LawCare: Why is bullying still such a big issue for the legal sector? banner

LawCare: Why is bullying still such a big issue for the legal sector?

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Bullying remains a very common concern within the legal sector, and in 2023 there was an alarming 95% increase in the number of people contacting LawCare for support because of bullying, harassment or discrimination at work.

People who got in touch often said that they thought that bullying would never happen to them, and that they didn’t feel able to speak out about it once it had. One trainee solicitor who was being bullied felt that they had to ‘stick it out’ until the end of their training contract. Another legal professional said that caring responsibilities and financial pressures made them feel trapped in their role.

Yet bullying is much more than just a problem for individuals, it also has a detrimental effect on legal organisations and the sector as a whole.

Bullying in the legal sector is not a new problem; it has been around for decades. So, is bullying just a price we pay for working in such a competitive and demanding profession? We don’t think so.

Why does bullying thrive in the legal workplace?

The hierarchical and fast paced nature of working in the law can create an environment where bullying behaviours can thrive, particularly when bullying behaviour is not challenged. LawCare’s Life in the Law research showed that people working in the legal sector struggle with burnout, lack of autonomy at work, poor psychological safety, and very high workloads. These can create a stressful work environment where bullying can flourish. This situation is exacerbated by managers who often lack the skills and time to manage conflicts when they arise. They avoid confrontation, so issues escalate, and bullying persists unchallenged.

The impact of bullying

Bullying takes many forms, from verbal abuse and micro-management to setting unrealistic deadlines and systematic exclusion. The effects of workplace bullying can be far-reaching; it impacts the person being bullied, the rest of the organisation and the legal sector as a whole.

Bullying has a damaging impact on people’s lives and performance at work. Many people experience physical symptoms, such as stress, anxiety, depression, panic attacks and even PTSD. They may also become isolated as they withdraw from social groups as a result of the bullying. One person who contacted LawCare for support said that bullying impacted their confidence, sleep and finances. Financial hardship is particularly common where people feel they have no choice but to leave the organisation and sometimes even leave their careers.

Organisations where people are being bullied pay a very high price. Bullying creates a toxic work environment that can decrease productivity, lowers morale, and increases absenteeism. They may have high turnover rates where people leave, leading to a loss of valuable staff and increased recruitment and training costs. Additionally, organisations which don’t tackle bullying face a greater risk of regulatory scrutiny, as bullying can undermine the ethical standards and professionalism expected of them.

The legal sector as whole is also compromised by bullying, it can harm professional relationships between colleagues, opposing lawyers and within the court system. This can lead to less collaboration and undermining of client trust, who may have their confidence eroded in the profession when they witness bullying behaviour between legal professionals. A reputation for bullying can spread beyond the legal community and reach clients, potential clients, and the general public.

How do we change this?

Addressing bullying in the workplace requires a collective effort from everyone within the legal sector to foster a culture of respect, inclusivity, and openness.

You can help protect colleagues who are being bullied and contribute to cultural change in your organisation and in the wider legal sector. Here are a few ways you can make a difference:

  • Make sure you can recognise bullying behaviours - be aware that it can be more subtle than name calling or intimidation.
  • If you know someone who is being bullied, reach out to them in private. Let them know that you acknowledge what they are experiencing, and that it is not acceptable. Encourage them to document the incidents and signpost them to organisations, including LawCare and the National Bullying helpline, who can offer them support.
  • Talk about bullying with your colleagues and leadership as this helps to break down stigma. Ask for training on workplace bullying, communication, and conflict resolution.

Furthermore, leadership within legal firms and organisations must take a proactive stance to prevent bullying happening in the first place; bullying costs money and damages reputation, and there is also now the increased risk of regulatory sanctions. They must do much more than just have polices and reporting mechanisms. Leaders must publicly address the issue of bullying, take a clear stand against it, and actively promote a culture of respect. This could include:

  • Talking about bullying at work and having a culture of openness.
  • Making sure that people who are known bullies are not tolerated or rewarded, even if they are bringing in a lot of work and are otherwise successful.
  • Including behavioural aspects of management in the appraisal process.
  • Having regular training sessions about the signs of bullying, its impacts, and the importance of maintaining a respectful workplace.


In conclusion, creating healthier, more inclusive workplaces where bullying is not tolerated is essential for the long-term sustainability and integrity of the legal sector. It is crucial that all members of the legal community, from paralegals to senior partners, are part of this collective effort.

If you would like to know more LawCare has lots of information and resources about bullying, including 10 practical steps for managers on workplace bullying If you are being bullied, you can talk to LawCare about your situation and how you are feeling. It can a be a good way to talk through your options. Call LawCare on: 0800 279 6888, email or get in touch using the online chat on