So what’s a young lawyer to do?
Confront the source? Chances are you’ll be managed out and gradually given less and less work until you are, quite literally, redundant. Dare approach HR? A file note may be made, a meeting scheduled. But it’s career suicide. Tell the managing partner? You’ll be told the firm takes these issues seriously. And then you’ll suddenly find yourself working for a new partner, in a different team. You’re an experienced litigator. Well, congratulations, now you’re a property lawyer! And trust me, this “strategy” is akin to Russian roulette – your new boss may be just as bad, perhaps worse.
As one equity partner once told me, working in law is akin to the Hunger Games: kill or be killed. And he was one of the nice ones who respected and valued his team.
Law is full of alpha bullies, male and female. It is pervasive due to its inherent intellectual and adversarial nature. Recent headlines demonstrate the use of immense power for sexual kicks is, at long last, considered deplorable. The same must now be said about every other type of harassment and tacitly accepted bullying culture.
What will it take for management to no longer turn a blind eye or make excuses for very bad behaviour? No one, no matter how good their billings are, is irreplaceable. Putting aside the cost of recruiting new staff, if a bad egg is left to rot, the stench permeates through the whole firm. If there are no consequences and victims are silenced or move on, it’s just a matter of time until the cycle repeats.
How many more talented lawyers will be scarred from a bad experience such that they leave the law? And most importantly, when will law firms take harassment claims seriously and manage them with more than just lip service?
It is certainly no longer good enough for complaints of a sexual nature. Nor should it be when harassment and bullying occur in any other way, shape or form.
Jacqueline Haski is a solicitor who has worked in mid and top tier firms for 16 years.