Secretariat is looking forward to working with Council 2020. As we bade farewell to Mr Anand Nalachandran and welcome Mr Derric Yeoh, our newly elected junior category Council member, we enter 2020 guided by experienced hands who are well-placed to fulfil the mission, values and goals of the Law Society.
The Law Society had the honour on 14 November of hosting several managing partners of Singapore law practices or their nominees to a roundtable briefing conducted by Mr Kieran Pender, Senior Legal Advisor at the International Bar Association (IBA), where he presented on the report he had authored – “Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession” (You can access the full report here: https://www.ibanet.org/bullying-and-sexual-harassment.aspx). The report is based on the largest-ever global survey on bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession conducted by IBA and market research company Acritas in 2018. Based on the survey findings, the report makes a compelling case for the urgent need for change and puts forth 10 recommendations to assist legal workplaces and the profession as a whole in addressing these issues. It was heartening to note the interest levels of the managing partners in these matters but at the same time, it was clear that the issues were insidious and would not be weeded out overnight. It would be a sad day if one stops being able to identify the typical lawyer with the aspirational notion put forth by Austrian-American jurist Felix Frankfurter – “from a profession charged with such responsibilities, there must be exacted those qualities of truth-speaking, of a high sense of honour, of granite discretion, of the strictest observance of fiduciary responsibility that have, throughout the centuries, been compendiously described as ‘moral character’.”
I am particularly intrigued by the 9th recommendation – Appreciate the Wider Context. The report explains “Workplace bullying and sexual harassment do not occur in a vacuum … It is unlikely to be coincidental that bullying is so prevalent in a profession where highly pressured environments and associated stress are commonplace.” It will do well for each of us to hone our self-awareness regarding how we interact with others based on stress levels that we are experiencing on a daily basis. If we merely focus on a zero tolerance approach to anti-bullying and anti-harassment in the workplace, will that translate to increased levels of unreasonable behaviour in private situations towards family members and friends? The holistic approach would be to focus on stress management for the individual, while at the same time setting a reasonable and sustainable pace in the workplace.
Young lawyers will do well to pick up conflict management skills and seek out a mentor who can provide proper guidance as to what is or isn’t appropriate workplace behaviour. As a fresh graduate, I have been complicit in my own bullying by my then-superior who pressured me to give free tuition to her daughter, to collect her PSLE results during working hours while I was heavily pregnant because I had neither the confidence nor the skills to refuse her politely. In counselling a staff who was faced with bullying from his superior, and later pressured to withdrawing his complaint, I advised him to avoid being in the same place alone with the perpetrator. This avoidance technique is likely to be the last resort in a typical case since having ongoing conversations to provide mutual feedback is definitely more beneficial for the manager-staff relationship. Building up a good rapport with other colleagues also helps one avoid being an easy target of bullying and harassment as bullies generally avoid targets with a wide network of social support.
The Law Society is currently reviewing its policies and pastoral care support schemes in view of the recommendations set out in the IBA report. In the meantime, members who require assistance can call us at 6530 0213 or e-mail [email protected] on a confidential basis to find out more about our support services like LawCare, a complimentary counselling services for members. Well-being resources can be accessed at https://www.lawsociety.org.sg/For-Lawyers/Services-for-Members/Membership-Benefits/Resources-for-Well-Being.