Russell McVeagh, law faculties under fire

The spotlight on inappropriate behaviour in legal circles continues, with more distancing from law firm Russell McVeagh, and the Auckland University joining Otago in the firing line.

Women’s Law Journal: Russell McVeagh & NZ Women’s Law Journal

Until now, we have not commented on the complaints of sexual assault against Russell McVeagh. Russell McVeagh is one of the Journal’s sponsors and we have taken this time to consider our relationship with the firm.

The complainants have faced trauma two years ago and again with recent publicity. Our go out to the women involved. You are not alone: we and many others stand with you and hope to support you however we can. Russell McVeagh, the profession and society have failed you by enabling a culture in which these assaults could happen.

We have had a frank conversation with Russell McVeagh about the complaints, the firm’s culture and the steps the firm has taken subsequently. Russell McVeagh seem to have genuine concern for the complainants and have told us of their endeavours to do best by them and ensure this never happens again.

In spite of this, we feel it is best for us to put our relationship on hold so that Russell McVeagh can review its policies, practices and culture.

The events of the last few weeks show that the problem is far broader than Russell McVeagh. It is not an issue of working long hours and alcohol-fuelled social events, which are a normal part of professional life. The issue is deeper than that: it is about the sexist thinking that people have failed to challenge for far too long. Anything else is a scapegoat. We believe that now is the time for the leaders of our profession to take responsibility and initiate change.

We are deeply disappointed by many of the responses from senior members of the profession in recent days. The women involved and anyone who has suffered because of the inappropriate actions of others deserve our support. They also deserve a comprehensive, creative and paradigm-shifting response.

There have been heartening and proactive responses from other members of the profession.

We support these positive actions and would like to lend a hand wherever we can. Of particular note, we would like to mention the Wellington Women Lawyers’ Association, Elizabeth Hall and Zoë Lawton who have taken it upon themselves to institute fora where anyone can speak out about their experiences and be heard. In the coming months, we will also be taking action to help change our profession for good.

We will not be silent any longer.

NZH: School debating competition drops law firm Russell McVeagh after sexual harassment scandal

School debaters have dropped their sponsoring law firm Russell McVeagh, as public reaction continues to mount over alleged sexual harassment of the firm’s female interns.

NZ Schools’ Debating Council vice-president Nicholas Cross said the council had put its relationship with the firm “on hold”.

“Russell McVeagh has been the major sponsor of the NZ Schools’ Debating Council for 18 years and has been a valued and supportive partner throughout this time,” he said.

“The council was very concerned by these recent allegations. Our policy is zero tolerance for any kind of harassment.”

All six of New Zealand’s university law faculties have already distanced themselves from Russell McVeagh, but Auckland has joined Otago in the hypocrisy spotlight.

ODT: Law camp cancelled after claims

The University of Otago student law society has cancelled the law camp run for second-year students, following a series of allegations of nudity and jelly wrestling. The camp was scheduled to be held this weekend.

The camp has been highly scrutinised by former students for the levels of alcohol consumed and the activities run during the weekend.

The camp is organised by The Society of Otago University Law Students (Souls), and has been running for at least the past 10 years.

Souls had vowed to clamp down on drunkenness and ban ‘full nudity’. But yesterday it put out a statement saying the pro-vice chancellor and the university were not prepared to support the camp, previously held at Camp Iona, near Herbert.

“Without this support, regrettably, Souls is unable to run the camp this year.”

Souls president Tim Austen said the event had relied on the support of the law faculty and wider university, which provided assistance with security, while the proctor signed off an event management plan.

Faculty dean Prof Mark Henaghan has attended parts of previous camps as a guest but could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

NZH: Familiar tale of binge-drinking and nudity at Auckland University’s annual law camp

Binge drinking, skinny-dipping, and dirty-dancing competitions with extra points for nudity have occurred at the University of Auckland’s annual law camp, students claim.

The weekend-long camp on Motutapu Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, run by the Auckland University Law Students’ Society (AULSS), has come under scrutiny after the University of Otago student law society scrapped its law camp following allegations of nudity and jelly wrestling.

Students say that daylight hours featured healthy team-building and bonding exercises and games including obstacle courses, raft building, and orienteering.

But the evenings were dedicated to raucous parties with drinking games, vomiting, sex and seedy skits.

No staff were present but the 200-odd students were overseen by sober student leaders.

