News

Creating a fairer legal sector

Published: 11 Jun 2019 00:01

Push for more flexible working as legal practices celebrate century of diversity.

Ambitious targets to tackle bullying and drive diversity have been announced at a summit celebrating 100 years of women in law.

In a speech, the Lord Advocate praised the steps taken by the legal profession to increase inclusivity over the past century, while calling on the profession to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to bullying in the workplace.

Other targets included introducing family-friendly flexible working, as part of a range of measures towards achieving a 50/50 gender balance in senior positions in firms by 2028.

A 2018 report by the Law Society found that a fifth of women reported experiencing bullying while working in a legal practice over the past five years.

Women make up the majority of legal professionals in Scotland, though only 30% hold a partnership position and the pay gap stands at 23%.

Community Safety Minister Ash Denham welcomed the call for action:

“Scotland is fortunate to have a legal profession with expertise, compassion and many brilliant minds. Anything which legal professionals or new entrants to the sector could perceive as a barrier to entry or progression is unacceptable, which is why I am calling on the sector to act.

“Achieving these targets will be a challenge, but one I am confident that the legal profession can achieve. By working collaboratively, we will create a legal climate that is ambitious, dynamic and adaptable, and fulfils the ambitions I believe our young people should have the chance to achieve.”

Gordon Jackson QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said:

“Bullying and harassment have absolutely no place in the profession, and the Faculty fully endorses zero tolerance of it.

“All Advocates are self-employed and free to make their own preferred working arrangements, but the Faculty tries to do all we can to assist members seeking flexibility in their working life.

“We are conscious of a gender imbalance in our membership and are taking positive steps to encourage as many women as possible to consider a career at the Bar.”

Lorna Jack, Chief Executive of the Law Society, said:

“We have been seen as a leader in the gender equality debate by other legal bodies around the globe.

"Great progress has been made, including a reduction in the gender pay gap over the last five years, but there is more to do. We welcome the Scottish Government’s support for our zero-tolerance approach to bullying.

"We strive for a modern, diverse and inclusive legal profession which allows people from all backgrounds to have equal opportunity to thrive in their careers."

Background

The Profile of the Profession Report, published in December 2018 by the Law Society, surveyed legal professionals and found over the past five years:

  • 16% of respondents experienced bullying
  • 19% of women experienced bullying
  • 3% of respondents experienced sexual harassment
  • 22% of respondents witnessed bullying
  • 5% of respondents witnessed sexual harassment
  • the majority of positions in the profession in Scotland are held by women, but only 30% of partnership positions
  • the pay gap between men and women in the profession is 23%
  • flexible working in the profession decreased over the last five years from 42% to 35%