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Young lawyers assess workplace bullying, sexual harassment

At a roundtable at the American Bar Association offices in Washington, D.C., on June 5, a gathering of young lawyers shared their experiences with bullying and sexual harassment and noted the inadequacies of workplace trainings, culture and policies.

The group was reacting to the results of a 2018 global survey of the legal profession concluding that bullying and sexual harassment are ongoing, chronically underreported and prevalent in every area of the profession. The report, by the International Bar Association (IBA) in connection with the market research company Acritas, also found that workplace responses are inadequate.

The survey, which resulted in the report, Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession, received 7,000 responses from law firms, in-house and government lawyers and the judiciary in 135 countries, and offered 10 recommendations. They include revising and implementing policies and standards, conducting regular and customized trainings and exploring flexible reporting models.

Kieran Pender of the IBA presented the report’s findings to the gathering, which included Young Lawyers Division (YLD) Chair Tommy Preston, YLD secretary Christopher Brown and Josephine Bahn, YLD liaison to the Commission on Women in the Profession who co-chairs YLD’s No Limits, an initiative that offers programming and resources to assist women attorneys as they navigate their careers.

After an exchange of experiences with bullying and sexual harassment, Kara Beverly, a Baltimore employment attorney, pointed to a big problem. “The policies are just posted in the lunch areas; they’re not being lived out,” she said. Ravay Smith, an attorney adviser with the Department of Veterans Affairs, noted that she watched a training video about sexual harassment when she started working there, but said, “I honestly couldn’t tell you who I’m supposed to contact in HR if something were to happen.”

“Particularly on these issues facing women, this is not just a female issue and it’s important for guys to step up and be part of the conversation,” Preston said.

A free webinar on the survey findings will be offered June 12 at 1 p.m. ET. A free CLE for ABA members on the topic is also planned, and it will also be addressed at a YLD plenary session at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco in August.  

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