25 Sep 2018

Disappointment over fresh scandal at Russell McVeagh

8:00 am on 25 September 2018

Wellington Women Lawyers' Association is bitterly disappointed that law firm Russell McVeagh is once again at the heart of a misconduct scandal.

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Law firm Russell McVeagh says one of its partners will not attend work while his conduct is being investigated. Photo: Supplied

The law firm has launched an investigation and banned one of its partners, who was accused of making drunken remarks at a client function.

Chair Malcolm Crotty said everyone in the organisation knew what was expected of them and the firm would not tolerate any inappropriate behaviour.

Russell McVeagh was in the spotlight earlier this year over serious allegations of sexual misconduct from senior lawyers and its lack of response.

The association's convener, Steph Dyhrberg, who was also an employment lawyer, said she was bewildered by the news.

"It's just so disappointing ... it makes a bit of a mockery of all the efforts everyone's been making to educate people about what's okay and what's not," Ms Dyhrberg said.

"In the middle of that, a senior lawyer from a leading firm can't behave appropriately at a function - it's just incredible."

Clearly, the problems that surfaced at Russell McVeagh in February had not disappeared, Ms Dyhrberg said.

"The issues at Russell McVeagh are not historical ... they can't say that.

"I suppose it just shows that you really do have to work hard to change individual behaviour to get it through to people."

But Ms Dyhrberg said it was good to see that the law firm was being proactive about dealing with the allegation and had made its process public.

Law Society president Kathryn Beck said it seemed Russell McVeagh had learned from the past.

"We're hearing about a process that's in place, obviously we don't know where that's going to go, but even the fact that we're hearing about it is progress," she said.

"The statement I read said that we're going to get more detail down the track - it seems to me like they've drawn quite a bright line here and seem to be committing to make the change."

Ms Beck said by having clear expectations of behaviour and processes in place when they are breached, law firms were slowly beginning to make a culture change.

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