New Zealand Law Society - Students say time for the old guard to learn some new tricks

Students say time for the old guard to learn some new tricks

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Students say Dame Margaret Bazley’s review into allegations of sexual misconduct at law firm Russell McVeagh has proved there is a need for a complete culture change both in the firm and the wider industry.

Close to 300 Victoria University law students and allies joined Victoria University Wellington Students Association's March on Midland earlier this year, to address the broader issues of bullying, harassment and power imbalances in the law profession.  

VUWSA Welfare Vice President Bethany Paterson, who helped lead the march, says the review is groundbreaking in that it is the first tangible resource that outlines how to approach a culture change.  

“The fact that this document has Russell McVeagh’s name on the cover shouldn’t prevent other firms from looking into the recommendations and how they might do better as well.”  

Students, interns and junior staffers are leaders in this conversation and it’s time for the senior staff, partners and boards to join us at the table to actively work on a way forward, she says.

“Young people have been the ones speaking publicly about these issues, having meetings with stakeholders, reporting instances of assault and following the correct processes. They have been let down by management and those in power, who have failed to do the same - this report confirms that in detail.”    

Ms Paterson says excessive use of alcohol was mentioned throughout the review, however it’s important to emphasise it was the older male staff members of the firm who struggled with controlling themselves under the influence.  

“We hope that efforts are made to provide adequate alcohol and drug counselling services available to all staff in the future, and the message is clear - if your consumption of alcohol makes you touch people inappropriately, it’s best to not drink at all," she says.

She says Russell McVeagh’s response to the review this morning points out they did not know the extent to which a poor work culture existed.“We want to be very clear it’s not a good enough to say ‘you don’t know’ anymore,” Paterson says.