A Summary of “Us Too?  Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession”

The report is based on survey results from 6980 respondents from 135 countries in six different languages.

Headline points

Sexual harassment and bullying were found to be significant issues for men and women.

“Targets” do not report in 75% of sexual harassment cases and 57% of bullying cases mainly due to the status of the perpetrator and fear of repercussions.

70% rated the response to bullying to be insufficient or negligible.

67% rated the response to sexual harassment to be insufficient or negligible.

 

Bullying Sexual Harassment
1 in 2 women

1 in 3 men

 

1 in 3 women

1 in 14 men

In the workplace In the workplace and at social events, conferences and during travel

 

Most commonly perpetrated by line manager or supervisor

 

Most commonly perpetrated by a non-supervisor senior colleague
Disproportionately affects young workers

 

Disproportionately affects young workers

 

90% bullied more than once

 

84% sexually harassed more than once
Bullying by social media affects young people most Technology-based harassment on the rise
40% always or sometimes reported

 

21% always or sometimes reported
Most reported at large law firms Most reported at small law firms

 

70% felt the response to reporting was insufficient or negligible 66% felt the response to reporting was insufficient or negligible

 

75% of perpetrators not sanctioned 75% of perpetrators not sanctioned

 

Profound negative personal impact including suicidal thoughts reported

 

Profound negative personal impact including suicidal thoughts reported
More than half of targets left or considered leaving the workplace

 

One third left or considered leaving the workplace (50% + of under 35s)

 

One in ten considered leaving the profession

 

 

Methodology

Two-thirds of respondents were women and one third men.  Overall it was assumed that the ratio of women to men in the profession globally is 1:1, although there are clearly regional differences.  Respondents came from different types of legal workplace with most from law firms (73%) and least from the judiciary (3%).  The majority of respondents were under 40 with a total of three-quarters under 50.  Personal characteristics other than gender were not recorded due to data protection restrictions.  The report notes that other characteristics such as, sexual preference, ethnicity, parenting responsibilities and physical ability will have impact on sexual harassment and bullying.

The perception paradox

Jurisdictions in which awareness is likely to be highest also report the highest levels of abuse, not perhaps because abuse is relatively higher in these places, but because it is recognised more readily.  The research addresses this paradox in terms of cultural bias by considering results in the light of known levels of gender equality.  Norway, Australia and Russia rank respectively high, average and low in terms of gender equality index scores.  However, Russian respondents reported similar rates of bullying and lower rates of sexual harassment than to those of Norway.

Bullying (p32 – 49)

There are moral and business imperatives to address bullying.  The impact on individuals and organisations is profound with lives damaged, effectiveness at work impaired and staff turn-over increased.

Bullying is “rampant” and the legal profession has a “chronic” bullying problem.  It is most prevalent in large law firms and government legal departments.  It is rarely reported.  More than half of targets of bullying have left or considered leaving their work.

Half of female respondents reported being bullied and one in three men.

High levels of bullying reported in government workplaces (69%) may be due to the perception paradox, with policy initiatives and training contributing to awareness and thus reporting.    The size of the law firm has impact on reported bullying; firms with more than 100 partners had higher rates of bullying at 45.6% with the lowest being for 11 – 50 partner firms at 35%, so not a huge over-all range.

Oceania and Africa had the highest rates of bullying with women significantly more likely to be bullied in both.

Bullying affects young legal professionals most with 32.8% of respondents under 25s experiencing bullying.  The age profile of targets decreases, suggesting that the older you are the less likely you are to be bullied.  This supports the connection between hierarchy based on seniority and bullying.

Partners are slightly less likely to be bullied than other functions.  This may be because they are protected by seniority.  It is possible that targets tend not to head for the top, so the experience of bullying may be under-represented at that level.

Types of bullying

The types of bullying most reported were:

  • Ridicule or demeaning language (57%)
  • Overbearing supervision including unproductive criticism (55.4%)
  • Being given too much or too little work (47.3%)

(NB.  People could report more than one type of bullying, hence totals over 100%)

Who bullies?  When and where?

Line managers and supervisors were the highest reported group of bullies at 60.5%.  Again, this supports the association of hierarchy and bullying.

90% of respondents had been bullied more than once with the vast majority of bullying happening in the workplace.

