Russell McVeagh partner resigns

Some change at Russell McVeagh after an investigation confirmed bad behaviour of one of their partners.

RNZ:  Russell McVeagh partner quits after complaints upheld (audio)

The law firm Russell McVeagh has lost one of its partners, after an independent investigation upheld complaints about the man’s drunken behaviour at a client function. Yesterday the law firm’s board chair Malcolm Crotty confirmed a partner – who isn’t named – had resigned. The firm, which provides services to the government, has been in damage control because of serious allegations of sexual misconduct by senior lawyers in 2015 and 2016.

Attitudes and actions are finally changing. Good.

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.

Russell McVeagh appoints investigator into sexual misconduct claims and admissions

Russell McVeagh have appointed Dame Margaret Bazley to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct within the law firm. Newsroom are continuing to put pressure on the issue.

RNZ: Dame Margaret Bazley to head Russell McVeagh review

Dame Margaret Bazley will lead the external review of allegations of sexual misconduct at law firm Russell McVeagh.

The firm – which provides legal services to the government – is in the spotlight over serious allegations of sexual misconduct levelled at two senior lawyers at its Wellington office, and separate revelations of alcohol-fuelled sex in a boardroom.

Those allegations and the firm’s response will be reviewed, as well as any other claims, and its culture and policies regarding sexual harassment.

Russell McVeagh chair Malcolm Crotty said women subjected to sexual harassment, as well as current staff and partners, wanted to be assured the review would be thorough.

“We think that Dame Margaret’s significant review into police conduct and culture resulting from the Louise Nicholas case will provide that assurance,” he said.

She will be assisted by a woman lawyer whose appointment will be announced shortly.

Pip Greenwood, a senior partner at Russell McVeagh, said the firm was “truly sorry and horrified” that the sexual harassment had occurred.

They admit that harassment has occurred.

“We are committed to ensuring that such incidents do not happen again. We are extremely grateful to Dame Margaret for agreeing to conduct this review. We have been conscious, in making this appointment, to appoint a person who is truly independent as well as who has experience in such work.”

Newsroom is continuing their pressure: Bazley to head inquiry into ‘sexual harassment’

The allegations are far from what is commonly understood as sexual harassment. They include complaints of sexual violation, including rape.

The firm’s announcement also reveals Dame Margaret’s report on the firm’s handling of the 2015/16 scandal and other “improper conduct” will not be made public. It will instead be shared with “stakeholders”, the Law Society and the law schools of the country’s universities.

So how will the public know that this isn’t another sweeping under the legal rug?

Russell McVeagh not only has a responsibility to deal properly with any proven harassment and sexual assault, they have a responsibility to the (presumed) majority of lawyers who are not involved and not guilty.

Otherwise the firm and the profession will retain a general taint.

Newsroom has been told Russell McVeagh’s portrayal today of the assaults and misconduct during the summer clerk programme as “sexual harassment” has gone down poorly among women closely connected to the case.

One former Russell McVeagh lawyer said: “This review is getting off on the wrong foot because it is minimising, from the outset, the gravity and nature of the alleged offending against the summer clerks. It confirms my scepticism that this review is just another window-dressing exercise.”

If it is kept secret then it will easily be construed as window-dressing.

Russell McVeagh lawyers who knew of complaints from the summer clerks of sexual assaults did not refer the matter to the Law Society, as required under its rules. The Society only learned of the accusations against two male lawyers from the firm when a woman concerned raised them with it between eight and nine months after the incidents.

If they broke Law Society rules that at least should be addressed properly and openly.

The firm conducted its own inquiry, let the two men leave its Wellington office with at least one continuing on Russell McVeagh client work, and changed its summer clerk programme with new rules over alcohol and treatment of women.

So they took some action, but under cover. Should they have referred any incidents to the police? Or did they improperly protect perpetrators and the company’s reputation?  The public should have confidence that things were done properly, or will be done properly to correct past cover-ups.

