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UK legal industry plagued by sexual harassment and bullying, IBA survey finds

Law firm culture is again under the spotlight after a survey of almost 7,000 lawyers across 135 countries found sexual harassment and bullying is rife within the legal industry, with the UK reporting above average levels of bullying.

The report, carried out by the International Bar Association, found 62% of female respondents in the UK reported they had been bullied in relation to their employment, alongside 41% of male respondents. These were both ahead of the international levels of bullying, at 55% and 30% respectively.

Sexual harassment in the UK, meanwhile, was reported by 38% of female respondents, a figure closer to the global mean. For men, the figure was substantially lower at 6%.

Alarmingly the survey – which saw more than 700 British lawyers participate – showed that 82% of those who reported bullying suggested their workplace’s response was insufficient or negligible, and in 84% of cases the perpetrator was not sanctioned.

The data in regards to sexual harassment was similarly concerning, with 74% of cases not being reported, while of those reported, the response was considered to be ineffective 71% of the time.

Legal workplaces in the UK were shown to be early adopters of anti-bullying and sexual harassment policies, with 79% of respondents saying their workplaces had such measures in place. The report also suggests a link between workplaces running training on these topics and a reduction in bullying and sexual harassment.

Internationally, the survey showed that one in two women suffer from workplace bullying compared to one in three men, while one in three women experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Nearly three-quarters of the global respondents worked at law firms, with larger law firms the worst offenders.

Increasingly firms are feeling the pressure to address issues around bullying and harassment within their organisations, while also being held accountable for helping veil cases of harassment with non-disclosure agreements.

Most recently, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer became embroiled in a harassment controversy following allegations made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority against partner Ryan Beckwith.