New Zealand Law Society - Developments


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Kathryn Beck at Otago University
Kathryn Beck at Otago University

National meetings provide excellent impetus

Meetings held by the New Zealand Law Society with organised groups across the legal community in April resulted in some excellent collaborative initiatives to work on positively changing the culture of the profession, says Law Society President Kathryn Beck.

The meetings were held in Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton and Wellington and were attended by representatives from a large number of legal groups and organisations.

“We organised the meetings in the cities with law schools so that staff and students could be included. The students are the future of our profession and their input in assisting to change the legal culture and setting expectations early on as to what it means to be part of a profession will be crucial to successfully transforming our profession,” Ms Beck says.

As well as academic staff and student associations, the meetings included representatives from Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa, the Government Legal Network, regional women lawyer groups, the New Zealand Law Librarians’ Association, the New Zealand Institute of Legal Executives, Presidents and members of Law Society local branch councils, the Public Defence Service, young and new lawyer groups, the Criminal Bar Association, the New Zealand Bar Association, the Resource Management Law Association, ADLS Incorporated, representatives of the large law firms group, and the Institute of Professional Legal Studies and the College of Law.

“We wanted to include all the organised groups that form part of the legal community,” Ms Beck says.

“It was very heartening to be involved in these meetings. Everyone there was part of a great profession which needs to make some very important changes. The focus of all meetings was very much on the future and what steps can be taken to address systems and culture of our legal workplaces.”

Ms Beck says the meetings lasted for an average of two hours and the representatives outlined their own initiatives for change and their plans for the future.

“It was very clear that, right across the profession, people are committed to working together to put changes in place. There are also many practical initiatives underway, and the meetings provided suggestions for what needed to change.

“The Law Society is now building on the momentum from the meetings, along with the findings of the Workplace Environment Survey. We are establishing a taskforce to drive cultural change and eliminate bullying and sexual harassment from the legal profession. Lawyers are now being asked to express their interest in working on the taskforce, which will work alongside the regulatory working group led by Dame Silvia Cartwright.”

The views of Wellington male lawyers

Law Society Wellington branch President David Dunbar sought the views of male lawyers on the recent events in the profession. Writing in the May issue of the branch newsletter Council Brief, he noted that making sense of the questions over the culture of legal practice and making progress to positive change requires honest conversations among all – and men in particular.

“It takes courage and being open minded to challenge my own assumptions and actively contribute to debate and change. So, I’ve sought the views of some male colleagues. Men I respect and whose experiences will broaden my own, whose reflections I want to hear – and share.”

Wharf in Wellington

Some of the insights and views of male lawyers which Mr Dunbar provides:

“The number and nature of the reported incidents is truly shocking. I had no appreciation of the magnitude of the problem. I am embarrassed that I had such a lack of awareness.”

“Maybe I worked in the wrong places, not in a large firm, much of the time initially in the smaller regions. Many of the smart lawyers I respected and worked with or for were women. Perhaps I had a jaundiced or skewed view.”

“The news over the past few months, in some ways, does not surprise me. Law School did have the blokes who went to the right schools, played the right sports, came from the right families and seemed destined to be their fathers’ sons in law firms where family name and school were important. I had heard that ‘work hard, play hard’ was part of the culture and came across women – and men – who found the whole thing stressful, frustrating and demeaning and got out.”

“There is no getting away from the fact that our profession has in many quarters been something of an ‘alpha dog’ culture and different people react to that, or work within it, in different ways. I feel that, as a new generation of lawyers comes into senior roles within firms, and on the bench, a different environment is being created.”

“As a male practitioner I see the issue not so much as one of culture but one of a lack of basic human decency and, as I understand the allegations at their worst, serious criminality.”

“Certainly, one thing has been lost - respect. Talking to a senior female colleague recently she agreed. When I began practice the basic rule, in litigation anyway, was that you treated everyone with respect. Today’s opponent was tomorrow’s ally and there was certainly camaraderie. Of course, the Bench and Court staff had to be particularly respected. Sex was not much of an issue. More important was ability.”

