Following two incidents of alleged sexual harassment, Russell McVeagh, one of the largest law firms in New Zealand, has announced an external review of its offices in Auckland and Wellington.
In its investigation, Newsroom “learned of a pattern of sexually inappropriate behavior” by a number of senior male partners at Russell McVeagh towards female university students who clerked at the firm’s office in Wellington during the summers of 2015 and 2016.
The allegations that prompted the investigation centered around two incidents at an office Christmas party and another at a Wellington bar. Russell McVeagh subsequently denied another Newsroom report that claimed the firm had provided a job reference for a male lawyer investigated for sexual assault.
Russell McVeagh, which is considered one of the “big three” firms in New Zealand, issued a statement Friday noting that its board and partners had reflected on those events and recent media coverage of such events, calling what transpired “completely unacceptable.”
The firm also noted that it was in the process of finalizing its appointment of a qualified person outside of the legal community to conduct the review.
The scope of the review will look at the actions taken by Russell McVeagh in response to the incidents of 2015 and 2016 and will examine the firm’s culture and current management practices and policies with regard to preventing sexual harassment and putting in place support mechanisms for victims to make complaints.
“We need to understand if, how, and where we made errors so that we can apply those learnings in the future in our management practice and embed them in our culture,” said the statement by Russell McVeagh.
The alleged incidents that have surfaced at Russell McVeagh are just the latest instances of sexual misconduct to come to light in recent weeks. Earlier this month, a former Linklaters tax partner in Germany was sentenced to more than three years in prison for a sexual assault that occurred during an office Oktoberfest party in 2014.
Baker McKenzie said on Feb. 21 that it had hired British firm Simmons & Simmons to investigate its response to another alleged sexual assault on a former associate that occurred several years ago by one of its partners in London. Fellow global legal giant Dentons also recently ousted a partner following allegations of inappropriate behavior.