The shocking scale of bullying and sexual harassment across the global legal profession is exposed in a landmark survey conducted by the International Bar Association. Half of all women lawyers have been bullied at work and one in three has been sexually harassed. One in three male lawyers reports having been bullied, while one in 15 has been sexually harassed. 

These are among the preliminary findings of an International Bar Association survey on bullying and sexual harassment in the profession, which closes on 26 October.  The survey has already received responses from more than 5,000 lawyers from 120 jurisdictions. 

Some 25% of all lawyers have been sexually harassed, 36% of whom have experienced harassment in the last year. Yet in four out of five cases the harassment was never reported, for reasons including fear of career damage and reprisals. Some 43% of respondents have been bullied, but this was not reported in 57% of all cases, with similar reasons given. 

Where harassment and bullying were reported, legal employers proved generally inept in dealing with it. In around two-thirds of cases the response was ‘insufficient or negligible’, and in three-quarters of cases the perpetrator was not sanctioned. In 62% of cases, bullying conduct contributed to the victim leaving or intending to leave the workplace. For harassment, the equivalent figure was 36%. 

The findings are likely to galvanise efforts to improve the profession’s handling of bullying and sexual harassment cases amid the ‘MeToo’ campaign. Earlier this year a former magic circle employee who claimed to have been sexually assaulted at work by a partner at the firm told MPs that law firms should be required to have sexual harassment and alcohol consumption policies.The suggestion was part of an anonymised written submission made by a member of the public to the House of Commons women and equalities select committee as part of its sexual harassment in the workplace inquiry.

The IBA’s survey findings were disclosed at a session on harassment and bullying at the IBA’s Rome conference. Speakers included Zelda Perkins, Harvey Weinstein’s former assistant, who addressed the same commons committee.