This week, I’ve been asked to write a little piece for Bully OnLine for their ‘bullying within professions’ section. Here’s my breakdown of the kind of bullying that exists in law firms:-
The higher a person is in a law firm, the less likely they are to be bullied. By the time a solicitor makes partner, whatever people think of them – only the brave or stupid are going to say it to their face.
A few rungs down the career ladder, and the chances of being targeted increase a little. Bullying, as we know, can take many forms, but in the legal profession it’s often jokes and ‘banter’ about one particular person, or it’s a superior riding someone about every case file they’re working on.
3. The Trainee or Solicitor inexperienced in a new legal field
From my own observations over a decade working in law firms, complaints of bullying come mainly from trainees. I think the Solicitors’ Assistance Scheme may well agree with me on this point (provides initial free employment law advice to solicitors in trouble – visit www.thesas.org.uk).
This is a profession well know for the demands of the job. The long hours are legendary. The pressure to bill is constant. The areas of law are complicated and vastly different to each other. Therefore trainees and solicitors crossing to a new field need much assistance and, if a solicitor or partner takes a dislike to them, it’s easy to flag up every error made and every request for help to imply they’re not making the grade. Stonewalling is common to help a trainee sink rather than swim. A friend on Twitter wrote that her boss routinely met her requests for help with “utilise your resources” before eventually firing her.
A lack of support can be cruelly delivered it in the guise of “I’m doing this for the good of your future career!”
A further problem is that, given their law training, trainees, paralegals and solicitors are more likely to seek legal redress when bullied at work. The law is an adversarial field and legal bullying is a part of it. There’s no law against it - but what they can do is claim for any connected disability/sexual or religious discrimination etc. Law firms, in anticipating legal retaliation from a soon to be ex-employee, will sometimes resort to ‘stitching the employee up’ under the banner of ‘self-defence’. Targets of bullying may find their case files examined for the slightest mistake or unnecessary delay, their billing may be gone through with a fine tooth comb and even their conduct may be monitored. Then, if possible, the word ‘incompetent’ or ‘liability’ will creep into their personnel file. If the bullied trainee wants to take legal redress – they know they’re taking their future career in their hands to do so. That file will be the first thing shown to a Tribunal.
4. The Assistant
Lastly, there are the support staff and secretaries to consider. There’s no ‘Assistance Scheme’ for this group when it’s in trouble – and you’ve got the legal profession bearing down on you if you take action. Obviously, it’s the group most targeted and most openly bullied. I’ve yet to work in a place where there wasn’t one legendary bully making his/her secretary’s life hell.
So, the solicitors have the Solicitors’ Assistance Scheme. But perhaps what the profession really needs is the Assistant Scheme where assistance is offered to the assistant of the professional person under stress.
Maybe that’s my next move...
- Bullied By The Boss
- Welcome to my blog. My pen name is Eva James. I'm an aspiring writer paying the bills working as a legal secretary. Relentlessly bullied by my former boss, I looked for another job but the recession hit. Feeling trapped, I recorded everything in this blog, which serves as a revealing insight into workplace bullying. WEEK 1 starts the story and, as the weeks progress, you'll note what starts as banter soon spirals out of control. Sadly, it's all true. Whilst along the way I've found alternative employment, my passion for blogging about workplace bullying remains. Trevor Griffiths, legendary theatre, TV and film writer said at the outset, "I like the writing a lot: smart, cool, placed. If you were prepared/able to take your prick of a boss on, you'd marmelise him."