Reporting & response

Bullying is rarely reported.  The most common reasons for non-reporting was the profile or status of the perpetrator and fear of repercussions.  57.3% of respondents said that they never reported bullying.  Large firms have higher reporting rates possibly due to the provision of policies and procedures.  87% reported within their organisation with 3% reporting to a regulatory body or the police.

Less than 10% of respondents felt the response to reporting was good or excellent.

70% thought it was insufficient or negligible.

More than half of bullied respondents left their workplace.

Sexual harassment (p49 – 67)

Sexual harassment is “alarmingly common-place” and is having a “considerable negative impact” on the legal profession.  It affects women disproportionately, although men are affected.  The perpetrator is most often a non-supervisor senior colleague.  Abuse happens at work, at social and off-site events.  One third of respondents reported leaving or considering leaving their job; one in ten considered leaving the profession.

Government legal departments have the highest rates of reported sexual harassment (35%) with men twice as likely to report sexual harassment than average.  Law firms have the lowest rate (20%).  The size of the firm had no impact on reported levels of sexual harassment.  There appears to be a correlation between bullying and sexual harassment levels.

Where, who and what?

Oceania, Africa and America had the highest prevalence of sexual harassment at around the mid 40% level in each.  Non-line manager colleagues (54%) and colleagues of the same seniority (36.6%) are the most likely perpetrators, although young people are most often sexually harassed by more senior colleagues.  In North America clients are responsible for relatively more sexual harassment than elsewhere.

Sexual harassment is reported most from young people.  A shocking 16% of women under 25 reported sexual harassment with 35% 25 – 35 year olds being affected.  Prevalence is roughly equal across functions.

Sexual, sexist and suggestive comments were the most likely type of sexual harassment accounting for a stunning 67.9% of reported sexual harassment.

66.8% reported inappropriate physical touching and sexual propositions.

Incidents were reported to be rarely isolated, although it was less likely to be a concerted course of action than bullying. 84% reported sexual harassment happened more than once.  The workplace is the most likely place for abuse to happen.

Reporting

“Sexual harassment is chronically underreported”

75% of respondents did not report sexual harassment

Reporting rates are highest at small firms, in contrast to bullying in which most reporting is at large firms.  Reporting is through internal channels.  It is noted that the severity of the sexual harassment reported did affect the likelihood that it be reported.

The reasons most often given for non-reporting were status and seniority of the perpetrator and fear of repercussions.  This last was most prevalent in the judiciary.

Qualitative responses indicated that targets were concerned about the punishment for perpetrators being disproportionate.

Response

25% felt the response to reporting was sufficient or better

66% felt it was insufficient or negligible

75% of perpetrators were not sanctioned.  In more than half of cases the situation was unchanged or deteriorated after reporting.

Impact

One third of sexually harassed respondents have left or are considering leaving their workplace; 1 in 10 have left or are considering leaving the profession.  Young women are most likely to leave or consider leaving the profession (50% of women 25 – 29 years old).

You can download the full report here:

https://www.ibanet.org/bullying-and-sexual-harassment.aspx

Learning means business!

The shift from hours-based CPD to competence to practise presents an important opportunity for firms to reassess their learning strategy and ensure it contributes to their business needs. 

This article is based on a feature first published in Managing for Success, the magazine of the Law Society’s Law Management Section

In November 2017 all solicitors had a new experience; they applied for their practising certificate on the basis of a declaration of “competence to practise”.  This is because the concept of a “cpd hour” is now long gone from a regulatory perspective. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) moved to a competency-based model the year before.    Despite this seismic change in the way professional development is regulated, few in the profession are aware of the potential benefit to business which the new approach to learning & development makes possible.

Removing the comfort blanket of CPD hours brings firms up hard against the cold reality of the business purpose of learning. Some have dropped it like a stone, glad of an excuse to cut costs. Others see it an opportunity to take a new approach to learning at work and to ensure that professional development serves their business needs.

The rationale for change

Any learning provider will tell you that learning is not something that can be measured in hours.  Best practice in professional development now is all about delivering learning close to the work activity.  Learning at work is, after all, intended to change behaviour.  Everyone reading this article will know of the phenomenon of individuals turning up for irrelevant training sessions, just to get the hours.  Whilst the old system gave people who needed it a cast-iron reason to spend time on learning, it did nothing to address the quality of learning or the importance transferring skills into practice.

