Sexual harassment complaints by lawyers run at one a month

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Complaints made by lawyers about sexual harassment by their colleagues totalled around one a month last year, according to the solicitors’ watchdog.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said it had received 12 complaints about “sexual misconduct between one employee and another” between November 2016 and October 2017. Nine complaints were made in the previous 12 months.

Andrew Burns QC, employment lawyer at Devereux Chambers, said City law firms might be the next area for “high-profile exposure”, following the recent wave of women who have come forward about sexual harassment in the film industry.

He told The Times: “The training dynamic of young, enthusiastic trainees or pupil barristers working closely for long hours, often late evenings, with senior influential lawyers is a high-risk environment.

“Trainees are often invited along to evening marketing drinks where alcohol can flow freely. An unscrupulous senior lawyer may stray into harassment knowing that his trainee is unlikely to report anything for fear of ruining her chances of advancement.”

Almost two thirds (64%) of female lawyers said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment, according to a survey by Legal Week last October.

More than half (51%) of the 100 women who responded said they had been harassed on more than one occasion. The majority (82%) said they had not reported it to their firms.

However, 59% of all 200 respondents said sexual harassment within the legal sector was much less prevalent than when they began their careers.

The SRA said it had circulated a warning against the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to lawyers across England and Wales, after one was used following an alleged assault at a law firm in 2012.

The Women and Equalities Committee plans to look at the extent of sexual harassment across all industries and consider how the Government and employers could better protect staff.

The committee will also scrutinise the use of NDAs in sexual harassment cases and what could be done to prevent their misuse.

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