The interns & the law firm

Legal fraternity cuts ties with Russell McVeagh

The man at the centre of the serious sexual assault allegations involving Russell McVeagh is no longer sharing offices with several other lawyers.

Newsroom has confirmed that the man moved on recently and his name no longer appears on the office’s website

He left Russell McVeagh following the allegations of serious sexual misconduct against summer clerks.

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 Newsroom revealed 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.

The Women's Law Journal - New Zealand's only academic publication that is solely dedicated to publishing and supporting the work of women lawyers - has since “had a frank conversation with Russell McVeagh” and decided to put its relationship on hold so the firm can review its policies, practices and culture.

“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,“ editors-in-chief Ana Lenard and Allanah Colley said.

“The complainants have faced trauma two years ago and again with recent publicity. Our hearts 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.

“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.”

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.”

Last week Newsroom revealed all six law schools around the country had cut ties with the firm while the review takes place. The New Zealand Law Students’ Society had also ended its sponsorship relationship with Russell McVeagh for the National Client Interviewing Competition, 2018.

The NZLSA Council voted on the matter and concluded it was not satisfied with how Russell McVeagh handled serious allegations of sexual misconduct.

Other legal groups, including the Otago University Māori Law Students and Victoria University Law Students’ Association have since cut ties. Newsroom also understands the Government Legal Network - a group that houses departmental chief legal advisors, principal law officers and government lawyers - did not hold an event as planned on the Russell McVeagh Wellington premises late last month.

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