The competency-based approach

The SRA has provided a “Competency Statement” outlining four areas in which a solicitor may need to demonstrate “competence”.  It is important to note that the SRA’s version of competencies is NOT mandatory.  Indeed, it is not great!  I say that, because it is not commercially focused and the competencies are not especially well expressed.  Many firms have adopted the SRA version, but those firms are not the ones who have thought about what their businesses really need in terms of competencies, or what works for individuals; not everyone has to be able to demonstrate all the competencies.

Also worth noting is the fact that the SRA will only look into how an individual meets the competencies if there is an allegation of incompetence.  Were that to happen, both the firm and the individual solicitor would be required to produce evidence of competence, including what learning needs were identified, what learning was undertaken and how the learning was transferred into the work-place.  This reactive regulatory approach puts continuous learning at the bottom of the compliance priorities list.

In my view, however, learning is much too important to be a matter for compliance alone.  Getting people engaged and equipped to rise to the challenges of immense change is far more important.

The business case for change

It made be difficult to believe, but the SRA has done a good thing by freeing up the learning agenda.  We do not need to rely on pedagogical arguments to defend a competency-based approach.  The change brings very real business benefits for firms.

First, sustainable growth can only come from a strong internal base of well-managed, highly performing individuals; otherwise, there is an ever-present risk of failure to deliver consistently, or at all.

Second, market pressures and the ever accelerating pace of technological development make the ability to change an imperative. Adaptable people working in agile organisations will be more likely to survive and thrive.

Finally, law firms of the future will need to be creative about the way they deliver services. An organisation which values people who are willing to be creative must embrace the attendant risks and be able to manage and mitigate failure. That can only be achieved in an atmosphere of openness, dialogue and commitment to constant improvement. Creating that kind of culture requires a genuine commitment to skills-training as well as technical expertise.

Being released from the need to clock up CPD hours in order to comply with regulations enables firms to use professional development to rise to these challenges.

Managing the new regime also has the potential to bring positive change. Building an understanding of the purpose of learning ensures it is relevant to the strategy of your business and contributes to business need. Using a competency-based approach provides an excellent mechanism to make performance management genuinely meaningful and significantly increases the possibility of enhancing day-to-day performance.

Bringing a competency-based approach alive

Below are some tips for firms wanting to improve the quality and impact of learning, for their people and their business.

1

Take a strategic view

A good learning strategy defines the purpose of learning for the business; it is, by definition, ‘outcomes-focused’. Developing or reviewing learning strategy will provide evidence of a proactive approach to ensuring competence at an organisational level. It is also the first step in working out how to plan and prioritise training and measure return on investment for any learning initiative.

2

Use competencies

 Competencies are widely used across business and commerce. Put simply, they describe ‘what good looks like’. For example, it might be thought desirable for a lawyer to possess intellectual flexibility and technical knowledge. A competency-based approach would put some detail behind that statement to describe the desired behaviours, such as;

  • demonstrates intellectual curiosity in a variety of ways;
  • shares relevant information with colleagues across departments;
  • quickly and accurately grasps key issues in any legal problem; and
  • reflects and develops own thinking including discussion and debate with colleagues.

For some law firms, this kind of approach is well established. For others, however, it opens a Pandora’s Box of issues, including accountability for behaviour as well as financial output, ruffling the feathers of established expertise by shifting the focus to performance management.

Mark Briegal, partner at solicitors Aaron & Partners, ran a highly successful learning and development business before moving into the law; he describes the competency-based approach as a “no-brainer” in the legal sector, since “performance is not just about legal knowledge; it’s about competencies as well”. He describes competencies as fundamental to the performance management process: “If you cannot describe the behaviour you want to encourage, how can you begin to assess development needs?”

Providing evidence of competence throws a spotlight on the performance management process. Many lawyers who are required to manage appraisals are too busy or lack the skills to make them really effective. Yet giving individuals the opportunity to think purposefully about their development needs is an important starting point in the process of determining “competence”. Setting people up for success means getting to grips with performance management and making it work well.

