Russell McVeagh abuse report due out today

Hints of “shocking abusive bullying” and “abuses of power” seem to have leaked out in advance of the review of alleged sexual abuse and abuse of power at Russell McVeagh.

RNZ: Russell McVeagh review details to be released today

RNZ understands the review details incidents of “shocking abusive bullying” and “abuses of power”.

Partners at the firm have been walked through the findings in a fraught meeting with Dame Margaret Bazely, with some left in tears.

The review is looking into the sexual harassment claims of 2015/2016 and the firm’s response, any other sexual harassment claims or any other improper conduct and the firm’s response to those claims, the firm’s standards, systems and policies relating to the management of staff, the firm’s implementation of those policies and whether they adequately safeguard staff from sexual harassment and the culture of the firm.

The review will be made public at 10am. Following the release, Dame Margaret Bazely will brief Russell McVeagh staff.

RNZ details the background to revelations being released:

  • On 14 February, Newsroom published a story detailing three sexual assault complaints involving interns and two older male lawyers at leading law firm Russell McVeagh. It was reported the incidents took place two years ago. That summer there were ten clerks on the summer intern programme. Five of the clerks were female and they declined full-time job offers from the firm after the programme.
  • In the following days, Victoria University confirmed several of its students on internships at Russell McVeagh reported being sexually assaulted by lawyers. The police were involved but no charges resulted.
  • At the time, Russell McVeagh senior partner Pip Greenwood said the firm’s board was aware of the allegationsand conducted an internal investigation. The men involved no longer work at the company, she said.
  • Just over a week after the initial story broke, new allegations were made of inappropriate sexual conduct between university students and senior lawyers at Russell McVeagh. In a social media post, AUT law lecturer Khylee Quince said the Auckland University students described an evening where there was heavy drinking between students and lawyers, leading to sex on a boardroom table.
  • At the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s annual review in late February, National MP Melissa Lee raised questions over the government’s continued use of Russell McVeagh.

If the pre-release reports are accurate it sounds like tough times for Russell McVeagh.

At least it appears to be being addressed, so some good may come out of this if it is dealt with properly by the law firm.

Newsroom also pre-empt the release of the report: Four things the Russell McVeagh review must address

Questions have been raised about when Russell McVeagh knew and responded to allegations ranging from sexual assault to rape by five summer interns. The claims relate to at least two incidents and involved two lawyers employed by the firm at the time. Bazley has been tasked with reviewing and giving recommendations relating to the allegations, plus Russell McVeagh’s policies around sexual harassment and the wider culture of the firm.

The main things Bazley’s report must address:

  1. How Russell McVeagh handled the complaints
    Russell McVeagh has ensured the review is independent, but there is no indication whether Bazley has been given full and complete access to all of the firm’s records.
  2. Reference for one of the men involved
    One of the lawyers went on to work at Duncan Cotterill, the other went on to share an office with other lawyers.Duncan Cotterill said it had no idea of the allegations at the time the man was hired. Duncan Cotterill said it was led to believe by a reference check that the incident was minor.
  3. Continuing to use one of the men for legal work 
    One of the men was receiving Russell McVeagh work once he left the firm. Russell McVeagh told Newsroom it was ethically obliged to keep him on a case, even though the law firm had to ban female staff from working on that account and bar the former senior staffer from attending meetings at its office.
  4. Why Russell McVeagh did not inform the Law Society 
    The Law Society was first informed of the claims in October 2016 when one of the women told the society, almost 10 months after the incidents. The firm’s partners may have breached their legal obligations under the Lawyers Conduct and Client Care Rules by failing to report the alleged misconduct immediately.

We may or may not get answers to these questions today.