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Law firm culture under the microscope

10 January 2019

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Former trainee solicitor Tamara Rossi has launched an online petition demanding the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Law Society overhaul their procedures for dealing with bullying in law firms.

Rossi, now 36 years old, experienced what she described as ‘complex and severe’ bullying while she was a trainee at Easthams Solicitors in Blackpool during her 20s.

One of the individuals she named 
in connection with her bullying was Andrew Eastham who retired from the firm in 2006 but was jailed last October for stealing almost £150,000 from a pensioner’s will in 2014.

Following the end of her employment at Easthams, Rossi pursued two successful legal challenges; one at an employment tribunal and a second six-year battle in the courts, pertaining to stress and bullying at work. Rossi said the incidents she complained of in court were reported to the SRA with supporting evidence but that the regulator took no action.

In a video accompanying her petition, she said: “This is not just a matter of my case. It is well known that bullying in the legal profession is rife. Yet there are seemingly vast and recurring failures by the regulators to proactively deal with these issues.”

In a four-point plan for tackling the issue, she called for the regulator to impose an “anti-bullying framework”, enforceable by regulatory sanctions, as well as a procedure for reporting and handling complaints of bullying.

Rossi went on to ask that those in breach of anti-bullying rules should be “dealt with seriously and in a manner that sends out a clear warning to all others who display the same behaviour”. This may include prosecution, she suggested.

Finally, she said the procedure for dealing with bullying behaviour should be open and transparent. Responding to the petition, an SRA spokesman said: “We would encourage any solicitors experiencing issues within their workplace to take action and ask for help at the earliest opportunity. Asking for support early on can stop problems escalating to the point where they begin negatively impacting their health, their work or their clients. 

“All firms must be run in accordance with the relevant rules and regulations, and in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity. We can and do take action against firms that fall short of these standards.”

Rossi’s petition, which is accompanied by the hashtag #defythebullies, is seeking 500 signatures and had received just over 230 at time of writing. In her video Rossi cited the International Bar Association, which published research in October revealing half of female lawyers and one in three male lawyers had experienced bullying in 
the workplace.

Elizabeth Rimmer, the chief executive of mental health charity LawCare, said a stable and non-threatening work environment was critical for both performance and mental health. 
“We are concerned about bullying 
and harassment in the workplace, it is absolutely essential that firms take steps to stamp this out and take the wellbeing and treatment of their staff seriously,” she said.

“You can spend more time with 
your colleagues than friends and family and its essential to wellbeing that you get along with and are supported by those you work with, a hostile work environment is a stressful place to be and does not enable lawyers to be at their best”.

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HR & Development HR Regulators Ethics, professionalism and judgement Employment