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Bullying in law: Are you a player, an actor, or an enabler?

As members of the legal profession, we all bear a collective responsibility to uphold the true values of justice, compassion, and fairness. Together, we can break the vicious cycle of bullying and rebuild the legal profession as a beacon of integrity and ethics, writes Stefanie Costi.

user iconStefanie Costi 31 July 2023 Big Law
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The legal profession often paints itself as a bastion of ethics and fairness, a realm of justice and integrity.

However, let’s not be naive; beneath this noble facade lies an ugly truth: bullying thrives within the legal world, tarnishing its reputation and inflicting untold suffering on its victims.

I am here to educate you about the three culprits perpetuating this toxic culture, whom I like to call the players, the actors, and the enablers.


The players: Architects of misery

At the heart of this distressing narrative are the players, the ruthless architects of cruelty who derive sick satisfaction from inflicting pain on others. Bullying, to them, is a power play, a twisted means to assert dominance over their colleagues.

These players brandish their words like venomous daggers, attacking their targets with personal insults, relentless ridicule, and soul-crushing humiliation. They spare no weakness and exploit every vulnerability, revelling in leaving scars that never truly heal.

The actors: Masters of deceit

Next, we confront the charming actors. They are adept at deception, concealing their true nature behind a veneer of charm and charisma. To the outside world, they appear friendly and approachable, but beneath the surface lies a sinister intent.

These cunning manipulators excel at passive-aggressiveness, gaslighting, and undermining their victims. Their compliments are nothing but thinly veiled insults that leave their targets bewildered and gasping for air in a sea of confusion and pain as their self-esteem is mercilessly torn apart.

Dealing with an actor is much worse than contending with a player. It is like walking on a minefield – you never know when they will strike, or quite where you stand with them at any given time. Personally, I’d take a player over an actor any day.

The enablers: Cowards in silence

As the plot thickens, we uncover the gutless bystanders – the enablers who witness the bullying but choose to remain silent. Their spinelessness fuels a toxic culture of complicity, allowing malevolence to fester and grow unchecked by choosing silence over standing up for what is right.

Fear of retaliation, self-preservation, apathy, or a desire to avoid discomfort are the excuses offered by these enablers. But let’s call it what it is – their silence makes them accomplices to the harm inflicted upon others.

Here’s the truth: we’ve all been enablers at some point in our careers. I’ll be honest; I’ve allowed fear to control me too. But let’s not kid ourselves – none of these excuses justify being an enabler. It is time to own up to our weaknesses and acknowledge that this stance is neither right nor beneficial for the profession.

The devastating impact

The consequences of bullying within the legal profession are far-reaching and devastating. Victims endure emotional turmoil, anxiety, and stress as they navigate a hostile work environment. The toll on their mental health and overall wellbeing is immense, seeping into their personal lives, haunting them long after escaping the toxic workplace.

But the impact does not stop there. The legal profession itself suffers a hefty price. Ambitious lawyers find their potential stifled, their growth sabotaged by the cruelty of their peers. Worse still, talented individuals abandon their legal careers, deceived into believing they are inadequate or do not belong, when in fact, they have fallen victim to the vile tactics of actors and players.

Enough is enough

The time for complacency is over.

We must confront this dark underbelly of the legal profession and eradicate the bullying culture that infects it. To do so, we must all take a stand and refuse to be mere spectators to this horror show.

Assess YOUR actions and attitudes – are YOU contributing to the problem, or are YOU actively working to create a safer, more respectful environment?

Leaders within the legal community must demonstrate their mettle by implementing iron-clad anti-bullying policies (even if they are the ones who are subject to them) and establishing a safe reporting mechanism for victims.

Education and awareness campaigns must be unleashed at every level of legal education and professional development to foster a culture of respect and empathy. Partners must be judged on more than their ability to generate revenue; they must excel in mentoring and retaining staff as well.

As members of the legal profession, YOU bear a collective responsibility to uphold the true values of justice, compassion, and fairness. Together, let us break the vicious cycle of bullying and rebuild the legal profession as a beacon of integrity and ethics.

The choice is yours – will YOU be a player, an actor, or an enabler of this toxic culture, or will YOU be the change YOU wish to see? The time for action is now.

Stefanie Costi is a lawyer seeking to empower victims of workplace bullying to act, and also educate organisations about the lasting impact of such behaviour.