The last four years have seen an increase in claims by employees against their firms, a relatively new issue in the legal profession.
William Granger, partner at Campbell Hooper explains: "This rise is partly due to new laws and codes of professional conduct, and partly the pressure for accountability and openness. After centuries of closing ranks, there is a tangible feeling that the tide of claims among the professions is rising."
The main issues that affect the legal profession, and sometimes lead to claims, are: racial and sexual discrimination; work-life balance and flexible working, and work-related stress.
Age discrimination and employee consultation are increasingly affecting the profession, and this will escalate when new legislation is introduced in 2006.
Racial and sexual discrimination
In the case of law firm Charles Russell, a black female secretary came across an e-mail about her from one partner to another, saying "Can we have a busty blonde next time?" She successfully sued the firm for sex and race discrimination, and the firm appealed, but lost. In her final claim, the firm was censored by the Law Society for institutional racism, as it had not taken any action against the partner to illustrate that his behaviour was unacceptable.
At Sinclair Roche & Temperley, two female partners brought a 7m claim alleging they had been blocked from partnership promotion. They won, but on appeal, the significant sum of money they had been awarded was reduced.
In sexual or racial harassment claims, it is the effect of the behaviour on the individual that matters. As a result, while some claims seem spurious or ridiculous to some, they are not to others: Nabarro Nathanson faced a sexual harassment claim after it handed out chocolate penises to its staff. And law firm Edward Lewis suffered a crushing sexual harassment claim, because people objected to ice statues, depicting male and female genitalia out of which one could drink, at the firm's Christmas party. The financial devastation on the partnership was so severe, the firm dissolved as a result.
Susan Thompson, partner at Magrath & Co says: "There are a lot of genuine sexual harassment cases, as covert sexism and racism still exist." She cites the example of a 10-12 years post qualification experience at a US firm who worked incredibly hard for years. After she got pregnant and had a miscarriage, her department stopped giving h