Over six hundred members of the legal fraternity came together for Victoria Law Foundation’s annual Legal Laneway breakfast in the CBD’s Hardware Lane. The gathering heard about a landmark initiative by the VSLB to tackle sexual harassment in the legal profession, got an update on the Foundation’s work and the new research program.
The year ahead at Victoria Law Foundation
‘The new research function at the Foundation is underway, headed up by Research Director, Professor Nigel Balmer, an international leader in legal empirical research.’ The Foundation is working on a three-year research program to improve Victorians’ access to justice, with more details to be released in coming months, said Lynne Haultain, the Victoria Law Foundation’s Executive Director.
Lynne also reminded all that Law Week 2019 will run from May 13 – 19. ‘We look forward to your participation – backing up again after a bumper year of 220 events last year across the state.’ The Foundation’s annual Oration will take place mid-year, and the third Law and You forum is scheduled for October.
Lynne commended a range of people from across the sector who support the Foundation’s work with schools through the Law Talks and Classroom Law Talks series, which she pointed out make a significant difference in the lives of young people who would not otherwise have that exposure to the law and the people in it.
New initiative against sexual harassment in the legal sector
Legal Services Commissioner and CEO Fiona McLeay launched a long-term campaign to raise awareness, investigate, quantify and address sexual harassment in legal workplaces.
‘Sexual harassment in the profession is unacceptable and it won’t be tolerated,’ she said. Over the next few years the VSLB will investigate complaints, initiate complaints where appropriate, and in either case use their powers to address the problem.
She reported that since beginning her role as Commissioner last year, she has been approached by many lawyers who have asked her to address the problem. ‘It’s clear to me that sexual harassment is occurring in the profession and it’s too common. It’s a serious issue, and we need to address it.’
Ms McLeay said colleagues at the Legal Services Board are concerned the problem is under-reported, with lawyers too afraid to formalise a complaint for fear of negative impacts on their lives and careers.
She asked leaders in the profession to call out inappropriate behaviour to ensure employees have a safe environment, with equal opportunities to succeed.
She also encouraged those who have experienced such behaviour to come forward with complaints, and to support colleagues who have such complaints. The VSLB has developed a special group of staff to take calls and investigate complaints.
Lawyers can contact the VSLB to discuss a matter confidentially, or make a complaint relating to sexual harassment by a lawyer.
Later in the year the Board will launch a survey to investigate the prevalence of this problem.
Ms McLeay reiterated that the legal profession cannot be quiet in addressing this kind of conduct. All lawyers should be able to practise their craft free of harassment of any kind,’ she said. ‘Our profession demands a higher standard of ethics and behaviour.’