On April 1st Victorian Legal Services Commissioner, Fiona McLeay, released data showing that sexual harassment in Victorian legal workplaces is common, and has a disproportionate effect on women.
Results showed that 1 in 3 respondents had experienced workplace harassment at some point in their career. As well as this there was a significant gender imbalance in the proportions with 61% of female respondents and 12% of male respondents reporting experiencing sexual harassment in Victorian legal workplaces.
The study was carried out in 2 surveys sent in August and September of 2019, the first was sent to all Victorian legal practitioners to collect data about their experiences of sexual harassment, whilst the second was sent to principals of law practices, to collect data on how their firms manage sexual harassment.
Ms McLeay has said: “Sexual harassment affects millions of people across Australia, and it is very concerning to me that so many lawyers in Victoria have experienced this. And this is not historic data – for a majority of people reporting sexual harassment in our survey it occurred within the last five years, and for 25%, this was in the last 12 months. Of the survey respondents who had personally experienced harassment – nearly all of them were women, over half had five or less years’ experience at the time of the most recent incident, and many were either in junior roles or were not yet fully qualified”.
Ms McLeay highlighted that the Board was developing a strategy to move forward and tackle the issue saying, “As the regulator, we will be doing everything in our power to investigate and respond to complaints about sexual harassment. We have the power to investigate individual lawyers, as well as legal workplaces, where the data shows ‘hotspots’ of sexual harassment behaviour … Ultimately it’s up to all of us to change our culture. How we operate as lawyers – the standards we hold ourselves to, the behaviours we expect from one another, what we tolerate and refuse to tolerate – are what defines us as a profession”.
On the 7th April, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) published its equality and diversity strategy 2020-2022. The strategy comes on the back of the Board’s report into the same topic (see here), which suggested that whilst the situation in the profession was slowly improving more work still needed to be done.
Objectives outlined in the strategy include
- Addressing the causes of discrimination and harassment at the Bar because of a protected characteristic
- Reviewing the role of regulation in improving the wellbeing of members of the profession
- Improving the implementation of equality and diversity policies with vocational training
- Embedding equality and diversity good practice across all BSB departments
BSB Head of Equality and Access to Justice, Amit Popat, said: “This new strategy will drive our work to improve equality and diversity at the Bar over the next two years, so that the profession can better reflect the society it serves. We will work to understand and tackle the causes of discrimination and harassment, explore how we can effectively contribute to the wellbeing agenda and improve access to justice. Key to this strategy is collaborating with other organisations to ensure that equality and diversity policies improve working cultures at the Bar.”
Newly released data from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), has shown that representation is improving in law firms. The data collected from 186,000 people working at 9,500 law firms across England and Wales shows that nearly half of all solicitors are now women (49%) up 1% since 2017, however, this changes greatly depending on seniority with only 34% of partners being female.
The results also show that the proportion of Asian solicitors has increased from 9% to 15% over the past five years, however, the figure falls to 5% among the larger firms. Among the wider UK workforce, the proportion of Asian employees is 7%. The overall proportion of black solicitors (3%) is broadly in line with the general population.
Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive has said: “A diverse and inclusive legal profession which reflects the wider community is not only good for the public but for legal businesses themselves. That is why it is encouraging to see progress continuing across many areas, although there is clearly much more work to be done.”
The SRA has also released a comparison tool, available here, for firms to compare their own workforce against the results.
On the 31st January, the Bar Standards Board of England and Wales (BSB) published its annual report on diversity at the Bar. The report demonstrates that there has been some progress, with increased diversity and representation across the profession. However, the report also demonstrated that whilst the direction of travel was positive, there is still significant change required before the Bar becomes fully socially diverse.
Key findings from the report include:
- The number of women practising has risen by 0.6% over the past year (38% of the total practising)
- 13.6% of practitioners are from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds, up 0.6% from last year
- There are more female pupil barristers (54.8%) than male pupil barristers (45.2%) a trend that has continued over the past four years
- Only 6% of those surveyed disclosed a disability, significantly lower than the 13.4% of the employed working-age population in the UK who have a disability
BSB Head of Equality and Access to Justice, Amit Popat said: “While the data follow a similar trend to those seen in recent years insofar as they show a slow and steady improvement in gender and ethnic diversity at the Bar, there is more to be done before the profession can be said fully to reflect the society it serves. One of the BSB’s key strategic aims is to encourage a more diverse legal profession, and these annual diversity reports provide a strong evidence base so that action can be taken. So, we urge all barristers to complete the diversity data questions when renewing their practising certificates for the year ahead.”
