Law Society takes action to address bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in the solicitors’ profession

The Law Society of Ireland is highlighting a range of evidence-based recommendations in the landmark Dignity Matters Report to address bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in the solicitors’ profession.

Senior Vice-President of the Law Society and Chairperson of the Law Society’s Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, Michelle Ní Longáin said, “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. This follows the results of a research study, including a survey, initiated by the Law Society and conducted by Crowe that shows unacceptable levels of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment; significant underreporting of incidents; and limited consequences for those who have engaged in these behaviours. These findings, while troubling, are a collective call to action to reaffirm our commitment to eliminating behaviour that has no place in our profession.”

The key findings reported by respondents in the Dignity Matters survey include:

  • One in three women (2.9) and one in two men (2.3) experienced bullying;
  • One in two women (2.3) and one in nine men (8.6) experienced harassment;
  • One in two women and one in eight men (8.3) experienced sexual harassment;
  • A consistent majority did not report their experience of bullying (73%) or harassment (71%), with this figure rising to 91% for experiences of sexual harassment;
  • In so far as respondents were aware, reporting resulted in no sanctions for the persons who engaged in 88% of bullying incidences, 89% of harassment and 78% of sexual harassment;
  • The most prominent reason provided by respondents for not reporting bullying (70%), harassment (76%) and sexual harassment (49%) was the profile/status of the person who engaged in these behaviours;
  • Experience of bullying (46%), harassment (50%) or sexual harassment (21%) has contributed to respondents leaving their workplace.

Leading by example

Commenting on the importance of leading by example, Ms Ní Longáin said, “In advance of this survey, the Law Society has and will continue to address in a proactive way the issues raised in the report through a range of member supports including an online Professional Wellbeing Hub with signposting to independent resources, mental health supports, training, mentoring, and Charters to support workplace efforts to stamp out this type of behaviour.”

“The future of our profession is more inclusive and has more diversity in leadership roles. This requires a professional culture grounded in dignity and respect. As part of our commitment to improving gender equality, diversity and inclusion in the profession, we are ready to take further action to continue this journey. Bullying, harassment and sexual harassment are present in all professions and industries. It is important to identify the issues and then take action, and we hope our efforts will encourage others to do the same.”

Among the recommendations contained within the Dignity Matters Report, the Law Society will support the profession to address bullying, harassment and sexual harassment by raising awareness of the issues and their impact to normalise the conversation; implementing and revising policies and standards so that they are active and meaningful; providing regular and customised training; increasing dialogue and best practice sharing across the legal professions and other sectors; underlining the importance of leadership and ownership of positive workplace behaviours; exploring flexible reporting models; and engaging with younger and diverse members of the profession.

Improving workplace experiences

“All solicitors have the right to a safe working environment, as do all workers in every occupation, free from the prospect of negative workplace experiences. We will work with our members to eliminate behaviour that does not align with the values of integrity, trust and respect that are the foundation of our profession.”

“The Law Society is proud to have taken a proactive approach to understand the extent of these issues and we commend our members for providing their experiences of difficult situations concerning highly sensitive subjects. We look forward to making meaningful progress on the Dignity Matters recommendations in the coming months and years,” Ms Ní Longáin concluded.

The ‘Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession’ survey published by the International Bar Association in 2019 showed bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in the global legal professions. The Dignity Matters survey was initiated by the Law Society to understand the extent of these issues in an Irish context.

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