Legal

Law firm alters photo to avoid reputational damage

Simpson Grierson has run scared following this year’s revelations about New Zealand law firms. Laura Walters reports on the firm’s perception faux pas.

In an effort to avoid negative attention, law firm Simpson Grierson photoshopped wine glasses out of a recent photo of its law graduates.

The photo, which was posted on Monday, showed a group of eight of the firm’s 2018 graduates who had recently been admitted to the bar, at a Simpson Grierson-run event celebrating their admission.

The photo was taken during a celebratory event where the new solicitors’ parents and wider whānau were present, along with the firm’s partners and other support people.

The attendees were given a glass of champagne as part of the celebrations. However, in order to avoid negative perceptions of the event, a member of the marketing team photoshopped the drinks out of the photo following a discussion with others at the firm.

Since being contacted by Newsroom, the photo has been removed from social media.

The graduates were all over the legal drinking age, and were not involved in the decision to alter the image posted on the firm’s social media accounts.

'Focusing on the positive'

Simpson Grierson’s human resources consultant in charge of the law graduates and summer clerks, Poncho Rivera-Pavon, said they decided to remove the champagne glasses because the function was about celebrating the graduates’ admission, not about them having a drink at work.

“We’re very aware of sometimes the media misconstruing things and making it look like it’s all about them having a drink at work. We wanted to make it all about their admission and how important it is for them, so we decided to remove them.”

This comes in the wake of revelations surrounding sexual harassment and cultural issues within sectors of the legal profession in New Zealand, including widely publicised incidents at firm Russell McVeagh which were first revealed by Newsroom.

“We’re just very aware of how people can see things externally, so we’re trying to focus on the positive side of it."

Rivera-Pavon said the firm was aware of the current public attention on law firms and cultural issues in the workplace.

“We’re just very aware of how people can see things externally, so we’re trying to focus on the positive side of it,” he said.

“I find it quite ironic that we were trying to stay away from that, and not making it unnecessarily about what it’s becoming about.”

There was no wider policy within the firm to alter photos from work functions which showed alcohol, Rivera-Pavon said, adding that he was not aware of any other photos being altered.

Alcohol is not to blame for the issues facing the legal profession, barrister Catriona MacLennan says.

Former Simpson Grierson HR manager Jo Copeland said during her time with the firm, there were no issues around alcohol or drinking.

The firm had a longstanding host responsibility policy which included having licenced hosts on-site when people were drinking to monitor drinks, as well as serving food and non-alcoholic beverages and having a limited amount of alcohol.

A partner would also stay until the end of every event.

Copeland said the policy had been in place for years, and there was not a boozy culture at this particular event, Friday drinks, or other events hosted by the firm.

Barrister Catriona MacLennan said alcohol was not what was behind the current issues facing the legal profession.

“The way to avoid damage to your reputation is not to cover up that people have been issued a glass of champagne."

It seemed there was a lack of understanding in the industry, and in Dame Margaret Bazley’s report on the problems at Russell McVeagh, about the role alcohol played in the cultural issues, she said.

“Bottles of wine are not getting up and sexually harassing and assaulting people.”

It would be “foolish” not to be worried about public perception after the revelations surrounding law firms in New Zealand, this year.

“The way to avoid damage to your reputation is not to cover up that people have been issued a glass of champagne,” MacLennan said.

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