25 Sep 2018

Whistleblower unsurprised by fresh scandal at law firm

7:34 pm on 25 September 2018

A former lawyer says she is not surprised law firm Russell McVeagh is once again at the centre of a misconduct scandal.

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Law firm Russell McVeagh has been in the spotlight earlier this year over serious allegations of sexual misconduct. Photo: 123rf

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

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

Former lawyer and whistleblower Olivia Wensley said the issue of sexual harassment at the firm had not gone away.

"It won't go away, there's deeply ingrained cultural issues at that firm, and in the profession as a whole, and that won't change until the Law Society takes strong affirmative action to impose consequences for offending because at the moment to date there has been nothing," she said.

The Law Society should fine, censure or disbar lawyers who were found to be sexually harassing staff or colleagues, she said.

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.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said the government would continue to use the services of the firm.

Information released to RNZ under the Official Information Act shows Russell McVeagh provides legal services to 22 government agencies - earning it $3.1 million in the last financial year.

Mr Little said the government needed to ensure organisations they contracted were of a high standard.

"You know, they won't get it perfect every time but you want to know that when they are faced with a challenging situation they respond appropriately and take action that in this case of sexual harassment of staff, that they are doing everything they can to eliminate that. I think, when I look at Russell McVeagh and the actions they have taken, they are doing that," Mr Little said.

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