Category Archives: International Law

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.

EU Legislation for British Firms Increasing

Legislation

Campaign group Business for Britain have released figures which, for some, have raised concerns about the rate of increase in EU legislation. According to the newly published data, the number of new business regulations sanctioned at EU level in the past three years is just short of 3,600.

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular have expressed concern about their growth being hindered by large amounts of legislation that just does not seem necessary. This fact seems particularly pertinent in light of David Cameron’s stance on the role of small businesses in the British business environment. The Prime Minister has describe SMEs as holding a central role in the country’s economy, and has openly expressed a desire to make expansion easier for new startups.

These new regulations, introduced in the period since May 2010, equate to a combined total of 13 million extra words added to the legal bureaucracy surrounding British business. Reading the legislation from start to finish would take companies an estimated 92 working days.

Business for Britain’s Chief Executive, Matthew Elliot, said that the issue needs to be addressed urgently. He described the EU as having “an addiction to red tape.”

Elliot went on to say that the fact regulation is needed for a single market to function properly is undeniable. However, he said that the amount of new legislation being sanctioned, and the rate at which new rules are added, “is a serious restraint to British Business.”

Jo Swinson, Business Minister, recently made an announcement detailing a number of proposed reforms to the legal environment surrounding UK businesses. These changes, it is claimed could positively impact upon the situation of an estimated 3.2 million companies across the UK.

She said that the main purpose of these reforms is to get rid of unnecessary obstacles within the administrative process. This is intended to allow SMEs to spend less time and effort on paperwork, and instead focus on expanding their operations and creating innovative new ideas. Ms Swinson suggested that this would contribute to the development of a stronger British economy.

A panel of leading businesses – commissioned by the government and including major firms such as Marks & Spencer – has also recently revealed findings in the area of unnecessary EU business regulation. The panel identified 30 specific EU-sanctioned regulations which they believe should be discarded, in order to create an easier environment for British businesses.

New Stalking Law in the UK

Although it has been illegal to stalk a person in Scotland for some time, it has taken until now for a similar law to be introduced in England and Wales. Stalking is a crime that is commonplace, but only a fraction of offenders are brought to trial. Up until now a stalker could only be charged with harassment, a lesser offence, but the new law will place more emphasis on the seriousness of the crime. Of an estimated 120,000 victims, only 53,000 are recorded as crimes each year, and fewer than 50 offenders are jailed.

Tougher Legislation

Since the change in the law in Scotland, which took place in 2010, heavier sentences have been levied and more people have been arrested. In the ten years before the change in the law only 70 offenders were prosecuted; since 2010 almost 450 cases have been brought. Ann Moulds, who founded Action Scotland Against Stalking and was instrumental in getting the law changed, did so after she was stalked by a man who acted as a friend. She confided in him about her stalker, but all the time it was actually him. She is now taking her campaign to the European Parliament.

Stalking in Cyberspace

Stalking is a growing problem online, with social networking sites offering a perfect platform for stalkers to operate from. With anonymity seemingly guaranteed offenders are free to browse and follow who they want. However, there are more stringent online protection laws in place, and they are being seen to have an effect. Stalking remains a serious problem, and one that is growing in stature, but it is to be hoped that the new laws will deter people from harassing both men and women in a manner that can be stressful, frightening and detrimental to the health of the victim.

Britain Rejects US Military Base Request

In a move that is certain to enrage the US government, the UK has refused a request for US forces to use UK-owned airbases in a possible conflict with Iran. The USA is known to be extremely concerned about the widely-held belief that Iran is developing nuclear weapons –something that Iran has consistently denied – and has made it known that it would be prepared to launch a pre-emptive strike on any identified nuclear facilities. The UK is reluctant to be drawn into such a conflict, while it is believed that the USA may be lining up to back Israel in an attack on Iran.

No ‘Clear and Present Threat’

US diplomats are known to have been lobbying for their forces to use UK bases in Cyprus, on Ascension Island – in the Atlantic – and at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The UK government has rejected the requests on the grounds that, as Iran cannot be seen to represent a ‘clear and present threat’ to its security, a pre-emptive strike may well be in violation of international law, and assisting a country involved in such a strike would therefore be illegal. The UK, and a number of other countries, prefers a diplomatic approach to the situation.

Tensions on the Rise

Tension between Iran and Israel has been high of late with the latter making no secret of the fact it would consider a nuclear-armed Iran as a direct threat. Governments in Europe and the USA are concerned that any escalation into conflict between the two could trigger serious unrest and warfare in the Middle East. The UK’s snubbing of the USA in this instance comes shortly after the government angered the USA by refusing the extradition of Gary McKinnon, wanted in the US on computer hacking charges, and will not be welcomed in diplomatic quarters.