“I did not encounter it much. However, I have encountered a certain arrogance - from both men and women in large law firms. That seems to have become more common. Also, it seems, people in smaller practices increasingly seem to believe that arrogance and aggression are more important than respect. Regarding bullying, harassment and gender equality, I worry that some women can be bullies too.”

“In my own practice we have tried to address gender, culture and other issues through focusing on respect for each other’s values, whatever they are. This also applies to our clients and colleagues in other parts of the profession. This does not mean we are OTT, politically correct all the time. It does mean we try to be sensitive and, when pulled up, apologise and change our attitudes. For me, it has been a healthy process. Being open to criticism from my staff has been very much a part of this. At times I would like to feel that I could frankly tell a colleague that they should change their ways without the issue being seen as a personal or professional attack.”

“Honestly, it doesn’t seem that hard - don’t sexually assault people, don’t regard young employees as appropriate sexual partners and if one’s decency or self-restraint diminishes after a few drinks, give up the booze or don’t drink with employees present. I think the best role for middle-age males is to make it as clear as possible that they will not acquiesce in this sort of thing.”

Canterbury policy for students on internships and harassment

Earlier this year the University of Canterbury introduced a policy for law students entitled Internships and Harassment. This was in response to the allegations of sexual harassment, assault and bullying directed at Russell McVeagh during a summer clerk programme over two years ago.

Dean of Law Professor Ursula Cheer says it was that story in the media which compelled the University to examine what more it could do to ensure the safety of students embarking on internships or summer clerk programmes.

“We wanted to provide a definition of harassment, what forms it might take including sexual, racial and sex or gender identity harassment,” she says.

The Policy also includes a concise list of situations to be aware of when working in the law profession as a student.

“So information about perhaps the dangers of possibly meeting law firm partners late at night or at their homes, or restaurants. Being forced to go out for alcoholic drinks,” she says.

Professor Cheer says other areas it warns about include potential situations where students might feel dominated or bullied.

“Things such as having to do things for more senior members of staff when actually they [the staff members] could clearly carry out those tasks themselves and these activities were not understood to be part of the job,” she says.

At the extreme end of the situations to look out for include if a more senior member of a law firm asked a student for sexual favours in return for preferential treatment in the workplace.

“We’ve had really positive feedback from former students who now work in the legal profession. The ongoing feedback from the current students has also been good in that they’ve said they feel safer. It didn’t cause a rush of complaints about bad experiences in law firms. I have had some students talk to me about concerning situations but on the whole, it’s been very positive,” she says.

How Wakatū Incorporation addresses harassment and bullying in the workplace

Kerensa Johnston, CEO and General Counsel of Wakatū Incorporation was asked about the workplace environment for the legal team, which consists of Kerensa and a Governance Executive.

Does Wakatū Incorporation have a policy and process in place which addresses any form of harassment and bullying in the workplace?

Yes. Wakatū Incorporation has a comprehensive harassment and bullying policy, which has been recently reviewed. Our policy ensures any allegations or harassment in the workplace are dealt with confidentially, impartially, and correctly. It forms part of a suite of policies, designed to ensure that everyone in our workplaces is treated with dignity and respect, and in line with our values. A related policy is our protected disclosures policy. This policy ensures there is a clear process in place to facilitate the disclosure and investigation of serious wrongdoing and to protect employees and other parties who raise concerns about any serious wrongdoing.

Has the Wakatu Incorporation legal team taken any specific measures recently to address the issue of harassment and bullying in the workplace?

No, the legal team has not taken any specific measures recently to address the issue of harassment and bullying in the workplace. However, as an organisation we have an ongoing focus on our six values: rangatiratanga, manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, kaitiakitanga, hihiko and pono. Across these values are concepts of looking out for each other, mutual respect and integrity. We run regular workshops on our values, and our induction programme ensures that our new team members understand our values as well as all our policies related to workplace harassment and bullying.

