The interns & the law firm

Hundreds descend on Russell McVeagh

Hundreds of university students have marched on the offices of law firm Russell McVeagh to protest sexual harassment in the workplace.

Dressed in black as a symbol of solidarity with victims of sexual violence, the crowd snaked down Lambton Quay shouting chants such as: “Russell McVeagh, assaulting people is not OK”.

It follows a series of stories by Newsroom that revealed five summer clerks who were part of the 2015-2016 summer internship programme at Russell McVeagh made allegations ranging from sexual assault to rape against two of the firm’s lawyers.

Russell McVeagh’s office is in a high rise next to Midland Park, a popular lunch spot for Wellington CBD workers.

Many were stunned when the students arrived en masse and filled the park holding placards and shouting into loudspeakers.

The rally was organised by Victoria University of Wellington’s Students’ Association, Law Students’ Society and Feminist Law Society.

Beforehand the march received the blessing of the university’s vice-chancellor Grant Guilford, who told the crowd that the appalling incidents would hopefully lead to society working together to solve the problem.

“Russell McVeagh is not the root of the problem, only its ugly face.”

He reiterated that the university would not be working with Russell McVeagh until the results of its internal inquiry were known.

Rally organisers are calling on the Government to also suspend any further Crown work with Russell McVeagh until after the inquiry.

Ella Hughes, one of the organisers, said everyone had known about the entrenched behaviour in the legal profession for years but nothing had been done.

Photo: Lynn Grieveson

“Russell McVeagh is not the root of the problem, only its ugly face.”

Steph Dyhrberg, convenor of the Wellington Women Lawyers’ Association, stirred the crowd with an impassioned speech.

She described not only the legal profession, but New Zealand itself, as existing on a bedrock of misogyny.

“Every time a woman speaks up and says ‘We are not being treated with sufficient respect in the workplace’ … there is a man or a chorus of men saying ‘Oh, can’t you take a joke’.”

She said the Association would offer full support to any woman with a complaint and encourage students to speak out when they entered the profession.

“You might not get a nice corner office in a place like this but speaking truth to power has built a very nice career for me.”

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