In the course of inquiries into Russell McVeagh’s handling of the summer clerk programme allegations, Newsroom has been informed of incidents involving eight male staffers accused of sexual misconduct, harassment or inappropriate behaviour to staff. Some have left the firm.

The incidents date from 2000, and some involve senior lawyers. Five allegations date from the past five years. The incidents, by year, are in the graphic above.

While the firm’s terms of reference – or scope – for Dame Margaret specify the incidents in 2015/16 and its aftermath, she should have scope to inquire into these further incidents under its second term “any other improper conduct that may be brought to the attention of the external reviewer and the firm’s response to those claims.”

Her inquiry into the sexual assaults by police against Rotorua woman Louise Nicholas took three years from 2004 to complete and report.

A proper investigation will take time, but time can defuse the public glare.

Dame Margaret is regarded as a thorough and exacting inquisitor. She will be helped on this Russell McVeagh review by an un-named woman lawyer.

She is a good choice, but will the public know she has investigated well and covered this thoroughly?

It is likely to be proper that some information remain private/secret, there may be very personal revelations, and also differences of claims and perceptions between accusers and accused, so due process is important.

But Russell McVeagh has admitted “the incidents of sexual harassment that have occurred at our firm have had a profound effect on the women involved and we are all truly sorry and horrified that they occurred.”

Unless this is public clarified and properly addressed the law firm reputation and all their lawyers will remain under a cloud of suspicion. The company has:

  • 36 partners
  • 8 special counsels
  • 20 senior associates
  • 6 company managers plus a Chief Executive Officer
  • junior lawyers and staff.

They owe it to victims, to the public, and to all of those staff who are not involved in any harassment or law breaking, and to the legal profession, to come clean.

 

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.

Sexual misconduct in the legal profession

The story of historical sexual misconduct at law firm Russell McVeagh is growing into a wider condemnation of ‘the legal profession’, with claims the problem ‘is endemic’.

Newsroom kicked this off with a series of articles (a big investigative task with a major law firm the target), beginning on 14 February with The summer interns and the law firm

Something went badly wrong with the student law clerk programme at national law firm Russell McVeagh in Wellington over a recent summer.

Newsroom has learned of a pattern of sexually inappropriate behaviour towards the female students that saw our leading universities intervene, at least one report made to the police and a later reform of the clerk programme including a ban on alcohol and the launch of a helpline for them to seek support.

The matter went before the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee and the NZ Law Deans, who oversee the law schools sending graduates to Russell McVeagh and other workplaces.

Victoria University said today its staff were “extremely disappointed that the incidents occurred” but found Russell McVeagh senior staff “genuinely concerned” for the welfare of those involved and determined to ensure the safety of future clerks.

16 February: ‘Zero tolerance’ flies in face of reality

A former Russell McVeagh lawyer*, with close knowledge of its handling of complaints of sexual assault and harassment against summer clerks, says beware of the law firm’s carefully worded public responses. 

Having watched this saga unfold from a relative degree of proximity in my opinion Russell McVeagh’s reaction to the very compelling allegations of sexual assault and harassment was commercial and focused on harm minimisation – and not exclusively in the best interests and wellbeing of the vulnerable victims as well as several staff who had bravely chosen to support them.

This disjunct between what Russell McVeagh has said to the media and the reality is best illustrated by comparing what actually happened to the representations made in the carefully crafted spin that highly paid PR consultants would have encouraged Russell McVeagh to pump out.

17 February: Lawyers intervened to protect clerk

A further incident has come to light involving one of the men at the centre of claims of serious sexual assault at law firm Russell McVeagh – just months after his departure from the law firm.

Two informants have provided detailed information to Newsroom about events that played out at a lawyers’ conference after-party in a provincial town.

Newsroomrevealed on Wednesday that five clerks on the firm’s summer programme made complaints of serious sexual assault and harassment against two male lawyers at the firm.

In the latest revelation, a group of people had to intervene to help a summer clerk being pursued by one of the two men at a bar, where lawyers from the conference had gathered late at night.

