Keeping the Conversation Going

Leto Copeley and Valerie Johnson started a #MeToo podcast before #MeToo hit

Published in 2020 North Carolina Super Lawyers Magazine

In 2017, partners Valerie Johnson and Leto Copeley knew they wanted to do something that addressed the reoccurring questions they encounter in the employment, sexual harassment and personal injury space. They thought a book made sense, came up with an outline, but, in the end, Copeley says, “It just felt so daunting.” 

So the duo, who dubbed themselves the “Law Sisters,” turned to Plan B: a podcast. “It just seemed like something we could do more immediately,” Johnson says.

The pod, Sex at Work, examines bad behavior in workplaces around the country, and offers legal information for individuals dealing with sexual harassment. They’ve discussed sexism in the legal profession, mental health for sexual assault victims, law makers who evolve into law breakers and other elements of the #MeToo conversation—all before #MeToo was a national talking point, let alone a hashtag.

Their first episode, “Is This Sexual Harassment or Not?”, dropped three months before Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the Harvey Weinstein story in the October 5th New York Times. “Sexual harassment has always been happening; now it’s out there in a movement that’s organized, big and powerful,” Johnson says. “And we get to talk about it.” 

Copeley and Johnson first started working together in 1996 and agree a mutual commitment to ethics and client service are two reasons the partnership works so well. It doesn’t hurt that they’re best friends.

“There are so many things to admire about each other’s wit and wisdom. I happen to know that I crack Leto up, and she has often has me rolling,” Johnson says. “When you work so hard, you have to laugh.”

They’ve also stood shoulder-to-shoulder when life’s not so funny. “We just have each other’s backs. We’ve both seen tragedy,” Johnson says. “That kind of support is crucial in a long-term relationship.”  

They faced a few hurdles starting the pod. “First, we’re practicing law at the same firm,” Johnson says, “so how do we find the time and balance? Then there’s the technical aspects: How do you do it? Where? What do you use? Who’s going to edit? It took a long time to really nail those things down.”

They describe their enterprise as “low-tech”—they utilize a PC laptop, a pair of Shure microphones, headphones Johnson stole from her husband, a Scarlett Focusrite audio interface and Audacity software. The Sex at Work HQ is Johnson’s house. 

“We learned the ropes by leaning on some professionals and doing a lot of research,” Johnson says. “Leto talked to people who had broadcast experience. I bought a book, I listened to a podcast on podcasts. We also hired a wonderful UNC student who had taken a podcasting class.”  

Even so, the content didn’t flow at first.

“The first episode, we had to do like three times to get it right,” Copeley says. (“Leto was much better at it,” Johnson interjects.) 

Now 18 episodes in, the Law Sisters have learned some valuable lessons, such as: It’s better to record in the morning before the afternoon slump hits and to avoid peak traffic time and the noise that comes with it. “The other thing we discovered is you cannot have a glass of wine before you record an episode,” says Copeley.

With each episode, Johnson and Copeley aim for a balance between accessibility and accuracy, while still having fun. “We’re talking about heavy subjects,” Johnson says. “There’s got to be some light in there.”

They sometimes break down workplace scenarios by using Barbie as the main character. “Bad Boss of the Week,” a recurring segment, has been awarded to former Fox News broadcaster Bill O’Reilly, who was accused of sexual harassment on numerous occasions; and a group of Nike executives, who were accused of creating a discriminatory workplace toward women. They’ve discussed brogrammer culture and how it fed into Uber’s alleged culture of sexual harassment. They’ve asked women, “Can we stop berating each other for what we wear?” 

Copeley and Johnson say they’ve heard from listeners around the globe. “There are a lot more stories to tell and questions to answer,” Copley says. “I’m actually writing down ideas as we speak.” 

Adds Johnson, “What’s most important is to keep the conversation going.”

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