The full report and findings are available here.
The Law Society of Alberta is currently piloting a part-time membership programme, which would be the first of its kind in Canada. In order to be eligible for the part-time membership, a lawyer must be in private practice, work fewer than 20 hours a week, and average fewer than 750 billable hours per year (not including pro bono), gross billings must be lower than $90,000 annually. Lawyers who meet the criteria would be eligible for reduced membership fees.
The Law Society hopes that the part-time membership programme will increase diversity in the profession, allowing more lawyers to continue working part-time, with research showing this will particularly benefit women in the profession, those who are moving towards leaving the profession and lawyers with health issues. They also feel that increasing the pool of active lawyers whilst managing costs in accordance with time will increase the accessibility of legal work, and therefore access to justice.
Information about the pilot is available here and here.
The American Bar Association has published its annual profile of the legal profession in the US. The report uses the data gathered over the course of the year to analyse changes and developments in the profession across the country.
Subjects covered include women and minorities in the profession, legal technology, pro bono, pay, legal education, lawyer wellbeing and lawyer discipline.
The link to download the full report is available here.
A new survey released by the American Bar Association and ALM Intelligence is addressing why women are leaving big law. The Walking Out The Door: The Facts, Figures, and Future of Experienced Women Lawyers in Private Practice study is part of an ABA initiative launched by former-President Hilarie Bass. Over the past decades, women have made up roughly 45-50% of entering associate classes at large law firms, however, women make up only 30% of non-equity partners and 20% of equity partners.
Read the full report at the ABA site (PDF).
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) of England and Wales is flagging an ‘International women in law’ research project and questionnaire, which may interest ICLR members.
The project is striving to address one of the main issues faced by women globally, which is the lack of support available to them within the legal sector. This research builds on previous international research carried out by the Law Society.
This current piece of research is a new step forward in understanding the varying options for support (e.g., women’s divisions, initiatives by bodies focusing on female lawyers’ needs, networking groups, federations, local and online groups etc.), which will lead to the drafting and publication of a practical toolkit for women in law all around the world. The toolkit aims to set out steps on how to access and build on existing models of support, as well as how to establish new support groups.
To assist with this research they have designed a questionnaire which they would like ICLR members to share as widely as possible with practising women lawyers. The deadline for questionnaire responses is the end of November and all responses are confidential.
They are also looking for case studies of groups and organisations that are already set up and modelling best practice. If your organisation is tasked with supporting women lawyers in your jurisdiction and you wish to share information about your initiatives, please email email@example.com, in the first instance, and we will then put you in touch with the researchers.
The Law Council of Australia has just published its Equitable Briefing Policy Annual Report for the 2017-2018 Financial Year. The report shows that female barristers are starting to receive more briefs and are more often recommended for work by their colleagues in new or current matters, however, they still lag behind male colleagues when it comes to the number and value of briefs.
It found female barristers received a quarter of the 23,170 briefs reported by the 44 briefing entities for the period. During the reporting period, male barristers received 83 per cent of the total reported fees. The Chair of the Law Council’s Equal Opportunity Committee, Kate Eastman SC, said that whilst there was obvious room for improvement, the report set a foundation for the profession to continue to build upon.
Read more on this story…
The slaying earlier this month of a prominent human rights lawyer in the Philippines who worked on behalf of poor suspects accused of drug-related crimes has sparked a renewed outcry over President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs. The lawyer, Benjamin Ramos, was gunned down by two unidentified assailants on Nov. 6—the 34th lawyer to be killed since Duterte took office in 2016. In an interview with WPR, Imelda Deinla, a research fellow at the Australian National University’s School of Regulation and Global Governance, explains why Philippine lawyers are being targeted and how this wave of violence is affecting the country’s legal institutions.
Read the full story from World Politics Review