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Law Society set to recruit “harassment advisers” to protect staff from bullies

The Law Chancery [1]

Chancery Lane: “challenging inappropriate behaviour”

The Law Society’s ruling council will today consider whether a network of “harassment advisers” should be set up to crack down on bullying at Chancery Lane.

An internal survey leaked to The Times last month suggested that nearly 16% of the society’s 400 staff had been bullied in the past year, while 10% claimed to be victims of discrimination.

In response, the Law Society’s equality and diversity committee has recommended to council members that “harassment advisers” should be recruited. These would be existing staff “properly vetted and trained to offer advice and support to colleagues who may want to speak to someone independently of their colleagues and HR”.

The committee has also recommended a series of workshops for all staff and managers, as well as the non-staff solicitors who sit on its boards and chairs its committees.

The issues covered would include “expectations in respect of appropriate behaviour and conduct in the workplace, including different ways of challenging inappropriate behaviour”.

Legislative requirements and “definitions of the terms discrimination, bullying, harassment and victimisation” would also be considered.

The committee added that all HR policies would be reviewed through an “equalities lens” to ensure they were fit for purpose.

The society’s chief executive, Des Hudson, was appointed the organisation’s “diversity champion” in October 2013 and attends meetings of the equality and diversity committee.

A Law Society spokesperson said: “We are constantly investigating ways in which we can be an exemplary employer and are currently exploring the development of a Fair Treatment Advisers Scheme, under which advisers would provide support to any staff members or volunteers who felt that they were being unfairly treated.

“Activities such as the exploration of fair treatment advisers are part of our commitment to employees, and form an integral part of the Law Society’s Dignity at Work action plan. We work to provide a range of support mechanisms to any staff members or volunteers who may need it.”

The committee’s report to council highlighted the progress made in the last year to build an “inclusive organisation”, including reviews of the Law Society’s policies in HR, diversity and dignity at work, as well as embedding diversity and inclusion into existing training programmes. There are also specific modules being developed focussing on unconscious bias in recruitment and selection, managing a diverse workforce, and inclusive leadership coaching for senior managers.

The internal survey findings ranked the Law Society above the national average of 13% for bullying and 9% for discrimination.

However, research by the Law Society suggests solicitors working outside Chancery Lane suffer a worse fate than the staff within, with 17% claiming to be bullied at work, a figure rising to 25% for government lawyers.