The shocked president of the New Zealand Law Society Kathryn Beck released a statement she wants to be clear that the law society is aware of sexual harassment and bullying in the profession, but she is shocked at the scale of the problem as detailed in its own survey. Ms Beck said she is committed to building relationships across the sector, including with the society’s critics, to eliminate bullying and sexual harassment in the law.
Last week the Law Society published results from its first survey of lawyers in the society’s 150-year history about this issue. The survey showed nearly one in three female lawyers had been sexually harassed at work and more than half of all lawyers had been bullied. Ms Beck said, ‘When confronted with the scale of crisis in our profession, lawyers everywhere are now asking questions around their own leadership. Have they tolerated behaviours they shouldn’t? Have they turned a blind eye and – deep down – have they known something was not right in their workplaces and culture, but failed to act?’ The Law Society was initially approached about concerns at law firm Russell McVeagh on a strictly confidential basis. When the experiences of the young women were made public, it became apparent that they were not alone and more similar accounts kept coming.
Taken ‘too long’
Ms Beck has written to lawyers outlining the scale of the problem and requesting immediate action. She said 90 per cent of responses received from lawyers since had been positive, with a clear commitment to action. She concluded, ‘as a leader of our profession, I’m sorry that we have got to this point of crystal clear and common understanding as to the scale of our problem in different ways much slower than we should have. I accept this took too long.’