"Startling" rates of bullying and harassment in the legal profession worldwide have been revealed in a new report published by the International Bar Association.
After carrying out the largest-ever global survey of legal professionals, with nearly 7,000 respondents from 135 countries, the IBA found that one in two female respondents and one in three male respondents have experienced bullying in the workplace, and one in three females and one in 14 males sexually harassed in connection with work. But 57% of bullying cases and 75% of sexual harassment cases go unreported, policies regarding bullying and sexual harassment are present in only 53% of workplaces, and only 22% of legal workplaces have been trained to address bullying and sexual harassment.
In the result, 65% of bullied practitioners have left or considered leaving their workplace.
Respondents participated from workplaces across the legal spectrum, including law firms, in-house, barristers’ chambers, government and the judiciary.
The report, Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession, makes 10 recommendations for legal workplaces to address the crisis. These focus on raising greater awareness of the issues; implementing and revising policies and standards; the importance of improved training; increased dialogue and greater accountability across the profession; increasing intra-profession dialogue and best practice sharing; developing flexible reporting models; and maintaining momentum to achieve genuine change.
It also highlights a "perception paradox", whereby countries in which workplace bullying and sexual harassment are topical issues (and where the domestic professions have taken steps to address such misconduct) often report particularly high rates of bullying and sexual harassment. This issue and others are discussed in the report’s Methodology section. The report hypothesises that reported rates may temporarily increase in the coming years as the global profession seeks positive change, which may indicate increased subjective understanding among targets and a greater willingness to report, rather than an objective increase in the frequency of such misconduct.
IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto, of São Paulo, Brazil, commented: "It is deeply shameful that our profession, predicated on the highest ethical standards, is rife with such negative workplace behaviours. Bar associations, law societies and law firms must lead by example and expose unacceptable behaviour. The IBA will be undertaking a global engagement campaign to ensure that eradicating bullying and sexual harassment is prioritised. We must work for positive change."
IBA Legal Policy & Research Unit legal adviser Kieran Pender, who led the project, added: "Our research found that targets of bullying and sexual harassment very rarely report the misconduct to their workplaces or regulators. They don’t report because of the status of the perpetrator, fear of repercussions and because the incidents are often endemic to the workplace. These issues affect all parts of the profession, from entry level trainees to attorneys general. We must take responsibility and develop standards of conduct to make it clear that this behaviour has no place in our profession."
A global engagement campaign, from May to September 2019, begins with events in Edinburgh, Mexico City, New York City, and Washington DC. The Edinburgh event takes place today (16 May) at the Law Society of Scotland's offices, from 5.30 for 6-7.45 pm. Registration is free, but necessary: contact LPRU@int-bar.org. Speakers include Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and Horacio Bernades Neto, as well as speakers from across the Scottish legal professions, including Craig Nicol, the managing partner of Thorntons LLP, Angela Grahame, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, and John Logue, Deputy Crown Agent.
The IBA's campaign will culminate with a showcase session at the 2019 IBA Annual Conference in September in Seoul, South Korea, with Julia Gillard, a former lawyer and now chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, delivering the keynote address.
Alison Atack, President of the Law Society of Scotland, commented: "The #UsToo report is a serious and thorough piece of research and we commend the IBA for its work here. Many of the themes chime with our own report – Profile of the Profession – which we published last year. We will carefully consider the findings of the IBA’s report in line with our Scottish-specific research and look at how we can embed the recommendations along with our own thoughts. We would strongly recommend all in the legal profession consider the IBA’s report carefully. Bullying and sexual harassment have no place whatsoever in the Scottish legal sector and we are undertaking a programme of work to educate the profession on the effects of these behaviours on those who suffer from them."
The full report is available to download free of charge from the IBA website at this link.