Keeping Track: Update on Law Society developments

0800 Law Care phone line: The Law Care phone line (0800 0800 28) is staffed by five specially trained Law Society employees and has been operating since 3 April. The service is for people in the legal community who want to discuss sensitive matters such as workplace harassment and the options and support they can access. The operators are able to provide callers with options about the services they can seek support from. Because few calls have been received extra resources to explain and promote the availability of the service have been prepared. These include explanatory podcasts and videos for the Law Society website, and posters for display in legal workplaces. Information on the reasons for the low response is also being sought. The Law Society remains committed to providing the service.

Online reporting facility: A facility on the Law Society website since 3 April allows lawyers to submit confidential reports of harassment and other unacceptable behaviour. The online facility allows lawyers to obtain information to assist in determining whether they should submit a report, which can now be done online and can be submitted anonymously.

Regulatory working group: Chaired by Dame Silvia Cartwright, the five-member working group is required to consider whether the existing regulatory framework, practices and processes enable adequate reporting of harassment or inappropriate workplace behaviour within the legal profession, along with how better support can be provided to those making reports of sensitive issues, and the adequacy of the regulatory framework to enable effective action to be taken where such conduct is alleged.

Online resources: A range of online and other resources are available in a special section on the Law Society website, Bullying and harassment in the legal profession. These include practical guidance and information on prevention of bullying and harassment and a Word template for development of a sexual harassment policy and guidelines.

National interest group meetings: Feedback and findings from the series of meetings organised by the Law Society with representatives of key interest groups during April will be used to establish a taskforce to drive cultural change and eliminate bullying and sexual harassment from the profession. Expressions of interest will be called for membership of the taskforce.

National Friends Panel: The names of a number of lawyers who are available to discuss sensitive matters such as workplace harassment have been highlighted in the National Friends Panel List on the Law Society website. Contact details and the location of the lawyers are shown.

Harassment webinar: The NZLS CLE Ltd webinar on preventing bullying and harassment in the workplace is available free of charge on the NZLS CLE Ltd website and may be viewed online.

Keeping Track: Some measures at 11 May 2018

New Zealand-based lawyers: 13,277
Women: 6685 (50.4%) (Up from 50.3% on 13 April)
Men: 6592 (49.6%)
Lawyers in multi-lawyer firms: 7748
Partners and directors: 2874
Women partners & directors: 907 (31.6%) (up from 31.3% on 13 April)
Men partners & directors: 1967 (68.4%)
Employed lawyers: 4874
Women employees: 2988 (61.3%) (no change from 13 April)
Male employees: 1886 (38.7%)
In-house lawyers: 2973
Women in-house: 1833 (61.7%) (up from 61.6% on 13 April)
Men in-house: 1040 (38.3%)
Queen’s Counsel in practice: 119
Women QCs: 23 (19.3%)
Male QCs: 96 (80.7%)

New Zealand Judiciary (permanent):

Court Women Men % Women % Men
Supreme 3 2 60% 40%
Appeal 2 8 20% 80%
High (incl Associate) 16 32 33%* 67%
District 52 107 33% 67%
Environment 2 7 22% 78%
Māori Land 3 6 33% 67%
Employment 2 3 40% 60%
Total 80 165 33% 67%

*Down from 34% at 13 April.

This information is taken from the websites of the various courts. Note that the District Court website states that the judges listed are current as at 27 November 2017. Five non-sitting full-time judges such as the Children’s Commissioner are included in the total.

Signatories to Gender Equality Charter: 30 (up from 4 at 13 April)
Signatories to Gender Equitable Engagement and Instruction Policy: 36 (up from 33 at 13 April)

Help make a difference: Commit to the Gender Equality Charter. Email with the subject line Sign Me Up. The Gender Equality Charter and information on how to sign up to it, can be found at under Law Society services, in the Women in the Legal Profession section.

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