At its meeting on 13 September 2019, the Law Society Council received a presentation from director general Ken Murphy on the disturbing findings of International Bar Association (IBA) worldwide research.
The IBA report was published in May 2019 under the title Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession.
Nearly 7,000 individuals from 135 countries responded to the IBA’s survey. The results provide empirical evidence that bullying and sexual harassment are rife in the legal profession.
Approximately one in two female respondents, and one in three male respondents, had been bullied in connection with their employment. One in three female respondents had been sexually harassed in a workplace context, as had one in 14 male respondents.
No one on the Council sought to pretend that Ireland was immune to the problems of bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession.
It was agreed that the Law Society must confront these insidious issues in our profession through a series of measures, including consciousness raising (this is the second Gazette article on the topic in recent months), and a seminar that is currently being planned.
Ken Murphy, in his capacity as an officer in the Bar Issues Commission of the IBA, served as a member of the working group that produced the IBA report.
As such, he recently had the opportunity to meet with the keynote speaker, former Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard, at the IBA’s standing-room-only seminar on the topic at its annual conference in Seoul, South Korea.
Among her contributions in a riveting address to the seminar, Julia Gillard observed: “Sexual harassment is not one horrible moment in time,” she said. “It undermines a sense of self, corrodes confidence, and can give rise to anxiety, depression – even suicidality.”
Citing the IBA’s landmark report, Ms Gillard noted that female lawyers were more likely than their male peers to be targeted.
A particular problem in the legal profession is that of the serial offender whose ‘eccentricities’ are brushed under the carpet because they are a high-earning partner or a ‘courtroom magician’. New reporting methods are needed to expose such ‘brilliant jerks’, Gillard said.
But rather than dwell on the problem, the former solicitor chose instead to focus on solutions, declaring that our goal should be to create safer and more productive workplace environments.
“I want to explore how we can end up with a legal profession where sexual harassment and bullying have gone the way of ink pots and quills,” she said.