The International Bar Association (IBA) has found sexual harassment and bullying are rife across the global legal profession, as the organisation ramps up its efforts to draw attention to the issues.
The survey, which had nearly 7,000 responses from across 135 countries, found half of female respondents had been affected by bullying in the workplace while a third of female respondents had been sexually harassed at work.
One in three male respondents had also experienced workplace bullying, while one in 14 had been sexually harassed in a work context.
The majority of those surveyed (73%) worked at law firms, with the remainder spread across barristers’ chambers, government and in-house departments, and the judiciary.
The IBA’s report on its research, conducted over several months last year, found bullying is “rampant” in the legal profession, with almost half of the survey’s respondents saying they have experienced bullying in their career, and that the issue is rarely reported.
Two women working at law firms, whose comments were included in the report, said they felt suicidal as a result of bullying they experienced.
Another reported her experiences working under a bullying manager. She said: “I felt sick every day. He would have fits of rage – screaming at me, violently kicking cabinets while I cowered in the corner… I was frightened of him.”
The report also found sexual harassment is “alarmingly” commonplace in the legal profession and has an unequal impact on women. Some 37% of female respondents had experienced sexual harassment during their career compared to 7% of men, the survey found.
One woman who worked at a U.K. law firm described an incident when a client “lunged” at her.
She said: “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… He then lunged… I felt like an idiot. I was worried it had ruined my career.”
The survey found that both bullying and sexual harassment are underreported, with the majority of respondents (57%) never reporting incidents of bullying, compared to 11% reporting “on all occasions”.
Survey participants cited profile or status of perpetrator as the main reason for not doing so, followed by “concerns about repercussions”.
Meanwhile, the study found that incidents of sexual harassment “are very rarely reported” and that when reports are made, “workplace responses are typically inadequate, with perpetrators infrequently sanctioned”.
The report also states: “Sexual harassment is having a considerable negative impact on the legal sector, with many sexually harassed respondents considering leaving their workplaces or the profession altogether.”
One woman, who worked at a law firm in the U.K. said she left her workplace after reporting that she had been physically sexually harassed.
She said: “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.”