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One in seven female solicitors suffer bullying or discrimination

Harassment: Reported by 1% of solicitors

One in seven female solicitors have experienced bullying, discrimination and harassment in the workplace over the past year, Law Society research has revealed.

The study also found a large gender pay gap that worsens the larger the firm gets.

The Law Society’s pre-coronavirus survey of 1,738 practising certificate holders – commissioned from Future Thinking – found that 14% of women and 4% of men had experienced negative behaviours in the workplace in the previous 12 months, which were slightly more prevalent for those working in government or in-house than private practice.

Bullying and discrimination were the main behaviours cited – by 6% and 5% respectively of all respondents – with 1% of those surveyed saying they had faced sexual harassment.

Of those who had experienced discrimination, most (62%) said it was based on their sex, followed by ethnicity (20%) and age (19%).

The research also identified a large gender pay gap – particularly in-house – and that within private practice, the gap increased in step with the size of firm.

The findings were not broken down into position or level of experience, but showed that while men working full-time on average earned £50,000 and women £40,000 at firms of up to four partners, it was £98,500 and £68,250 respectively at firms of 26 partners or more. These were median figures.

In all, 12% of solicitors reported suffering from a mental health condition in the previous two years, with women (14%) more likely to say so than men (10%). The figures were constant across type and size of employer.

One in eight solicitors (12%) reported experiencing severe or extreme negative stress in their job, while 4% have taken time off due to work-related stress.

Some 40% of those in private practice agreed that they found it difficult to switch off from their work in their personal time, notably more than those working in government or in-house.

Around one-in-ten solicitors reported experiencing either ‘severe’ or ‘extreme’ levels of work-related stress in the job. One-in-twenty had taken time off due to work-related stress.

Despite this, a third of those polled have not heard of any of the helplines available to help with health issues, with the SBA, formerly the Solicitors Benevolent Association, the best known.

The study found that a quarter of the women surveyed worked part-time, compared to 9% of men. Part-timers worked on average 30 hours in a typical week, compared to 46 hours for those in full-time employment.

Nearly half (47%) of solicitors in private practice and in-house agreed that they were “regularly” expected to work longer than their contractual hours, although the figure fell to 36% for those working in government.

Most of those in private practice (81%) had access to flexible working, with 53% making use of it; it was on offer to more solicitors working in government and in-house, and significantly more took advantage too.

Remote working (91%) and flexible hours (74%) were by far the most common types of flexible working on offer, with compressed and annualised hours, and term-time working trailing behind at 10% or lower.