5 Jul 2018

Russell McVeagh review details to be released today

5:57 am on 5 July 2018

A scathing review into the culture of the embattled law firm Russell McVeagh will be released today.

Academics and lawyers joined hundreds of students at the protest in Wellington

Earlier this year hundreds marched through Wellington protesting against sexual harassment and violence towards students, interns and graduates in the legal profession. Photo: RNZ / Katie Scotcher

RNZ understands the review details incidents of "shocking abusive bullying" and "abuses of power".

Partners at the firm have been walked through the findings in a fraught meeting with Dame Margaret Bazely, with some left in tears.

The review is looking into the sexual harassment claims of 2015/2016 and the firm's response, any other sexual harassment claims or any other improper conduct and the firm's response to those claims, the firm's standards, systems and policies relating to the management of staff, the firm's implementation of those policies and whether they adequately safeguard staff from sexual harassment and the culture of the firm.

The review will be made public at 10am. Following the release, Dame Margaret Bazely will brief Russell McVeagh staff.

How did we get here...

On 14 February, Newsroom published a story detailing three sexual assault complaints involving interns and two older male lawyers at leading law firm Russell McVeagh.

It was reported the incidents took place two years ago. That summer there were ten clerks on the summer intern programme. Five of the clerks were female and they declined full-time job offers from the firm after the programme.

In the following days, Victoria University confirmed several of its students on internships at Russell McVeagh reported being sexually assaulted by lawyers.

The police were involved but no charges resulted.

At the time, Russell McVeagh senior partner Pip Greenwood said the firm's board was aware of the allegations and conducted an internal investigation.

The men involved no longer work at the company, she said.

Fresh allegations

Just over a week after the initial story broke, new allegations were made of inappropriate sexual conduct between university students and senior lawyers at Russell McVeagh.

In a social media post, AUT law lecturer Khylee Quince said the Auckland University students described an evening where there was heavy drinking between students and lawyers, leading to sex on a boardroom table.

Ms Quince said she spoke to Russell McVeagh after students complained, but they said it was none of her business.

What happened next?

At the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's annual review in late February, National MP Melissa Lee raised questions over the government's continued use of Russell McVeagh.

In the 2016/17 financial year, the government spent more than $3.1 million on Russell McVeagh which provides legal services to 22 government agencies.

Just over two weeks after the initial revelations came to light, all six of the country's university law schools cut had ties with the firm.

All of the universities have said they would reconsider their links with the firm once it had finished its own review into how it deals with sexual harassment.

The review

Dame Margaret Bazley

Dame Margaret Bazley carried out the review Photo: Supplied

On 23 February, Russell McVeagh announced it will hold an external review into its handling of sexual harassment claims by students on internships.

It was later announced that Dame Margaret Bazley would lead the external review into allegations of sexual misconduct at the law firm.

Dame Margaret previously headed the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct in 2007, was a member of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance and reviewed the legal aid system in 2009.

She was also member of the Waitangi Tribunal for 10 years.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs