First, I did a happy dance when I heard that Bill O’Reilly was getting booted from Fox News.

Look, it’s been a brutal year for women—and, sadly, a fabulous one for male chauvinists of the “Mad Men” vintage. I won’t revisit all the indignities, but let’s just say that electing a man to the presidency who boasts about grabbing women’s genitals wasn’t exactly uplifting.

So it was a delicious treat that O’Reilly, who’s been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment, is finally getting his comeuppance. Even if we can’t nail President Donald Trump (remember at least 18 women accused our prez of sexual harassment or assault), it’s nice that his kindred spirit O’Reilly is getting his due.

I was cheery for five whole minutes, but then I remembered that accusations of O’Reilly’s horrendous behavior have been out there for over 10 years. (The New York Times reports that he settled a suit brought by former Fox producer Andrea Mackris for $9 million in 2004.) All told, Fox has coughed up a total of $13 million to settle suits by five other women.


Of course, there’s a simple business reason why O’Reilly didn’t get the old heave-ho much earlier: He was a huge cash cow (oops, I meant “bull”) for Fox, bringing in more than $446 million in advertising revenue from 2014 to 2016, according to The Times. He’d be sitting pretty at his anchor chair right now, if The Times didn’t break the story about the $13 million payout and advertisers hadn’t abandoned him as a result.

I’m pretty sure there’s no O’Reilly equivalent in Big Law. Nor is there a major law firm that’s run like Fox News (remember, Roger Ailes, Fox’s former chairman, was also a sexual harasser). But here’s my question: Would firms be equally reluctant to get rid of a top rainmaker who behaved badly?

You betcha. I mean, can you imagine pushing out a rainmaker who’s responsible for a quarter of the firm’s billings just because he (or she) is a nasty, abusive and predatory piece of work?

Most firms, like entertainment enterprises, are dependent on individual stars to keep the money pumping. Which means they would bend over backwards to keep such a vital player. And like media companies, they’d probably turn their guns on the complainer rather than one of their power brokers.

What would prompt a firm to finally oust the offending partner? Bad publicity—the same thing that spurred Fox to fire O’Reilly.

“Unless some truly egregious situation finds its way to the press, big law firms can fly under the radar,” says former Kirkland & Ellis partner Steven Harper, who’s an American Lawyer contributor. “If clients don’t know, they can’t react.”

That said, Harper says sexual harassment is not the problem it once was in law firms or corporations. “Things are better than they were 20 years ago. A prior generation of leaders would have turned a blind eye, or given a wrist slap, to sexual misconduct, especially by rainmakers.”

I agree that firms can’t turn a blind eye anymore, certainly not to egregious forms of unacceptable behavior. But for better or worse, most lawyers are too smart, cautious or repressed to commit blatant acts of offensive behavior. And that means the gender inequality that women face in firms and corporations is a lot trickier to prove.

So I’m not sure O’Reilly’s ouster has a silver lining for women. It’s heartening that he was publicly chastened but a bit deflating that he’s now licking his wounds with a purported $25 million in severance.