reports that the woman began telling her story after Voge’s request to meet in person. In emails, texts, and phone calls to Voge’s attorney, assistant, law partners, and even his wife, the woman described how she felt Voge had taken advantage of his position and knowledge of her situation, and shared some of the explicit messages. She reportedly contacted attorneys at Kirkland & Ellis, seeking counsel who would not be intimidated by Voge; one Kirkland attorney reached by Law360 declined comment. The American Lawyer and ABA Journal also have reports.
Voge has fought back, disputing the woman’s account of their relationship, and alleging she has engaged in a smear campaign to publicly humiliate him. His attorney sent a cease and desist letter to the woman in November characterizing her actions as harassment, and described her to Law360 as a “cyberstalker.” However, he declined to go into more detail.
Unprofessional conduct or harassment?
In a statement, Latham said that Voge resigned after voluntarily disclosing his actions to the firm’s executive committee. After noting that Voge’s conduct did not involve the firm, any of its clients or its personnel, the statement acknowledges that “Mr. Voge engaged in subsequent conduct relating to this matter that, while not unlawful, the executive committee concluded was not benefitting the leader of the firm.” According to Law360, the “subsequent conduct” including contacting the woman’s husband, and at least one family friend. While some of the messages reviewed by Law360 are apologetic, others are threatening, with Voge claiming the woman should be in jail, and that she should be made an example of to “help the next victim.”
Voge issued a statement saying he was stepping down “with great sorrow.” He characterized the situation as a “personal mistake,” and acknowledged that his conduct “falls well below the personal and professional standards” he has sought to uphold.
As stories like Voge’s continue to make headlines, we see time and again the importance of harassment victims telling their stories. One of the most vital resources for victims in this sense is their attorney. We can provide confidential counsel to help victims understand their rights, and will not be intimidated by the harasser’s power or status. If you are the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, do not hesitate to contact an attorney.