Latest news – Sexual harassment in crosshairs; Talent recruitment worries firms; GCs fear political, cyber risks

[Australasian Law Management Journal,Finance & Accounting,General Management,People Management(HR),Strategy & Leadership] March 24, 2019

Law reform, cultural change the key to combating sexual harassment

Cultural and structural change is as vital as legislative reform to combat sexual harassment in Australian workplaces and the legal profession, according to the Law Council of Australia.

In its submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces, the Law Council has called for consolidation of sexual harassment provisions across jurisdictions and an end to the “culture of silence” in the legal profession. Law Council president Arthur Moses SC said: “Sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is pervasive and damaging, and the legal profession is no exception. The legal profession cannot deny the self-evident truth that sexual harassment is a problem within its own ranks. Addressing sexual harassment is an issue of grave concern and one of the greatest challenges facing the legal profession.”

He said the Law Council’s submission was the product of extensive consultation with Law Societies and Bars around the country. “There is widespread and genuine support across the legal profession for action to be taken to address sexual harassment. While important initiatives are under way to address this behaviour, the reality is we can and must do more,” Moses said.

The evidence suggests more women than men experience sexual harassment, and that women in the legal profession experience sexual harassment at rates equal to or higher than the national average. The Law Council’s 2013 National Attrition and Re-engagement Study found that 25 per cent of women lawyers had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Recent studies suggest this figure has increased.

“As a traditionally hierarchical and male-dominated profession, it is critical for the legal profession to be honest, transparent and accountable about this issue and the scale of the problem. Unlawful conduct needs to be confronted and eliminated, not the subject of excuses. The legal profession advocates that all people should be treated equally and with dignity. These rights apply equally to women lawyers. Everyone deserves to be safe at work,” Moses said.

“The legal profession cannot turn a blind eye to unlawful conduct by individuals within our own profession who harm colleagues or create unsafe workplaces. Sexual harassment and discrimination are the greatest hindrances to a truly inclusive legal profession that reflects the community it serves. It is also one of the reasons why the legal profession loses talent to other professions or industries. The impacts of sexual harassment can be devastating to victims and their families. We welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important and timely inquiry, and to work with the AHRC, Government and the Australian community in coming months to drive meaningful change.”

In its submission, the Law Council suggests the current legal framework could be made simpler, firmer and more effective in preventing and responding to sexual harassment in all workplaces, such as by:

  • simplifying the definition of sexual harassment to improve the law’s accessibility;
  • making sexual harassment unlawful in all areas of public life; and
  • strengthening formal complaints processes and raising public awareness of the law.

Recruiting top talent the biggest challenge for firms

A new American survey reveals that law firms are feeling the effects of today’s talent shortage. Thirty-one per cent of lawyers recently surveyed by Robert Half Legal said recruiting highly skilled legal professionals was the greatest practice management challenge facing their firm. Caseload or workflow management ranked second, with 19 per cent of the survey response.

These concerns come at a time when many law firms are seeing an overall increase in business. More than eight in 10 lawyers (83 per cent) surveyed said that demand for legal services from their firms had grown either somewhat or significantly during the past 12 months.

Lawyers were asked, “What is the greatest practice management challenge facing your law firm today?” Their responses were:

  • Recruiting highly skilled legal professionals – 31 per cent
  • Managing caseloads/workflow – 19 per cent
  • Offering alternative billing fees – 14 per cent
  • Staying current with new technology – 13 per cent
  • Improving employee retention rates – 12 per cent
  • Enhancing client service levels – 11 per cent.

“Compensation alone is no longer enough to gain a competitive advantage in today’s candidate-driven job market,” says Jamy Sullivan, executive director of Robert Half Legal. “Employers need to go beyond merely advertising open positions and put greater focus on promoting the benefits of joining their organisation.”

Sullivan suggests that firms consider offering top applicants an opportunity to meet with current employees. “Gaining first-hand insight into what makes your firm a great place to work, such as its core values, advancement opportunities and work-life balance perks, can improve hiring efforts while bolstering staff engagement,” she says.

Robert Half Legal offers the following tips to help firms optimise their recruiting efforts:

  • Showcase corporate culture.A negative workplace is a deal breaker for many job seekers, so it’s important to emphasise the positive attributes of your office environment.
  • Promote professional development. Highlight mentorship and training programs that help employees hone critical skills and prepare for future leadership roles.
  • Offer perks that matter. Work-life balance is top of mind for many job seekers. Promoting benefits such as flextime, telecommuting, on-site amenities and paid time off for volunteer or pro bono activities can attract top legal talent.
  • Amp up staffing options. Engage legal professionals on a project or consulting basis to ease caseloads, access specialised skills and evaluate candidates for full-time positions.
  • Deepen the talent pool.Tap current employees, professional networks and specialised recruiters to obtain candidate referrals and expedite hiring.
  • Be willing to bend.Employers are challenged to find highly skilled legal professionals who meet all the requirements for an open position. To boost recruiting efforts, adjust your criteria to focus on the essential skills for success and emphasise on-the-job training.

Political and cyber risks a real headache for GCs

Less than half of general counsel believe their organisations are sufficiently prepared for the impact of rising political risk, and they also hold fears about investing in the right technology.

This is the finding from the new Looking Glass report from Clyde & Co and Winmark. The research suggests that the risk landscape is “significantly” more complex than three years ago, highlighting budget and skills gap concerns. The report found that 43 per cent of general counsel and 35 per cent of board members were worried about dealing with political risk.

Clyde & Co commented that businesses today were having to adapt to a 21st century risk environment, in which traditional risks such as political and property risks were being compounded by new and fast-developing risks such as cyber, climate change and reputation. It concluded that GCs have a leading role to play in helping the board navigate challenges and futureproof the business.

Four fifths (78 per cent) of GCs and board members (79 per cent) thought that data breaches were the greatest technological threat to organisations, with cyber-attacks almost level (75 per cent of GCs and 79 per cent of board members). More than half of GCs (56 per cent) and board members (64 per cent) feel unprepared to deal with cyber-attacks and 42 per cent of both groups feel unprepared to handle data breaches. Despite the concern over a lack of preparedness for cyber-attacks 42 per cent of GCs and 33 per cent of board directors admit to not having a crisis plan in place.