Law Society survey finds 18% have been sexually harassed

NZ Law Society president Kathryn Beck says her organisation is not keeping its own people safe.

More than a third of lawyers surveyed who have been sexually harassed say that type of behaviour was common in their workplace at the time, a NZ Law Society report says.

This morning the law society has released a comprehensive survey of sexual harassment, bullying and wellbeing in the workplace.

The lobby group and regulator for lawyers has been addressing workplace issues since Newsroom revealed two lawyers left Russell McVeagh following allegations of sexual assault and harassment regarding summer interns. Last month Dame Silvia Cartwright was appointed to lead a working group into the better reporting of harassment.

The law society asked 13,000 lawyers to participate and 26% of those asked to, did so.

Sexual harassment findings
The survey has found 18% of lawyers who responded feel they have been sexually harassed. Of those respondents 31% were female and 5% male.

Of this 18%, more than half (57%) described the sexual harassment as assault, including unwanted touching. However, 6% of respondents went further and described this as actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.

Thirty-five percent of lawyers who have been sexually harassed say the type of behaviour was common in their workplace at the time.

Meanwhile, 28% said they had witnessed sexual harassment in the legal environment in their working life to date.

Of those who were sexually harassed, only 12% formally reported it, with 41% of those respondents explaining that they did not think it serious enough.

One in 10 female lawyers can recall five or more incidents of sexual harassment.

About four in ten (39%) lawyers who have been sexually harassed say the experience affected their emotional or mental wellbeing, and 32% say it affected their job or career prospects.

NZ Law Society president Kathryn Beck said in a statement there is a cultural crisis in the legal profession in this country.

“This survey makes it crystal clear we are not meeting that expectation, we are failing to keep our own people safe and we cannot stand for this.”

"The process of cultural change has started. Every practising lawyer has a responsibility for driving this change through their own behaviour and what they are prepared to tolerate from others."

Ms Beck says the Law Society had been caught flat-footed by the wave of sexual harassment and assault accusations.

"I'm disappointed that this research is a surprise to us. I'm disappointed we heard about so much through the media. I'm disappointed that, for whatever reason, people chose not to report their experiences to us. I'm disappointed that for so many people, the law has not been a safe profession.”

More to come


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16 Comments & Questions

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I bet the numbers would be worse for non lawyers working in law firms.

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Ms Beck must be thick

Anyone who has anything to do with the social side of the legal profession knows that this bad behavior has been prevalent for the past 3 or 4 decades at least. Solicitors hire PA's and legal execs based on looks rather than capability and young Solicitors have in the past only been fairly promoted if they go along with the behavior - either turning a blind eye or joining in.

For this survey to be a surprise is a total nonsense

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What is % of total?
Surely those most likely to apply are affected

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While the law profession really needs a long hard look at itself, I am concerned about the risk of self selection bias in this survey. Is it likely that those who’ve been subjected to harassment is more likely to participate in the survey?

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You are concerned that the percentage might only be 8%.....its a big problem if it is 18% or if it is 8%, even 0.001%.

It is this type of attitude that has allowed this shit....oh its only one or two cases so lets just ignore it......no time to stop covering up.

First thing Ms Beck should resign.

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I am not trying to excuse or defend the law profession in any way. I concur that even one incident of sexual harassment should be untolerated.

I am just saying, a bit of a media hype saying 30% surveyed report sexual harassment can be misleading if the survey is flawed.

And yes, maybe those harassed are less likely to take survey. The problem could be much bigger than reported.

We will never know unless a scientfific method is conducted in surveying.

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Alternatively those who have been abused may have been LESS likely to take part. Particularly since the Law Society seems to represent a rather archaic attitude to women.

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All this from a "profession" that lies & misconstrues for clients

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I suggest this is on par with the media and publishing industry and unfortunately will not change until these organisations empower staff to attribute as much value to their life outside the office as they do within.

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It seems to skip the most important headline statistic - what percentage of women in law experienced harassment?
And yes - there is selection bias - on both sides of the issue. If you are going to quote numbers, Law Society in this case, then do your surveys properly.

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Every practicing lawyer has a responsibility. Nice to know.

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We all know that most law firms are a veritable rat's nest.

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For those querying the survey, it was conducted by Colmar Brunton and their report can be found here: http://www.lawsociety.org.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/122679/Report-2...
Ignoring self selection bias (which, as pointed out above, could go either way), they estimate the margin of error to by plus/minus 1.7%.
I might note that surveying 26% of an entire population seems a lot better than your average poll...

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But 100% were surveyed, of which 26% were exercised enough to contribute, As it was anonymous, presumable a large %age of the victims responded, so 18% of 26% of 13,000 is about 600. Too high but not as dramatic as these types of headlines. I imagine many more :professions" would score similar results if the conducted the same survey.

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It seems equally unlikely to me that all of the lawyers who have been harassed are in the 26% of respondents. While 18% might overshoot the figure, your ~5% would also undershoot I think.

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It is easy to understand why things have gotten so bad, the Law Society is not there to hold its members to account, instead its processes and policies protect the offenders. See the Stuff article by Deena Coster which says “Of the complaints made in 2015, no further action was taken in about 74 per cent of the cases or 1137 complaints” that is a significant percentage. The complaint is heard behind closed doors and no one is allowed to publish the findings. Someone who is suffering the types of abuse described in this report is going to be further victimised by the Law Society processes, not to mention terminating their Law career at the same time. It’s unbelievable.

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