One self-described conservative, teetotal student spoken to by the Herald was shocked by the antics.

“I’m not really used to that whole situation so I kind of just assumed that’s what happens when you go to normal uni parties,” said the student, who wished to remain anonymous.

She was unfazed by the rampant binge-drinking and sex, but when her group was asked to go skinny-dipping, and then perform “racy” dance shows, she became “super-uncomfortable”.

“I wasn’t drinking but before we did the skit thing, our leaders said, ‘This whole thing would probably just be easier if you were drunk’,” the law student said.

“The more dirty the skit, the more clothes you took off, the more points you would get, at least it seemed that way. It was uncomfortable because it encouraged you to strip or be vulgar and that’s very not me.

“There was a skinny-dipping game where if you went completely in the nude then you got more points, but the entire team had to do it. That was where I felt kind of peer pressured by the sort of thinking that I have to do it because everyone else is doing it.

“It was very out of my comfort zone. But I am also the kind of person to be open to almost everything, so I was feeling really weird, I never do these kinds of things, ever. I was kind of in the head space thinking, ‘Well, what everyone else does, then maybe I should do it too’.”

She added: “I’ve always wanted to experience being drunk or doing something crazy. But I didn’t expect it to be at law camp.”

When they arrived on the island, condoms were handed out, the student said.

Throughout the weekend, she said, couples snuck off to have sex.

“There were lots of people puking, people stripping naked or taking off whatever and just dancing,” she said.

Another student posted on an online forum that they will pull out of this year’s camp after hearing that it’s “all about getting laid and drunk” and that it “should be renamed STI camp”.

University students will inevitably let their hair down and ditch their inhibitions – many are away from home for the first time in their lives, and almost all have recently been legally been able to buy and drink alcohol.

What they do in their own time is up to them.

But university organised or sanctioned over-imbibing and debauchery is inappropriate, irresponsible, and is a disservice to those students who get caught up in and pressured by group excesses.

Back to where the inappropriate legal fraternising story began, Newsroom: Ex-Russell McVeagh lawyer moves on

The man at the centre of the serious sexual assault allegations involving Russell McVeagh is no longer sharing offices with several other lawyers. He left Russell McVeagh following the allegations of serious sexual misconduct against summer clerks.

One of the lawyers at those offices confirmed to Newsroom the man at the centre of the allegations was no longer working from those offices and information about him has disappeared from the venue’s website.

Meanwhile, Russell McVeagh told Newsroom an internal project team is working towards making an announcement regarding the appointment of a non-legal external reviewer early next week.

Since Newsroomrevealed the allegations on February 14, Russell McVeagh has claimed it undertook a detailed internal investigation and the two lawyers accused by the clerks left the firm. It claims it adopted a Zero Tolerance policy to sexual harassment and abuse but will not say when that came into effect.

Newsroom also understands that ILANZ, the In-House Lawyers Association of New Zealand, has agreed with Russell McVeagh that the firm will withdraw as a Premium Sponsor of the ILANZ Conference 2018.

ILANZ president Erin Judge said it is appropriate for Russell McVeagh to focus on the external review that they have commissioned and implement the recommendations made.

“As a collective of in-house lawyers, we need to consider how inappropriate sexual conduct affects our part of the legal profession and what we are going to do about it.

“The upcoming conference provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to a safe and healthy work environment and to encourage discussion of these issues. Continued sponsorship by Russell McVeagh would be a distraction from this important discussion.

“Sexual harassment, assault and unsafe working conditions are not limited to one firm or one part of the legal profession. We all have a role and responsibility in driving change. We are mindful of this as we finalise our conference programme and continue to focus on the best interests of our membership.”

Some soul searching required in both business and education legal circles.

Leave a comment


  1. Ray

     /  March 6, 2018

    Interesting that “somehow” student high jinks or rather law student camps with the aforementioned hi jinks have been linked to cases of old men with real power using that power for at the least inappropriate behaviour with apparently some cases of much worse behaviour.
    They are not the same thing and it seems to me this very powerful company should blacklisted by both the Government and other users.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  March 6, 2018

      The sex that happened there ten years ago there was consensual and no charges were laid. The people involved were reprimanded.

      I can’t see why a firm where some students behaved badly a decade ago, and there was no question of coercion or abuse, should be punished because of this, when it happened so long ago.

      This seems to reinforce the stereotype that women are not sexual beings and that men are always in the wrong in sexual encounters.


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