Bullying and sexual harassment rife in legal profession, new findings reveal

Bullying and sexual harassment rife in legal profession, new findings reveal

Nearly three-quarters did not report their experience of bullying or harassment, with this figure rising to 91% for experiences of sexual harassment. Picture: iStock

Half of women have been sexually harassed in the legal profession, while bullying is rife among both men and women, shocking new findings have revealed.

A profession-wide survey was commissioned by the Law Society after members voted for it at its 2020 annual general meeting, similar to that carried out by the International Bar Association (IBA) on bullying and sexual harassment.

Independent external consultant Crowe enquired about solicitors and trainees’ experience of work environments in Ireland, specifically as it relates to bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment.

It revealed that one in three women and half of men experienced bullying, while half of women and one in eight men experienced sexual harassment.

The workplace is the most common location where it happens, the survey of more than 1,500 found.

Nearly three-quarters did not report their experience of bullying or harassment, with this figure rising to 91% for experiences of sexual harassment.

No sanctions

Reporting resulted in no sanctions for the reported party in 88% of bullying incidences, 89% of harassment and 78% sexual harassment, as far as complainants were aware.

The status or profile of the reported party was the most prominent reason provided by respondents for not reporting, while bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment, led to a significant number of people leaving their jobs.

The significance of this report cannot be underestimated. The findings are unequivocal. Unacceptably high levels of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment have been reported. 

"These revelations, while deeply troubling, are a call to action to reaffirm our commitment to eradicating these negative behaviours that have no place in our profession. We must now work collaboratively with our members to stamp out bullying, harassment and sexual harassment," the Law Society said.

Almost three-quarters of those surveyed said their workplace did not conduct training relating to bullying/harassment or sexual harassment.

The Law Society said it was "time for change" following the findings.

"The solicitors’ profession is predicated on the highest ethical standards and we know that the majority of solicitors uphold these standards in the course of their work. 

"However, we now have the evidence that worrying levels of harmful behaviours are also present in the profession and that we need to address this issue collectively."

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