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Society publishes guidance on tackling bullying in solicitor profession

27 June 2011

New guidance on tackling bullying within the legal profession has been published by the Law Society of Scotland.

To be sent to every legal firm in Scotland, the guidance has been published in tandem with research findings following a series of in-depth interviews with practising solicitors.

The research concludes that while the exact extent of the problem is difficult to assess, given the under-reporting of incidents, lack of consistent tracking data, and the challenge of defining and identifying relevant behaviours, a review of the literature suggests that bullying and harassment has become an increasing problem in the workplace. This is particularly so in highly competitive environments.

It also shows that certain groups tend to experience and/or report bullying and harassment. Women, trainees and solicitors who have been qualified for five years or less are more impacted, as are ethnic minority lawyers and lesbian, gay and bisexual lawyers.

The Society's Profile of the Profession research in 2006 reported that around 22% of the profession had experienced bullying or harassment. The Society has prioritised increasing its understanding of the issue in order to develop strategies to help prevent it in the workplace.

Recommendations in the new report include:

  • raising awareness of bullying and harassment across the profession;
  • developing policies, guidance and best practice;
  • increasing trainee support;
  • supporting firms on building management skills;
  • ongoing monitoring and intervention.

"Bad for business"

Farah Adams, convener of the Society’s Equality and Diversity committee, said: “There is absolutely no place for bullying in the workplace today. Even although it appears that bullying within the legal profession in Scotland is no higher than that reported elsewhere, it is important that we continue to regard this as a serious issue and that the Society, as solicitors’ professional body, is working to provide support and advice for those who are being bullied and, crucially, to equip employers with the knowledge and ability to prevent it happening within their organisation.

“It is well documented that bullying is bad for the workplace as a whole and the Society’s new guidelines look at how to deal with it effectively. In addition to a great deal of distress for the individual, bullying or harassment can have a significant impact on the morale of their work colleagues. If you also take into account the added stress, people taking time off work or the eventual loss of good staff, it’s clear that bullying is bad for business in the long term.”

Neil Stevenson, Director of Support and Representation at the Society, said: “This is an important piece of research and we are now looking to review what support services we currently offer solicitors, perhaps building on the success of work such as our counselling support for those affected by the downturn, and the provision of an internal support helpline for trainees which deals with those seeking traineeships as well as those who may be experiencing difficulties during their training period. We will also examine which of the report’s recommendations should be adopted.”

He added: ”Bullying can of course be a very sensitive issue to deal with, particularly when it concerns a senior staff member. The guidance, however, provides practical advice on procedures to take when dealing with bullying and how to manage difficult situations like this."

Click here to access the report and guidance.

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