JLD campaign: Bullying and sexual harassment

Bullying is defined by Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) as “behaviour from a person or group that’s unwanted and makes you feel uncomfortable, including feeling:

  • frightened (‘intimidated’)
  • less respected or put down (‘degraded’)
  • you’re made fun of and it makes you feel uncomfortable (‘humiliated’)
  • upset (insulted or ‘offended’)”

Harassment is defined by Acas as “when bullying is because of a ‘protected characteristic’ and so is against the law”.

The problem

The International Bar Association (IBA) published a report in May 2019 that found that younger members of the legal profession (who are often also more junior) are disproportionately affected by bullying and sexual harassment at work.

Almost 33% of respondents aged under 25 said that they’d experienced bullying in the past year, compared to 12.5% of respondents aged 55-59.

In 2018 and 2019, several trainees and junior lawyers were taken to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) for dishonesty, and some were struck off. In some cases, there was evidence that they’d been bullied or pressurised into their actions.

Read coverage about the cases in the Law Society Gazette

Calls to LawCare about bullying and sexual harassment almost doubled between 2017 and 2018.

What we’re doing

In January 2020, the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) published a guide on creating a healthy alcohol culture in the legal profession, as many incidents of bullying and harassment at work involve alcohol.

Read the guide (PDF 340 KB)

Find out more about our Booze Culture campaign

In October 2019, JLD committee members Amy Clowrey and Charlotte Parkinson attended a roundtable event to consider what could be done to protect junior lawyers from bullying and sexual harassment at work.

Read Amy’s article for the Law Society Gazette

In October 2019, the Government Equalities Office consulted on sexual harassment in the workplace. We responded, highlighting issues which affect our members.

Read our consultation response

In February 2019, we wrote to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) about the recent SDT cases. We asked the SRA to explain:

  • what practical support and measures it has in place for junior lawyers having
  • what it’s doing to make sure that organisations employing junior solicitors support them and do not have ‘toxic’ cultures

Read our letter

Read the SRA’s response

What you can do

Bullying and sexual harassment at work should not be tolerated and should be taken seriously by both employers and employees.

Law firms and managers

Employers have a duty of care to their employees, contractors, clients and visitors.

Monitor the training given to your trainees, and the performance of your training principal(s). Support junior lawyers in your firm and mentor and/or coach them.

Read the Law Management Section’s article on how firms can prevent bullying and harassment, and deal with complaints if they do occur.

Read the Law Society’s guide for employers on workplace harassment

Read Acas’ guide for managers and employers on bullying and harassment at work (PDF, 195 KB)

Follow the IBA report’s 10 recommendations

Compliance officers

Compliance officers for legal practice should report bullying and harassment to the SRA, as this behaviour is in conflict with the principles to act:

  • with integrity (principle 5)
  • in a way that encourages equality, diversity and inclusion (principle 6)

Junior lawyers

If you’re being bullied or sexually harassed at work, tell someone, ideally when the situation first arises. You could talk to your:

  • manager
  • HR department
  • trade union representative

If this does not work, you can make a formal complaint using your employer’s grievance procedure.

If you’re still being harassed after making a formal complaint, you can take legal action at an employment tribunal.

There are also a number of support and advice services which can help:

  • Solicitors’ Assistance Scheme (SAS)
    Free advice to solicitors, trainees and anyone working in the legal profession. All advice is confidential and if you want to remain anonymous, you can.
    Email: help@thesas.org.uk 
  • LawCare
    Support for those working in the legal sector (or their families) through difficult periods. This can include mental ill-health such as stress, anxiety and depression.
    Helpline: 0800 279 6888
    Email: help@lawcare.org.uk
  • Acas
    Free, impartial advice for employers and employees on workplace rights, rules and best practice.
    Helpline: 0300 123 1100
    Read Acas’s guide for employees (PDF, 215 KB) on bullying and harassment at work.

Resources

Other resources and support services include:

If you’re not sure who to contact, email the JLD. We cannot give you specific advice but can point you in the right direction for support.

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