DLA Piper‘s operations in New Zealand are currently under investigation by the country’s legal regulatory body following two “behavioral” incidents that took place in 2017 and resulted in the departure of one of its partners in its Wellington office, according to new reports.
News of the incident and subsequent investigation were first reported by Kiwi media outlets, including Stuff, one of the largest news sites on the island country. The internal inquiry and corresponding departure of the partner from DLA Piper’s office in Wellington centers around conduct that took place around a Christmas party late last year.
A source familiar with the case told Stuff that the as-yet-unidentified male partner had been under orders not to attend work functions unsupervised prior to the Christmas festivities in 2017. However, the source said that he proceeded to attend the party where the incident occurred.
In a statement provided to The American Lawyer, DLA Piper New Zealand country managing partner Martin Wiseman confirmed that an incident occurred in December 2017. Wiseman said that the staff member affected reported the incident to the office’s management and human resources function two days after it occurred.
“The firm took immediate steps in December 2017 to ensure the safety and well-being of the staff member involved,” Wiseman said.
Wiseman said that DLA Piper investigated the incident that month and subsequently reported it to the New Zealand Law Society (NZLS), a body overseeing barristers and solicitors in the country, under a “confidential reporting regime.”
“The incident is being investigated by the NZLS Standards Committee and DLA Piper New Zealand has submitted itself to a confidential NZLS process,” said Wiseman in his statement, which noted that the firm is not able to discuss any other aspects of the incident or individuals involved due to NZLS’s confidentiality requirements.
DLA Piper did confirm that the partner under investigation left the firm before Jan. 1, 2018.
“Respect, inclusion and equality are central to our firm’s values,” a DLA Piper spokesman said. “We are committed to ensuring our workplace is a supportive and positive environment and expect our people to uphold the firm’s high standards. Where this is not the case appropriate action will be taken.”
DLA Piper absorbed former Australian alliance partner DLA Phillips Fox in 2011, although the latter’s New Zealand arm was not included in that combination and chose to remain separate under the DLA Phillips Fox name. In 2015, the latter re-branded itself as DLA Piper New Zealand but kept its financial independence.
The news from DLA Piper comes on the heels of sexual misconduct allegations involving several other firms, including at least three in the Asia Pacific region.
Russell McVeagh, a leading New Zealand firm, announced in late February that it would undergo an external review following allegations of sexual misconduct by a number of its male partners toward female university students. An attorney at Chapman Tripp, another top Kiwi firm, was accused last month of having sex with a 19-year-old student at the firm’s 2012 law camp. And Herbert Smith Freehills dismissed former partner Peter Paradise, its former Sydney-based regional head of its projects practice, over sexual harassment allegations.
Dentons also acknowledged in February dismissing a partner from a Scottish legacy firm over sexual misconduct claims, while Baker McKenzie’s London office came under scrutiny earlier this year over the actions of a partner accused of sexual assault.
In the U.S., Latham & Watkins saw its former leader William Voge step down and retire in late March as a result of “communications of a sexual nature.” A partner who joined Mayer Brown as part of a large lateral team in late February also subsequently resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct at his former firm, Morrison & Foerster.