Time to practise what is preached

The latest survey revealing that sexual discrimination and harassment is widespread among law firms is unlikely to cause any great surprise in the legal profession. However, most cases never come to light so the extent of the problem can, at best, only be guessed at.

What we can say, however, is that the legal profession, while happy to advise others on employment practices, is at best shoddy in its own.

A few firms do have proper employment practices and seek to follow correct procedures. However, it seems that many practices have little respect for their employees and have little or no management skill when it comes to dealing with their staff.

It is scandalous that the vast majority of firms have not embraced the Equal Opportunities Commission's code of practice and complaints procedures for sexual and racial harassment.

The manner in which some firms have dealt with issues such as redundancy in the past is also quite hair-raising, as is their attitude to maternity leave and absence due to illness. And, as our survey revealed earlier in the year, bullying is rife.

Poor treatment of employees is symptomatic of bad management and is also fundamentally short-sighted. Partners may complain that there is less loyalty to firms at the moment and that lawyers are more pre-disposed to move around. If they want to change this, then perhaps they should take a closer and more critical look at their people management policies.

But what is actually required is a change of attitude by those at the top. It needs to be hammered home at the earliest stages of a lawyer's career: if the guardians and advisers on the law are prone to abusing it themselves, it reflects badly on the profession as a whole. While the Law Society has dealt with the issue previously, it is now time for it to raise its voice more forcefully on the issue.