3

 Capture learning in the workplace

 People learn most when they are doing their jobs, day-to-day. Arguably, lawyers do this more than most, as the law changes constantly and the work gets progressively more complex. But often, little is invested in maximising the opportunities to capture learning at work:

CILEx moved to an outcomes-based approach to CPD long before the SRA.  They require their members to capture a wide range of learning activities. Barbara Hamilton-Bruce, Head of Client at Slater & Gordon (UK) and a former council member at CILEx, says found the experience of recording learning outcomes to be a good one, “It made me think about my learning and, probably more importantly, about where I was unconsciously learning through the tasks that I was completing.”

The SRA’s approach to learning allows lawyers to utilise work-based learning (WBL) principles. Instead of losing the learning value of work activities in the noise and pressure of daily life, WBL takes a structured approach:

  1. identifying learning opportunities, such as making a presentation to a client or senior partners;
  2. recording the challenges faced and what it is hoped will be learned from the experience (this is a way for the learner to set their own learning outcomes); and
  3. once the task is completed, recording reflections on what was learned and identifying ways to build on the experience to further improve knowledge and skills.

There is significant scope for producing evidence of the application of professional ethics in this way – for example, by using WBL principles to learn from a forthcoming negotiation, transaction or proposal.

4

 Harness technology

 Learning technology is now key in learning delivery, offering both innovative learning opportunities and tools for tracking and evidencing learning.

It may come as a surprise to find that the number one online learning tool for personal & professional learning, and for work-place learning, in 2017 was YouTube (see Jane Hart’s survey at www.c4lpt.co.uk), because it provides a way to tap into a huge range of expertise in an immediate and engaging way. All kinds of online learning can be translated into recognisable units of activity, and captured through platforms such as the Learning Locker (www.learninglocker.net ).

Lawyers evidence their learning, for example, by using a training record. There is no reason in principle why that record should not be in pen and ink, or individuals can use an online record such as the one provided by the Law Society’s CPD Centre (www.lawsociety.org.uk/cpdcentre). The opportunities for capturing a range of learning activity, as well as the benefits of having a centralised way of tracking learning in the firm, will also make a centralised, and also potentially online, recording system attractive.

5

Focus on quality

The SRA no longer accredits CPD providers and it now recognises all sorts of learning activities. This throws the onus onto firms to be discerning about investing in training which delivers real impact.  Here are three things to look out for;

  1. Use purely didactic learning judiciously – many lawyers are comfortable being lectured, but that approach does not lend itself to transformational learning which changes behaviour
  2. Look for how much experiential learning is on offer, e. learning by doing, not listening – learning is an activity; it is not passive
  3. Always use providers who identify learning outcomes and, ideally, provide opportunities to consolidate learning after a face-to-face events with coaching or online resources

Firms with a clear understanding of the learning process will be able to provide the motivation, resources and support for individuals to progress their own professional development in a wide range of ways. The competency-based approach is intended to move away from rigid measures of learning, and towards a focus on the quality of learning and the potential to change behaviour as a result of training.

The wider context

There are excellent business reasons why a robust approach to individual and organisational performance should involve more than just metrics, whether those are learning hours or monthly budgets. If the move to an outcome-focused approach to CPD brings that prospect into focus, then I for one count it as a blessing.

Implementing learning strategy

  1. Make sure learning strategy is aligned with business goals
  2. Assess learning needs – what knowledge, skills and attitudes do you need in place to deliver on your strategy?
  3. Communicate the learning strategy
  4. Check there are no other organisational issues which will prevent people from using their new knowledge and skills –such as an unclear line management structure
  5. Prioritise learning activities in the light of business need
  6. Make a business case for learning activity – learning should always be more than “a good idea”
  7. Identify desired learning outcomes – these should accord with business need
  8. Consider a “blended learning” approach using different learning activities over time to establish and embed ideas and promote the transfer of learning to work
  9. Decide how and when to measure the impact of learning activities
  10. Measure the impact of learning activities in terms of hard and soft outcomes
  11. Generate evidence of success and use it to support the business case for future learning
  12. promote and support the integration of new knowledge and skills into day-to-day work to embed learning and create evidence of competence

Athena Professional is an award-winning consultancy which can help you to get the best value from your investment in learning.  Do get in touch if you would like to have a chat about your organisation’s needs.