The law has many of the elements of the film industry that led Harvey Weinstein being tried for multiple sexual offences, it has been claimed.
“The hierarchy of law firms and organisations and how the most interesting work is allocated and careers progressed can create perverse incentives for sexualised behaviour,” said Mark Solon, chairman of training company Wilmington Legal.
“Lawyers often work in a pressure-cooker environment where what is ‘reasonable’ behaviour becomes distorted. Add to that the effects of alcohol and there is a recipe for disaster.
“Extraordinarily it may be necessary for lawyers to be trained to understand what constitutes sexual harassment, to reflect on their own behaviour and to be confident to respond to sexual harassment, whether as a victim or as a bystander.”
Wilmington owns Central Law Training, which has launched a 45-minute online course costing £80 to help lawyers better understand what constitutes sexual harassment and reflect on their own behaviour.
It was put together by HR practitioner Rosamonde Quincey. She said: “I believe an understanding of the law relating to employment can change working relationships for the better.
“It’s amazing that many lawyers who are not employment law specialists do not understand what sexual harassment is and act in ways that are completely inappropriate. They urgently need to find out what is and is not allowed and to look at their own behaviour.”
Mr Solon highlighted the high levels of sexual harassment in the profession uncovered last year by International Bar Association research.
“Law firms have been caught up in the #metoo movement, with sexual harassment allegations against high-profile partners hitting the mainstream press. Claims have generated large financial pay-outs. Reputations and careers have been destroyed.
“Cheeky NDAs may not be the answer – and the Solicitors Regulation Authority has issued a warning notice on their use…
“Something needed to be done. Lawyers need to understand exactly what they can and can’t do.”
The course also looks at the role of bystanders – those who witness sexual harassment directed at someone else – and gives ideas of how people can use their influence to improve awareness and challenge prejudices.