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Time for the old guard to learn some new tricks - VUWSA

5 July, 2018


Russell McVeagh review: VUWSA says it’s time for the old guard to learn some new tricks.

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

Close to 300 Victoria University law students and allies joined VUWSA’s March on Midland earlier this year, to protest the mismanagement of sexual assault claims at the firm and address the broader issues of bullying, harassment and power imbalances in the professional services.

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.”

VUWSA’s response to the review’s findings:

Alcohol and excess:

Paterson says, the excessive use of alcohol was mentioned right 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. “

Now you know:

Russell McVeagh’s response to the review this morning points out they did not know the extent to which this poor work culture existed. As for their response to official reporting of misconduct, it was negligent, Paterson says.

“The fact they were told about allegations of sexual misconduct, failed to follow up on those reports, and neglected to offer victims independent legal counsel are resounding errors that you don’t expect from a reputable legal firm.”

“We want to be very clear it’s not a good enough to say ‘you don’t know’ anymore,” Paterson says.

Policy and accountability:

VUWSA President Marlon Drake applauds Dame Margaret’s recommendations to create policy and ways forward to reduce sexual assault, harassment, bullying and unconscious bias.

“The review directly calls out universities to be a part of the wider culture change and students are key stakeholders in that process, so we expect to be part of ongoing conversations and consultation around this,” Drake says.

What’s next:

Following the March on Midland, VUWSA launched the ‘Not Above the Law’ campaign, which has been instrumental in getting students’ voices heard.

Student representatives are stakeholders in the Law Society’s regulatory working group being chaired by Dame Silvia Cartwright.

They are also meeting with key government ministers to talk about the government’s procurement processes for contracting firms like Russell McVeagh, and are lobbying to see all these processes include sexual harassment and assault policies.


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