21 February: Law firm not told of complaints against solicitor

A premier national law firm that hired a former Russell McVeagh solicitor after he was accused of sexual misconduct says it was led to believe by a reference check that the incident was minor.

The firm, smaller than Russell McVeagh but a leading name in the profession, says it would not have hired the man in its Wellington office if it had known what went on at the El Horno bar on a January night in 2016.

The lawyer was accused of sexually assaulting a “summer clerk” who worked at Russell McVeagh. The incident was reported to the Police at the time but no action was taken.

22 February: Why wasn’t the Law Society told?

Allegations of serious sexual assaults against students on law firm Russell McVeagh’s summer clerk programme, which should have been reported by the firm’s lawyers at the earliest opportunity, took eight to nine months to reach the Law Society.

Newsroom has confirmed the matter reached the profession’s regulator only when one of the young women involved told the society, despite lawyers’ clear obligation to report such misconduct.

The lengthy delay in the matters being brought to the attention of the Law Society could mean Russell McVeagh lawyers are in breach of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act whistleblowing procedures.

The Law Society regulates all lawyers in New Zealand including in relation to misconduct.

Its president, Kathryn Beck, has confirmed in an interview with Newsroom that it first became aware in September 2016 of the Russell McVeagh summer clerk allegations of sexual assaults which occurred in December 2015 and January 2016.

22 February: Law firm vs law firm

Law firm Russell McVeagh strongly rejects another firm’s claim it did not inform it in a job reference for a lawyer that the man had been investigated for sexual assault.

Russell McVeagh claims its partners had two face-to-face meetings with the prospective employer, Duncan Cotterill, and was up-front about the inquiry into a sexual assault allegation involving the solicitor.

Duncan Cotterill has now responded to that new claim, saying it has no record of a second meeting and challenging Russell McVeagh’s portrayal of the first discussion.

It says it was only told there had been a sexual encounter between the solicitor and a clerk – with an implication it could have been inappropriate but consensual. It says there was no mention of Russell McVeagh investigating a sex assault claim or that the police had opened a file on the matter.

On Nine to Noon on February 15, Russell McVeagh senior partner Pip Greenwood told Kathryn Ryan the firm had been asked for a reference in relation to one person “and we’ve been very open with that. Very open and transparent”.

24 February: “This letter is not intended to threaten Newsroom…”

Law firm Russell McVeagh instructed Auckland QC Adam Ross to write to Newsroom upbraiding us on our reporting of the allegations about the sexual abuse and harassment on its summer clerk programme two years ago.

His letter says the scandal has presented a “very difficult situation for the firm” and claims Newsroom’s informants have “other agendas they are not disclosing to you”.

The letter wrongly claims Newsroom has published material without knowing its validity, or knowing the unspecified “circumstances with the firm” of anonymous sources whom Russell McVeagh is trying to identify. It questions the practices and fairness of our Investigations. Newsroom rejects these claims; our team has been painstaking and meticulous in its research and confirmation of material.

This is a story of abuse of power and as such those providing information wish to distance themselves from further abuse of power. That is why we fiercely protect sources, but we would not run a story without them. It is why, in a story such as this, confidentiality is necessary.

26 February: ‘Review could cause more harm than good’

Law firm Russell McVeagh announced an external inquiry into itself on Friday, after more than a week of controversy over how it handled complaints by summer clerks of sexual assault and harassment by its male staff in Wellington two years ago.

Here, two lawyers specialising in legal ethics and employment law, Kathryn Dalziel and Stephanie Dyhrberg, examine the wisdom of what Russell McVeagh announced – and set out in bullet points what it should be doing.

26 February: Law firm faces new sex claims

A university law lecturer has revealed new details of historical sexual misconduct at law firm Russell McVeagh – this time involving Māori women students being invited to the firm’s bar and included in binge-drinking and sex in a boardroom after a seminar.

The lecturer, Khylee Quince, took complaints from a senior woman student at the University of Auckland to Russell McVeagh after the incident, but was told the sex was consensual and the two 19-year-old women involved were adult and needed to take responsibility for their own drinking.

