Bullying and sexual harassment "are endemic in the legal profession", according to a report by the International Bar Association.
In the UK, an astonishing two thirds of female respondents to the IBA's global survey said they had been bullied, along with two fifths of the male respondents.
Globally, 60% of respondents said their supervisor was the bully, 7% said the bully was more junior than them, and 5% said the bully was a client.
"It is not surprising that bullying and sexual harassment are widespread in the profession", said the IBA, noting that problematic characteristics described "many, if not most legal workplaces". They included male-dominated leaderships, hierarchical power structures, lower-level employees depending on superiors for advancement, and power concentrated in a single person.
The risk of bullying and sexual harassment in law was exacerbated by the pressure of billable hours and adversarial work, said the IBA, which warned, "The legal profession has a problem".
Bullying occurred in different ways across different workplaces and the sexes. Female respondents were more likely to report having too much or too little work, while respondents working for governments were more likely to report being excluded or victimised. In barristers' chambers, "ridicule or demeaning language" was more common than average.
Noting that over half of victims said they never reported the problem, often due to the profile of the perpetrator and the fear of repercussions, the IBA said "chronic underreporting" and employers' "insufficient or negligible" responses proved legal workplaces were "not doing enough".
Comments were received from around the world:
"I was told by the senior partner at a top tier firm that despite my work performance, the firm would not keep me on because I am a lesbian." (Female, in-house, Canada)
"I felt sick every day I went to work under this manager. He would have fits of rage – screaming at me, violently kicking filing cabinets while I cowered in the corner of my tiny office. I was frightened of him in those moments. He would go to lunch with the rest of the office and I was never invited." (Female, law firm, Australia)
"As a man being bullied by a woman in the workplace, I felt – in addition to angry and hurt – absurd. I believed, correctly, that no one would take my complaints seriously." (Male, in-house, Canada)
"I was advised by the (female) practice manager that if I showed a sexual interest in my principal, he would be nicer to me. This was after he had thrown a phone at my head." (Female, law firm, UK)
"I have not seen anything even close to bullying or sexual harassment in my country in the legal industry or business." (Male, law firm, Russia)
Sexual harassment was also "alarmingly commonplace in the legal profession", claimed the IBA. In the UK, a third of female respondents and one in 17 male respondents said they had been sexually harassed. Before carrying out a blanket castration of the country's male partners, however, it's worth noting that just 715 people in the UK responded to the IBA's survey, which equates to less than 0.5%, of the UK's 145,000 practising solicitors. Some of the comments they received from the 7,000 lawyers who did respond from around the world were pretty grim, though:
"One of the senior partners offered to help me get a training contract, if I went to casinos with him and agreed to ‘get to know him better’." (Female, law firm)
"Once, the managing partner left me alone with a senior lawyer the firm was courting, who ran his hands up my legs and tried to kiss me. I bumped into the managing partner as I was running from the restaurant, and he suggested I should consider a relationship with this man." (Female, law firm, Canada)
"A client said I must see the view he had from his hotel room and after initially saying no I eventually popped into his room ‘just for a moment’. He then lunged. I moved away quickly and nothing terrible happened. I felt like an idiot. I thought his interest in me was professional. I felt horribly uncomfortable the next day in his team. I was worried it had ruined my career." (Female, law firm, UK)
"I often received comments from my supervisor that she wanted to ‘fuck me’. Any conversation would seem to have a sexual reference in it." (Male, barristers’ chambers, UK)
Three quarters of the respondents who said they were victims of sexual harassment never reported it, and of those who did, three quarters said no sanction was imposed.
"The male bosses take advantage of young, temporary female employees, in need of work, and without professional experience, by demanding sexual favours in exchange for employment. You cannot report, or they do not renew your position." (Female, government, Costa Rica)
"I didn’t report because who believes that a man says no to sex?" (Male, law firm, Sweden)
"A fellow trainee solicitor groped me during a social event. He was drunk and had, up until that point, been someone I considered a friend. I thought about reporting him, but realised that there was a serious chance he would never qualify as a solicitor if I did. I told him that if I ever heard of or witnessed any inappropriate behaviour on his part, I would go to HR. I am still not entirely sure that I did the right thing, but I knew how hard everyone had worked to get to the point we were at. I was not prepared to ruin his future over this." (Female, law firm, UK)
"The partners closed ranks around the perpetrator [of seriously inappropriate physical contact]. The firm did nothing to sanction him and later promoted him into a more senior, but marginally less public position. They offered me no support or reassurances about my career. I felt I had no choice but to leave." (Female, law firm, UK)
"After requesting that a sexual harassment policy be implemented, I experienced a huge backlash. There was an immediate increase in sexist comments, jokes and derogatory comments personally directed at me." (Female, advocate, South Africa)
"My experience is that it does not matter whether there is a policy in place or not. If the individual is high achieving and productive, then management will not sanction or discipline that individual." (Female, government, Canada)
Advocating for better training and policies, more data collection and greater engagement with staff, Horacio Bernardes Neto, the President of the IBA, said the profession "must confront" these "insidious issues".
"I implore the legal profession to heed this report’s recommendations", he said. "If the law is to remain in proper standing with the global community, its practitioners must be of good character".