Category Archives: Employment Law

Female Barristers Still Face Sexism

workplace sexism

A new report has highlighted high levels of sexism that women continue to face at the bar. Problems female barristers have to contend with, according to the report from the Bar Council, include inappropriate behaviour from their male colleagues and feeling pressured into pursuing “traditional” areas of practice for their gender.

The report, titled Snapshot: the experience of self-employed women at the bar, also highlighted the difficulty female barristers have in successfully balancing their career and their childcare requirements.

Some of the most prevalent problems they face, however, stem from the attitudes and behaviour of their male peers. While many respondents agreed that things were worse in this regard in the past, the attitudes of older generations of male barristers continue to influence their younger counterparts and sexism remains a serious problem. One respondent described how this kind of attitude “carries through the generations, junior silk to judge,” while another said that many male barristers seem to believe they are “existing in a children’s playground.” The latter went on to describe a habit among these barristers of saying “grossly disrespectful things because nobody is going to stop them.”

Partly as a result of these kinds of sexist attitudes, many women describe being pressured into pursuing areas of practice seen as traditionally more appropriate for women, mainly family law or sexual crime. One respondent described being openly told, upon mentioning her intention to pursue a career in criminal law to a male sponsor, “you’ve got no hope, all women have to do family law.”

Another described her experiences of being pressured into pursuing a career in sexual crime as a result of being “pigeon-holed” on account of her gender. She described how the combination of the stress that goes with a career in the law and the need to deal with women who had been through the traumatic experience of rape proved detrimental to her wellbeing.

Regarding issues of childcare, the report described how some chambers are supportive of women taking maternity leave but others try to discourage them from part time work. Issues like this, the report concluded, are forcing some women to leave their careers at the bar after becoming mothers.

Bar Council chair Alistair MacDonald QC said in response to the report “While there is clearly no problem in attracting women to the bar, with women and men joining the bar in equal numbers, the report identifies a number of new and significant challenges experienced by women working within the profession.” He also noted that “while most of the examples of sexism, harassment and discrimination quoted in the report are historical,” such behaviour is still a challenge that women at the bar must face.

For further information on sexual discrimination in the workplace, visit http://www.employmentsolicitors.co/discrimination-claims/sexual-discrimination/.

Solicitors to Feature on Comparison Websites

Comparison

Information on solicitors is to be passed to comparison websites in response to calls for more information on practitioners of law to be made accessible. The Solicitors Regulation Authority has agreed that, by the end of this year, it will begin sharing data it holds with third party comparison sites.

The calls that prompted this move came from the Legal Services Consumer Panel. They felt that online registers should have a greater amount of useful information on solicitors made available to them. The Panel was first set up after the implementation of the Legal Services Act, and has considered the publication of this kind of data to be a key aim from the beginning.

In a letter sent to the Legal Services Consumer Panel in response to this, executive director of the SRA Crispin Passmore detailed steps that will be taken to improve in this area. Passmore said that, by Christmas, a “data extract” will be in place. This will most likely include details of any disciplinary action that a given firm may have faced in the past. It is also expected to include information on the size of the firm. This initial move will be followed by the development of a complete online register, expected to be completed before the end of 2015. The complete register will be able to feed data directly to comparison sites.

Other information which the Legal Services Consumer Panel suggests may later be made available include pricing information and feedback from previous clients.

The SRA are not alone in agreeing to share data towards this end. The Intellectual Property Regulation Board (IPReg) and the Council for Licensed Conveyers have also agreed to make information they hold available in a form that can be used for this purpose.

The Legal Services Consumer Panel has singled out eight comparison sites which, based on self-assessment, it feels meet the required standards. It stresses that this does not form an endorsement of those sites specifically.

According to Elizabeth Davies, who chairs the Panel; “Not every regulator is fully on board yet, but this progress is really positive and there’s scope to build on it in the future…

“The quest for open data has been at the heart of the panel’s policies since 2011. Transparency is absolutely essential for consumers if they’re going to be able to make informed choices, protect themselves from harm and have confidence in the regulators.”

Research Highlights Stress Problem in Legal Profession

Recent research from Lawyer 2B has identified huge amounts of stress among legal professionals factors behind the problem include long hours, poor managerial support, and difficulty creating an effective work-life balance.

In recent times, legal firms have made efforts to improve the experience of staff when it comes to stress. Programmes have been introduced by many firms to help maintain the mental health of employees. Hagan Lovells pledged to carry out a review of its policies around the management of employee stress after an IP partner committed suicide. This resulted in the firm’s counselling service being moved on-site. Clifford Chance are another example, having announced a firm-wide rollout of its trainee anti-stress programme in April. Despite such moves, however, the research suggests that stress continues to be a major issue for professionals in the industry, particularly young lawyers.

The survey was carried out in April and looked at a number of factors to get a picture of the state of the industry. Among the areas examined were a number of key stress-inducing factors, working hours, perceived employer commitment to providing a work-life balance to employees, and the stress-busting initiatives that firms put into place.

One interesting and, for some, unexpected finding of the survey was that stress is not necessarily linked to long hours. However, many respondents found that high volumes of work were a key factor at causing stress, and long hours were certainly prevalent within the industry. 36% of respondents reported a typical working week of 46-55 hours and 20% said they worked between 56 and 65 hours. A further 11%, mostly working in a corporate, finance or litigation practice, reported working 66 hours or more in a week, and 2% exceeded 75 hours.  The longest hours are worked by Magic Circle lawyers across all seniority levels.

Nonetheless, support from the firm for which they work was a far more central factor than working hours. The worst-performing firms in this regard were generally those from the US. Of those lawyers working for a US firm in London that responded to the survey, 70% felt that their management did not make any real effort to encourage a work-life balance.

Given the various recent moves by major city firms to combat stress, the discovery may come as a disappointment to some. The problem could potentially be one of awareness. According to the findings of the survey, a mere 17% of lawyers are aware of their firms’ stress management initiatives.

Europe and Employment Law

The current debate over an upcoming referendum on UK membership of the EU has raised some serious questions. Many people remain apathetic to the situation – citing the ‘it will all be the same anyway’ excuse – but the truth is that European law has exerted a lot of power and influence over how we live our lives, and in particular, how we can go about our daily working life.

The EU’s influence over employment law in the UK is colossal, and there have been many changes that have come about thanks to this power. The following are just a few that would affect us all as employees:

  • Pregnancy/maternity/paternity leave rights
  • Minimum paid annual leave
  • Agreed working hours
  • Equal pay

Taking just those few we can see that changes – including the maximum 48 hour week, with exceptions, and the minimum annual leave of 28 days could have a major effect on smaller companies.

More Changes from Europe

The EU has also had a hand in devising and implementing discrimination laws, parental leave changes, the rights of agency workers and part time employees and so on, and to publish a full list would mean dedicating many pages. Some of these changes have been very much in the favour of the employee, but where smaller, newer employers are concerned – start up businesses and so on – there are serious concerns that they could be harmful in the long run.

Even if the UK votes against membership of the EU – if and when the promised referendum arrives – changing laws that have been implemented under EU law will be difficult. Nevertheless, it remains a fact that while we remain under EU membership, we are party to many amendments to the laws regarding employment, and some of them may not be to our satisfaction.