Bullying, working extra hours, and false allegations support: your letters to the editor
Let’s talk about bullying
The new International Bar Association survey into bullying and sexual harassment (news, 15 May) painted a picture of widespread abuses. It is hardly a problem confined to the legal sector, but what makes the issue more acute for law professionals is the gender disparity in the sector, a lack of women in senior positions, and the chasm in terms of power between those at the top and other staff.
We may be light years away from the culture of 1983, when a US law firm ran a swimsuit competition as part of its recruitment drive, but in the new context of heightened awareness of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour, it is more important than ever that bosses get their responses just right.
Many large organisations will take a tough line on bullying and harassment in any form, making it explicit that any reported incident will trigger formal processes; the guilty will receive serious punishment. On the surface, it is a sensible, authoritative line. But in practice this kind of response will only exacerbate the situation. The IBA also flagged under-reporting of problems, with 57% of bullying and 75% of sexual harassment cases being left to fester. Bullies find more insidious ways to continue under the radar.
What is needed is for staff at all levels to see and feel there is a more open, talking culture. At the release of the IBA report, Dame Laura Cox advocated an ‘in the moment’ response: whenever there is bullying/harassment, the subject or a witness should call it out publicly. Calling out is an important part of ensuring there is early recognition and resolution of any conflict, but again it needs to be used in context. The victim of the behaviour may fear making things worse, fear for their job, and ‘in the moment’ fear they are in the wrong.
There needs to be a backbone of more informal processes that employees trust; the chance to talk with someone independent, or the availability of mediation, for example. And most importantly, law professionals need to have ‘conversational intelligence’ – the talking skills to be able, first of all, to recognise when they are behaving in ways that are making other people uncomfortable, but also to deal with difficult situations in a more open and constructive way.
Managing director, CMP, Bassingbourn, Hertfordshire
Working extra hours is not business as usual
I am writing to express my dismay at the two articles on the Lifestyle page of the Gazette (3 June).
The first of the two articles was entitled ‘How to leave work at the front door’. It suggested that there should be times when a solicitor who is a parent can watch the school play, while then working in the evening to make up the time. This suggests first that it would be an unusual occurrence for a parent to witness their child’s milestones; and second that despite that parent probably getting into work early and staying late on occasion for their employer’s benefit, that employee should not then be allowed an hour or two to support their child. Instead the ‘norm’ is that the employee should work in the evening.
The second article suggests that by working late all week, a solicitor might get a ‘free weekend’. Again, the assumption is that solicitors should be working both in excess of their contracted hours during the week, and at weekends – that is, at times when they are not paid to work.
These are exactly the attitudes that need to change in the legal profession, as they contribute so much to stressful working practices.
If work is to be left at the front door, not working in the evening should be a requirement. Furthermore, not working when you are not paid to, outside contractual hours, should be the ‘norm’. Solicitors are employees with the same employment rights as those in all other sectors of work. We are legally entitled to a lunch break and to leave work when we are no longer being paid to be there. These are the ‘norms’ that the Gazette should be highlighting.
Name and address supplied
Picking up the pieces
I read your news story ‘No man’s land: thousands of suspects left in limbo’ (10 June). I want to comment specifically on those falsely accused of sexual offences or in connection with child protection issues.
The False Allegations Support Organisation keeps records of what happens to such people. We also have written records of their feelings. Many phone and email us on a daily basis. They suffer mental health issues as they do not know what is happening when placed on bail; or they are told we ‘will get back to you’.
Even where cases are dropped, or they are acquitted in court, they struggle to cope.
FASO is now seeking to convene a monthly meeting (without funding) in order to bring people together who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.
Bail arrangements are unfit for purpose. The Gazette should take this further for the sake of the sanity of those left in limbo awaiting decisions.
CILEx targets bench
While it was encouraging to read that increasing numbers of solicitors are joining the judiciary and that the number of BAME candidates is broadly in line with the population as a whole, applicants’ success rates show that more still needs to be done to support and encourage those outside the bar.
The judiciary struggles to reflect the society it serves, with considerable under-representation of women and ethnic minorities. Ensuring that those from across the legal profession make successful applications is vital if we are to improve diversity in the justice system.
With a membership that is 75% female and 14% BAME, we believe that the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives is well placed to play a key role in enabling that improvement. This year we saw two more chartered legal executives take up judicial appointments and CILEx is working hard to give support to those members considering the judiciary as a potential career path.
President, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Bedford