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Report on harassment of legal professionals

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Us Too. report, IBA, legal profession, bullying, sexual harassment, campaign,Workplaces are not doing enough to prevent or adequately respond to misconduct.

Following the largest-ever global survey of legal professionals, a new International Bar Association (IBA) report has identified startling rates of bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession and has made 10 recommendations for legal workplaces to address the crisis.

The 130-page landmark report, ‘Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession’, drew on data collected from a survey involving nearly 7,000  legal professionals from 135 countries.

Respondents participated from workplaces across the legal spectrum, including law firms, in-house, barristers’ chambers, government and the judiciary.

The project was developed in collaboration with an IBA working group, consisting of 16 IBA members from around the globe representing all IBA Regional Fora and relevant committees, and Emerita Professor Margaret Thornton, Emerita Professor Patricia Easteal AM and Kate Eastman SC acted as independent experts, reviewing a draft of the report.

The project was also supported by many of the IBA’s 190 bar associations and law societies and 200 group member law firms, from over 170 countries.

The results provide insight into the nature, prevalence and impact of bullying and sexual harassment across the sector.

The findings from the survey respondents include:

one in two women and one in three men have experienced bullying in the workplace;

one in three women and one in 14 men have been sexually harassed;

in 57 per cent of bullying cases, incidents were not reported, with the figure rising to 75 per cent for episodes of sexual harassment;

there is considerable adverse impact, with 65 per cent of bullied practitioners having left or considered leaving their workplace as a result;

workplaces are not doing enough to prevent or adequately respond to misconduct, with policies regarding bullying and sexual harassment present in only 53 per cent of workplaces; and

just one in five workplaces have conducted training in recognising and reporting problems in these areas.

The report 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.

The recommendations set out by the IBA to aid the legal profession in urgently addressing workplace bullying and sexual harassment focus on raising greater awareness of these 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.

The launch event of Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession was held in London on 15 May 2019.

Dame Laura Cox, who led the Independent Inquiry on Bullying and Harassment of House of Commons Staff, provided the keynote address.

And Baroness Helen Kennedy, QC, Director of the IBA’s Human Rights Institute, said in her closing remarks: “Lawyers and other legal professionals must be able to work in environments that are safe and supportive.

“Bullying and sexual harassment is never appropriate, and the profession must do all it can to stamp out such misconduct.”

A global engagement campaign, from May to September 2019, is to begin with events in Edinburgh; Mexico City; New York City; and Washington DC.

For the full listing, check the IBA website here.

The campaign will culminate with a showcase session at the 2019 IBA Annual Conference in Seoul, with Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia, a former lawyer and now Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, delivering the keynote address.

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