Most of the partners in the book are bullies. The book is a good read not so much because the characters and the storylines are outrageous but rather because both are credible and familiar. Cameron, a graduate of UBC’s Faculty of Law, was a corporate associate for six years in large law firms in both Canada and the United States. During that time, she no doubt accumulated a lot of material for her book from the lawyers who she worked with.
Probably every other month, I receive an e-mail from a former student complaining that her work environment is “toxic”. They feel trapped with no recourse. Exploitation and bullying of articling students by lawyers and law firms is well-known but the legal profession has done little to address it. There is much hand wringing by legal organizations about the need to support new lawyers in the profession, about the paucity of mentoring and the retention of women in the profession. Yet these organizations ignore a likely source of significant stress in and on the legal profession: bullying.
In December 2015, the award-winning “Young Smart & Legal” published a post on how to deal with “Lawyer Bullies” as part of its New Lawyer Series. The blog contains excellent self-help advice but it lets Law Societies off the hook.
Law Societies are responsible for regulating the practice of law in the public interest. Bullying new lawyers is certainly not in the public interest. Creating toxic work environments is not in the public interest. Hopefully, the proposed move to entity regulation by Law Societies across the country will put the issue on the radar.
I would like to see Law Societies expend the same sort of energy on bullying that it has on incivility. Truth be told, I would like to see Law Societies turn their focus away from incivility and focus instead on bullying. As I have previously written, the legal profession’s focus on civility is missing the mark.
Law Societies have been on a quixotic civility quest. They have invested tremendous energy on the prosecution of individual lawyers for borderline actions. The Law Society of British Columbia disciplined a lawyer for having the audacity to stand up to a lawyer-bully in Ontario who was sending letters to parents of teens caught shoplifting demanding payment on the basis of next to no legal validity.
The Law Society of Upper Canada has pursued a prosecution of lawyer Joe Groia on incivility charges for close to a decade at an estimated cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions, when all the staff time is considered.
Imagine the anti-bullying support programs that could have been created instead. I certainly am.
All law firms should commit to ensuring a “bullying free” workplace. Law Societies should lead and enforce such initiatives. We do not deserve to call ourselves a profession dedicated to the public interest while we continue to tolerate such unacceptable behaviour.