Bullying and sexual harassment rife in legal profession, survey finds


Levels of bullying within the UK legal profession are above the global average, research has found.

Almost two-thirds of women and more than 40% of men surveyed said they had been subjected to such behaviour, the International Bar Association (IBA) found.

A worldwide survey looking at bullying and sexual harassment used information collected from almost 7,000 legal professionals from 135 countries, and concluded that such behaviour is “rife” in the workplace.

The report found that across the globe, one in two women and one in three men have experienced bullying in the workplace, while a third of women and one in 14 men have been sexually harassed.

Of the 715 legal professionals from the UK who responded to the survey, 38% of women and 6% of men said they had been affected by sexual harassment.

Levels of bullying – a behaviour which affected 62% of female respondents and 41% of male respondents in the UK – were above the international averages of 55% and 30% respectively.

One woman working at a UK law firm 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.”

While UK legal workplaces have been “early adopters” of anti-bullying and sexual harassment policies, the report found confidence in those responsible for the policies is below the international average – 60% compared with 65% globally.

IBA president Horacio Bernardes Neto said: “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.”

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Legal adviser Kieran Pender, who led the project, said: “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.”

The report sets out a number of recommendations to address the issues, including improved training, increased dialogue and greater accountability across the profession.

The IBA describes itself as the global voice of the legal profession.