A fifth of all trainee solicitors, who took part in the largest ever study in this area, said they had experienced some form of adverse discrimination or harassment at work in the last year. This mostly took the form of "lewd, hostile, aggressive, or difficult behaviour".
The new figures show that since the last study carried out by the Law Society's research and policy planning unit in 1997 the numbers of trainee solicitors claiming discrimination or harassment has doubled from one in ten to one in five.
One in ten of those who claimed they had experienced discrimination or harassment said that it took place on a daily basis. But in every case the complainant said that such treatment was frequent.
Client relationships were also cited as a problem. In a fifth of discrimination or sexual harassment cases it was the client who was named as the source. And a tenth of all trainee solicitors said clients had acted in a "lewd or sexually suggestive way". Susannah Haan, chair of the Trainee Solicitors Group, described the rise in cases as "quite horrific and appalling". She urged senior partners in law firms to take control of the problem and to discipline lawyers guilty of harassment or discrimination. "They shouldn't wait for people to leave the firm in distress," she added.
More than one quarter of those who had been discriminated against or harassed said the partners in the firm had told them that they did not have a future in the practice. Worryingly, not one of these mainly young solicitors reported their concerns to the police, the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors or to the Law Society.
Yesterday, the Law Society chose to emphasise the increasing numbers of trainee solicitors from ethnic minority backgrounds, nearly 16 per cent, while 51 per cent of trainees are women. In 1990 ethnic minority lawyers made up just 10 per cent of the number of new trainees while the number of women trainee lawyers has increased by 150 per cent in the same period.
Robert Sayer, president of the Law Society, said: "Despite encouraging growth in the number of women and ethnic minority solicitors, there is still some way to go to achieve equal treatment." He added: "This research gives law firms, both large and small, a clear picture of where problems occur so that they can change their own employment practices."
The study followed a group of 4,000 aspiring solicitors for the past five years.
The fact that harassment and discrimination has doubled in the last two years will worry women lawyer groups whose members face the brunt of the problem.Reuse content