She has spoken exclusively to Newsroom after posting details of the incident and the firm and university’s lack of follow-up on her Facebook page.

Her statement comes in the wake of the scandal over allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assaults against summer clerks at the same firm’s Wellington office two years ago.

Russell McVeagh issued a statement yesterday acknowledging incidents of “poor behaviour involving consensual sexual events, including on our premises” over the past 20 years.

For the first time it accepted such misconduct had occurred at partner level. The statement said sexual misconduct allegations of this type had been resolved by “termination of employment or a partner departing” describing that as “action appropriate to the severity of the misconduct”.

The incident Khylee Quince has detailed occurred in the early 2000s in the firm’s Auckland office and is one of six separate incidents involving Russell McVeagh male lawyers that Newsroom has been informed of and is investigating. These involve several men who have gone on to achieve high prominence or influence in the law.

Lawyer Linda Clark adds her views at The Spinoff: How the legal profession has excused and minimised the Russell McVeagh scandal:

It’s the biggest scandal to rock the legal profession in years. Yet the official response to the Russell McVeagh revelations been so woefully inadequate, says special counsel Linda Clark.

I work with a group of simply terrific young women. They are bright, engaging, hard working and professional. These women – and so many others like them – need to feel supported by the legal profession and in particular by senior lawyers and partners. They need to feel secure enough to talk about harassment without fear. They need to know that disclosing an incident of harassment won’t cost them their job. They need to know that the profession won’t try to minimise what happened to them, or find ways of excusing the behaviour. They need to know that they will be heard.

So far, the legal profession has struggled to provide the leadership these young women deserve.

The Law Society issued a statement last week, crafted in the kind of passive vanilla sentences so favoured by my profession.

‘The disclosures over the past week will have made every lawyer in New Zealand consider their workplace and also their profession,’ the Society said. Yes, indeed.

Lawyers are experts at ‘considering’. But, as we now know, not so expert at a range of really important other things, like keeping young women safe at work, or being proactive to ensure allegations of misconduct (or possibly crimes) are investigated quickly and thoroughly, or even – and I’m not being glib – knowing how to drink alcohol without being a creep.

In recent years, a number of law firms have developed diversity programmes, seminars targeted for women, engaged consultants to educate partners about unconscious bias. I have participated and even led some of these. They demonstrate a genuine commitment in the profession to support and encourage women to progress.

But in conversations with young women lawyers this week it has been truly depressing to see how those initiatives – as welcome as they are – have not moved the dial.

To fix that the profession needs to be honest with itself. It needs to listen to young women and it needs to do more (much more) to ensure these women are not subjected to harassment, unwanted touching or assault. If they are, then the profession needs to call out the perpetrators without delay, even the so-called good guys.

That’s a big ask.

Lawyers are generally very good at protecting themselves, legally. But Russell McVeagh and other firms are under increasing pressure to address this properly and publicly.

If the stories keep coming out without being adequately addressed, and without ” the profession needs to call out the perpetrators without delay”, then the whole profession is tainted.

RNZ this morning: Sexual misconduct in law firms an ‘open secret’ for decades

Several Victoria University law students on internships at Russell McVeagh have complained of being sexually assaulted by lawyers two years ago.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, AUT senior law lecturer Khylee Quince said that some years ago a student had told her of an evening drinking session at Russell McVeagh’s Auckland office which ended with staff having sex on the boardroom table with several students.

Ms Quince said the reason why she decided to speak out was because it was an “open secret” that those sort of things had gone on in big law companies for years.

Khylee Quince told Morning Report she’s had dozens of messages since going public at the weekend.

“Lots of survivor stories, ranging from the very serious to the quite bizarre, behaviours around humiliation and forcibly embarrassing young women for fun.”

Ms Quince said the Auckland incidents had been a wake-up call to the university in advising students about alcohol and looking after themselves, although interns continued to go to the law firm.

This issue looks like it isn’t going to go away easily.