23 Feb 2018

Law firm to hold external review after harassment claims

4:33 pm on 23 February 2018

Leading law firm Russell McVeagh has announced it will hold an external review into its handling of sexual harassment claims by students on internships.

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Students from Victoria University reported being sexually assaulted by lawyers at the firm. Photo: 123RF

Victoria University confirmed last week that several of its students reported being sexually assaulted by lawyers two years ago.

The incidents are said to have taken place at three Russell McVeagh social functions during the 2015-2016 summer, and involved more than one young woman.

Victoria University Vice Chancellor Grant Guilford said two older lawyers were involved in the incidents.

Five female clerks declined full-time positions at the firm at the end of their internships.

In a statement, Russell McVeagh said what happened during that summer was completely unacceptable but significant action had since been taken to improve the workplace culture.

"We believe the actions that we took immediately on becoming aware of these incidents were the right ones.

"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," the statement said.

It said the firm's board would appoint someone outside the legal community to review both of Russel McVeagh's offices to understand if any errors were made in dealing with the complaints.

Current staff would be expected to participate and summer clerks and former staff would also be invited to take part.

It said the final recommendations would be shared with the women involved, staff, clients and the Law Society.

The firm's board has already conducted an internal investigation and the men involved are said to no longer work at the company.

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