Bullying and harassment in solicitors’ profession highlighted in survey

Half of female respondents had experienced sexual harassment

More than 90 per of those who said they had expereinced sexual harrassment had not reported the matter with the profile or status of the person responsible for the behaviour the reason most cited. Photograph: istock

More than 90 per of those who said they had expereinced sexual harrassment had not reported the matter with the profile or status of the person responsible for the behaviour the reason most cited. Photograph: istock

 

An “unacceptable” level of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in the solicitors’ profession is revealed in a new survey, the senior vice-president of the Law Society, Michelle Ní Longáin, has said.

More than 1,500 solicitors responded to the Dignity Matters survey with 43.5 per cent of male solicitors and 34.5 per cent of female solicitors who did having experienced bullying.

One out of every two female respondents had experienced sexual harassment, as had one out of eight of the male respondents.

Similar proportions of the male and female respondents said they had experienced non-sexual harassment.

However, the survey found, a large number of the solicitors who responded had not reported or complained about their experience.

While more than 70 per cent of respondents said they had not reported the harassment or bullying they had experienced, this rose to 91 per cent in the case of sexual harassment.

The most prominent reason given in each category of experience for not reporting the matter was the profile or status of the person responsible for the behaviour.

Among those who had reported the matter, 88 per cent of those who said they had experienced bullying, said the person complained about had not been the subject of any sanction as far as they were aware.

In relation to harassment, the equivalent figure was 89 per cent, while for sexual harassment it was 78 per cent.

The online survey of the society’s membership, which was conducted by the accountancy and business advisory firm Crowe, led to 1,565 completed survey results.

It also involved three interviews with respondents, one of whom described a “manic workplace where tasks would be set and priorities revised within 30 minutes to an hour and continuous queries on work status”.

The interviewee described continuous pressure with nobody left alone long enough to get anything completed, the report said.

The interviewee sought to address the situation with the principal whose response was to demean the interviewee’s work, according to the report.

While working late was the norm, a request to leave by 6pm one day per week resulted in comments such as “this is what it takes to be a successful lawyer,” according to the report.

Another spoke of an unwelcome sexual encounter at a non-work event that had led to tensions at work.

The tensions had been alleviated when the interviewee had to work from home due to the pandemic.

“The Law Society has embarked on an ambitious, evidence-based programme of change to support a culture of dignity, respect and inclusivity in the solicitors’ profession,” said Ms Ní Longáin, who is chair of the society’s Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.

The findings of the survey, she said, while troubling, were a collective call to action “to reaffirm our commitment to eliminating behaviour that has no place in our profession”.

In 2019 the International Bar Association published a survey showing the the extent of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in the legal professions globally.

The Dignity Matters survey was initiated by the Law Society to understand the extent of these issues in an Irish context, the society said.