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  • One year after the release of the International Bar Association report, Us Too? Bullying and Harassment in the Legal Profession, it is timely to reflect on the steps taken to implement the report’s recommendations.
  • Bullying can have implications not only for victims, but also for perpetrators and the employer. Complaints can be made under the Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules, or claims made for ‘stop bullying orders’ under the Fair Work Act, or proceedings commenced for breach of duty or breach of contract.

On 26 June 2019, an LSJ Speaker Series panel discussion examined the findings of a report released by the International Bar Association in May 2019 entitled Us Too? Bullying and Harassment in the Legal Profession (the ‘IBA report’) as well as the substantial damage suffered by the legal profession, individuals and organisations when a culture of bullying is left unaddressed. In ‘The hidden workplace hazard’ 57 Law Society of NSW Journal, July 2019, 30, Allman considered the IBA report and interviews with practitioners who described their experiences of workplace bullying. The article commenced with the words, ‘I can’t really think of a time during my four years in [a top-tier law firm] where I or someone I knew was not being bullied,’ (emphasis original) and continued with descriptions of solicitors being retrieved from the bathroom upon exceeding a six-minute unit, work being allocated at midnight for completion before 7am the following morning and conduct amounting to physical assaults in the workplace.

A year after the release of the IBA report, it is timely to consider the steps taken to implement the recommendations made in the IBA report as well as the potential implications for those who continue to engage in workplace bullying. While the IBA report dealt with the prevalence of both bullying and sexual harassment, the scope of this article is limited to an examination of workplace bullying only.

The IBA report

Described as the largest ever global survey of legal professionals, the IBA report examined data obtained following a survey of almost 7,000 individuals from legal workplaces across 135 countries, including barristers, solicitors, in-house counsel, the judiciary and legal professionals employed within government. The opening words to the executive summary of the IBA report were ‘[t]he legal profession has a problem,’ an observation supported by the alarming data within the report. In respect of workplace bullying, the IBA report disclosed that 50 per cent of women respondents and one in three men had been bullied in the workplace (p8). These figures were significantly higher when only Australian data was considered, which disclosed that 73 per cent of women responding and 50 per cent of men had been bullied (p87). The IBA report concluded that ‘bullying and sexual harassment are rife in Australian legal workplaces’ (p87). Significantly, the IBA report emphasised that, while women in the legal profession are disproportionately affected by both bullying and sexual harassment, the data disclosed that ‘these are not “women’s issues”’, given bullying and harassment impacts all genders both directly and indirectly (p17-8).

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