New rule bars lawyers from undermining women attorneys by calling them 'honey' or 'darling'
Stressed out woman lawyer in courtroom (Shutterstock)

Attorneys who refer to women lawyers as "honey" or "darling" could face penalties under new professional guidelines adopted by the American Bar Association.

Nearly two dozen state bars and the District of Columbia have already implemented similar rules, which explicitly describe actions and language that may be considered sexual harassment during the practice of law, reported the New York Times.

Many women attorneys have complained they're subjected to sexist remarks and gestures while they're practicing law, and advocates of the new rule argued that lawyers who undermined opposing counsel by referring to them with misogynist terms.

The new ethics rule prohibits sexual harassment while attorneys are “interacting with witnesses, co-workers, court personnel, lawyers and others” and while “managing a law practice or law firm” or “participating in bar association, business or social activities in connection with the practice of law.”

Penalties -- which could include fines or suspensions -- would be determined by state bar associations.

Critics argued that a broad rule would violate free speech rights, but the amended ethics rule that was passed by a voice vote includes some "wiggle room" for attorneys accused of such offenses, the newspaper reported.

Attorneys may be punished only if they know or reasonably should know their actions constitute sexual harassment or discrimination, and the ethics rule doesn't apply to "legitimate" legal advice or advocacy.

That would allow offenders to argue they didn't know their actions or statements were prohibited.