19:13, May 14 249 0 theguardian.com

2019-05-14 19:13:04
Bullying and sexual harassment rife among lawyers, global survey finds

Bullying and sexual harassment are rife in the legal profession, according to a global survey that identifies Britain as somewhere such behaviour is prevalent.

The survey of almost 7,000 lawyers across 135 countries was carried out by the International Bar Association, the London-based umbrella body which brings together the legal profession around the world.

Levels of bullying in the UK are above the international average, the study found, with 62% of female respondents and 41% of male respondents reporting that they had been bullied in connection with their employment. By comparison, the international averages were 55% and 30% respectively.

The frequency of sexual harassment in the UK is closer to the global average, with 38% of female and 6% of male respondents reporting they had been affected. Internationally, 37% of female respondents and 7% of male respondents had experienced sexual harassment during their career.

More than 700 British lawyers participated in the survey. The IBA report found “chronic underreporting” of incidents, with 57% of bullying cases and 75% of sexual harassment cases globally not reported for a variety of reasons, including the victims’ fear of repercussions for their careers.

Horacio Bernardes Neto, the IBA president, said the study provided the first global proof that “bullying and sexual harassment are endemic in the legal profession”.

He said: “Following the global #MeToo movement, the legal profession has regularly been called upon to advise other sectors on these issues. Our ability to advise effectively and drive broader societal change is undermined if we do not address the risk of hypocrisy.

“If the law is to remain in proper standing with the global community, its practitioners must be of good character. Addressing the widespread bullying and sexual harassment among us is an important step in safeguarding the long-term vitality of this essential profession.”

It comes after a 2017 report by the Bar Council of England and Wales which found 21% of employed and 12% of self-employed respondent barristers had been bullied or harassed at work in the two years prior to the survey.

The IBA report refers to a current London employment tribunal case in which a junior solicitor alleges she was forced to attend a sex show with a senior partner and had her employment terminated after rebuffing his advances. He denies the allegations.

Comments from anonymous victims include one from a British female lawyer who said: “I was advised by the [female] practice manager that if I showed a sexual interest in my principal, he would be nicer to me. This was after he had thrown a phone at my head.”

Another British woman remarked: “A fellow trainee solicitor groped me during a social event. He was drunk and had, up until that point, been someone I considered a friend. I thought about reporting him, but realised that there was a serious chance he would never qualify as a solicitor if I did … I was not prepared to ruin his future over this.”

The report refers to a notorious “swimsuit competition” held by an Atlanta office of a US law firm in 1983 that first generated concern about sexual harassment in the legal profession. Several participants at the time told The Wall Street Journal “they felt humiliated and that they didn’t protest only because they were candidates for year-round jobs with the firm.” A Harvard student “won” the competition and was subsequently offered a job at the prestigious firm.

Higher levels of sexual harassment and bullying were recorded by the survey in Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Younger legal professionals are disproportionately affected by both bullying and sexual harassment, the report found.